Jumping up and down, I’m screaming out at the top of my lungs in excitement for Metroid Metal, one of the greatest collaborations of video game music and heavy metal. Artificial fog fills the air, multi-colored lights flicker and stretch to the back of the crowd at Magfest X (Music and Gaming Festival) in National Harbor, Maryland. Chunky riffs and thumping drums blast from the instruments and band members on stage. The convention, and the evening’s concert, was filled with people of all shapes, sizes, races, genders, and religions. However, when I looked to my right, an older gentleman in his twilight years was smiling, watching the stage with excitement in his eyes. The first thought that entered my mind were internal jokes such as “Someone brought their grandfather” and “One of these things is not like the other.” After thinking it over later, I realized I had just done something horrible: I committed the classic ageist video game thought pattern, and I wasn’t alone. There were probably hundreds of others throughout the entire four day event that said the same thing about this man.
Some may say I’m being too harsh on myself. After all, the man could’ve been there with a grandson or granddaughter. While this is entirely plausible, let’s assume this man was at this show because he is a video game enthusiast, just like everyone else in the room. Staring at the gentleman, I realized two things. The first is that the concept of an older generation playing video games is often parodied, insulted, laughed at and made fun of way too often. The second is that I was staring at my future.
The inevitability of the situation made me shiver. It was that very moment I realized that I could see myself at that age—at Magfest 40—rocking out to some new “retro” game music band that was playing Dubstep covers of Nintendo Wii titles. I’d be bobbing my head and trying to keep standing without showing fatigue. I envisioned my children taking me from a nursing home to the local retro game store, spending a decent chunk of time sifting through the bargain bin “retro” titles of Xbox 360 games long forgotten. I saw myself buried with a sealed copy of Mega Man 3. I saw the future, and it shook me to the core.
How The Hate Began
Ageism in video games is a new war that Nintendo has helped bring to the face of the gaming culture. With the Wii and Nintendo DS, Nintendo has helped bring gamers out in everyone, regardless of previous play experience. This is the exact same thing they did in the mid-to-late 1980s with my generation, revitalizing something we all thought was dead and gone: video games. Before the video game industry broke out, movies and television were delivering an experience that told new stories and introduced new literary themes and options. Our pastime was interactive mediums that allowed us to run, jump, swim, blast, explore and enhance our televisions. Many older people at the time just didn’t get gamers, and so the world of gaming forever stayed locked away in Neverland. We’ll always be kids when we flick on that Commodore 64 screen, or when we hear the hum of the television as Pitfall Harry looms over deadly swamp pits. With the latest generation of systems, older people are finally realizing that you’re never too old to not act young at heart. Now the forests of gaming are theirs as well, and many of us feel like they’re breaking the rules.
Would you tell video game inventor Ralph Baer, currently in his 90s, that he can't play video games? I didn't think so.
Youth of the Nation No More?
Back in 2002, a group of Harvard graduates compiled a group of people between the ages of 66 and 79 to get their opinions on video games. Out of eleven participants, nearly 64% of them said they had an interest in technology and were in love with the idea of playing video games. Keep in mind, this pre-dates the Nintendo Wii, Sony Playstation Move, Microsoft Xbox 360 Kinect, and the Nintendo DS. Gaming and older people have become the butt of jokes among hardcore gamers, calling them fake or casual gamers. Sadly, the current generations of systems are also to blame for bringing out the worst in younger gamers, critiquing their own group of hardcore gamers as elitist and selfish. Only they can have the fun of shooting down zombie Nazis and saving damsels in distress.
There are a few important steps when identifying someone who is being an ageist when it comes to video games. The thought pattern generally consists of gamers pointing out older people and immediately processing that they either are here with a child, or depending on the event, shopping for a younger person or babysitting. There’s also an idea that older gamers only play Wii Sports, and are completely devoid of any hardcore gaming skills. It’s easy to make a case that a very large percentage of the elderly or aging populations aren’t into video games because it wasn’t something they grew up with. This mentality is changing, and we may see gamers get more gray and wrinkly. I think we need to ask ourselves that question we’ve been avoiding for a long time: Are we, as retro gamers, getting too old for this? Well if we aren’t, why are they?
For example, take Doris Self, the world’s oldest video game competitor. Don’t take my word for it—Self was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records back in 2007. She also scored the world record for Qbert back in 1984, a record that she took hold of at the 1984 Twin Galaxy tournament. Though she later lost the highest score (she posthumously holds 3rd place in Qbert) her story doesn’t end there. Self was always a pioneer, whether it was helping form the world’s first association for retired stewardess’ (that she was a part of due to her tenure with Eastern Air Lines) or being a part of the United States National Video Game Team. Back in 2005, the team travelled to Paris and slapped a challenge on the gamers of Paris. Tragically, she passed away shortly after her last attempt at the world record for Qbert, back in 2006, due to a motor vehicle accident. She was 81 years old.
R.I.P. Doris Self.
Game Over, Grandpa.
If you feel awful right now, you know how I felt when I realized I was staring at my future. Pulling myself out of a rut, I realized that ageism in video games is something that we have to stop as soon as possible. After all, old age is inevitable. It is the one thing we cannot escape. We are all headed down the same spiral staircase in life, so we shouldn’t chastise those who want to have fun during their golden years. Gaming is something we can share with anyone, no matter who they are, what they look like, or how old they are.
Though we all wish we had the fountain of youth, gaming helps us stay young in our minds. As seconds turn to hours, and days turn to decades, we seem to have forgotten the core reasons we play games: To experience something unique and fantastical. Some of us will play Wii Bowling in nursing homes. Others will spend decades striving for a Resident Evil 2 speed run record. Many of us may give up on gaming entirely for one reason or another. Video games, however, are like the older generation. While they get covered in dust, riddled with memory complications, sometimes even just stop working, they’ll always be remembered by the ones that loved them by their cover art, their face. Embrace your elder gamers, it’ll make getting that big “Game Over” in the sky that much easier.
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