It didn’t take long for David to realize he had a little too much time on his hands when he finally retired from the IT industry at 65. And so, in an effort to keep both his mind and hand-eye coordination sharp, the Vermonter remembered something he once loved but had never had time for during his desk-bound years: video games. Namely, Space Invaders.
“I had an online friend who I knew was a serious gamer — she’d even reviewed games for a magazine for a time — and I asked her to recommend a game and teach me how to play it,” he tells me. “We settled on Star Wars: The Old Republic or SWTOR. We’d play together every night, and she helped me get over the learning curve of how to play an online RPG.”
Six years later, David is as well-versed in gaming as anyone. He even tried his hand at Gen Z’s game of choice, Fortnite, for a few months, but gave up when he realized he “could never devote enough time to it to become good enough to beat the kids and pros I was playing against.”
“I usually play on weekend afternoons if there’s nothing else going on in my house, which is often,” he explains. “If I’m really into a game, I’ll play during weekdays as well.” And while Star Wars: The Old Republic is still his favorite — “It’s like comfort food; I’ve played all factions, characters and expansions, sometimes several times” — he also enjoys trying new games (e.g., World of Warcraft, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt).
Obviously, it’s probably inevitable that younger generations who have grown up with video games will wheel a cart full of controllers and game systems into retirement homes. But Boomers like David are becoming more and more aware of the mental and increasingly communal benefits of video games, too.
‘Games, especially story games, can be just as engaging and emotional as TV or a movie’
Michael, a 63-year-old in Georgia who retired from his job at IBM a few years ago, says Skyrim is his favorite current game, followed by God of War, Batman: Arkham City, everything in the Assassin’s Creed series “and many more.” Unlike David, however, Michael never took a hiatus from gaming. “I owned and played a piece of every phase of [the evolution of video games],” he explains.
In retirement, though, Michael plays almost every night, “after supper and time with the wife, for about two hours. I try to limit it to that so it won’t get out of hand. It’s a great way to spend time, and it’s fundamentally good to challenge your brain with puzzles and hand-eye difficulties. People, especially us males, need archetypal hero stories and the means to strive to be that hero. Games are a safe place to achieve those needs.”
“It always bugged me that people will sit and watch eight hours of television, but then say playing video games is a waste of time,” adds John, a 60-year-old in San Francisco who dedicates roughly three hours a day to gaming. “Games, especially story games, can be just as engaging and emotional as TV or a movie. They let me explore worlds and fantasize, and they’ve kept my reflexes quite good.”
‘I laugh when I tell other gamers that I have grandchildren the same age as them’
Loneliness is a growing issue with seniors, but gaming grandpas are able to find community in their favorite video games — whether that’s literally in video games, or simply having something in common with younger generations. John, for example, “spent a lot of time playing World of Warcraft and was in a guild, [which eventually] had a real-life meetup with all of the members in San Francisco to see the Warcraft movie. “I’ve stayed friends with a lot of them even though I don’t play much anymore. I also play Minecraft with my nieces and nephews on a closed world,” he says. “Lots of people say it’s a ‘kid’s game,’ but it’s a guilty pleasure and much more fun than I thought it would be.”
That said, John finds the faster pace of today’s games harder to form online friendships around. “I have really fond memories of the original EverQuest,” he tells me, “which, in retrospect, is an absurd game: waiting hours for something to spawn only to have it snatched away by another random player, spending 20 minutes riding boats, etc. But all of that time allowed for a lot more communication with teammates in the game.”
Patrick Godfrey, a 61-year-old in California, agrees. “Since I often play with a fine whiskey by my side, I simply cannot compete with some 12-year-old with the reflexes of an insect,” he says. “Also, as an Army veteran, my style of play is methodical and tactical, [so it] doesn’t lend itself to the fast-paced chaos of most [player vs. player] games.” He adds, “Nearly everyone I play with is much younger than me. They’re usually shocked when they find out my age, especially given my obvious skill in the game. I laugh when I tell them I have grandchildren the same age as them.”
Balancing relationships and gameplay can also be a challenge. Or as David explains, “I don’t find it easy to talk while I’m playing, like these streamers on Twitch do.”
Still, the evolution of gaming has mostly left these men in awe. “The depth of character development in modern games is astonishing,” Godfrey says. “To make a crusty old guy like me shed a tear over a character in a video game, like I did during The Last of Us, is a testament to the writers and developers.”
‘I plan to game for as long as I can’
Godfrey, who is very much looking forward to the new PlayStation 5, plays anywhere from one to five hours a day, so he tends to plow through games and is always waiting for a new one to come out. “I’ve just finished Call of Duty: Black Ops. I previously loved Ghost Recon Wildlands. I played both of them for hundreds of hours. The challenge to out-think the enemies and to develop a strategy to overcome the odds brings out my animal instincts. Also, it’s just a hell of a lot of fun!”
“Unfortunately, I’ve had to be hospitalized for injuries and other health issues,” says Godfrey. “But I almost always bring my gaming rig with me. I tend to get bored quickly in that environment, and the games really help pass the time. I have to imagine that they’d help even more so in a retirement or nursing home.”
“I’m on the upper age of gamers so it will be me and others like me who will determine how [gaming in retirement communities] evolves,” he continues. “Perhaps you’ll get a chance to write a piece in 20 years on the booming trend of LAN parties in nursing homes!”
“I plan to game for as long as I can,” Michael responds when I ask him if he’ll eventually bring his games to a retirement home. “I think gaming, in moderation, is good for everyone.”
“I’d definitely continue gaming, maybe even more than I do now,” David adds. “I’d also look for other people in the home who were gamers and maybe start a club to share experiences. That club could even start a guild on World of Warcraft and go on raids together!”
“There’s a myth that ‘Grandpa can’t use computers’ because he isn’t a ‘digital native,’” the 71-year-old continues. “Well, my generation invented the internet and all the technologies that go along with it. So for those of us seniors who have been using computers for years, gaming provides a wonderful way to structure our time and to have fun. Honestly, gaming has been nothing less than a great boon to seniors.”