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Would you class yourself as a gamer?
Perhaps when you think of gaming your mind is instantly filled with images of adolescent youths sitting in front of their computers wearing oversize microphone headsets. But gaming can refer to a wide variety of different pastimes.
Ever played solitaire on your mobile phone, or Candy Crush, Fruit Ninja, or a word puzzle game? Mobile gaming is the most popular aspect of gaming as well as the fastest growing. It’s accessible to everyone who has a smartphone with app stores full to bursting with games that can be downloaded for free or with minimal charge.
Gaming is becoming increasingly popular with older generations, and it comes with some health benefits that may surprise you.
Now the biggest entertainment industry in the world, gaming’s popularity is expanding at an increasingly rapid rate with no sign of slowing down. Crucial in the success of the gaming industry is its accessibility.
“The gaming sector is now worth over US$145 billion (£104.7 billion) globally. To put that into perspective, the global music industry is worth around $20 billion (£14.4 billion) and the worldwide box office around $42.5 billion (£30.7 billion).”Technology and entrepreneur magazine, Vizaca
We asked renowned gaming guru and Chairman of Scottish video game development company, 4J Studios Chris van der Kuyl CBE if gaming was just for young people.
Everyone always thinks when they hear the word games – it’s a young people’s thing but especially with video games and computer games, nothing could be further from the truth. In the time that I have been involved with games, the average age of gamers has gotten older and older every year. Now it’s somewhere in the region of 40. No one would think that off the top of their head but it is.
Video games began to hit mainstream populace in the 1970s with the release of classic arcade-style games like Pong, Space Invaders and Pac-Man arriving on the scene in 1980.
Maybe you remember buying these games for your children? Or playing them yourself?
As well as there being a significant appetite for gaming in the older generations there is also vastly greater accessibility for gaming now. With the advent of the internet, online gaming has become a massive growth industry.
Chris van der Kuyl gives the examples of online Chess;
The opening up of online gaming has been amazing for older people. People who enjoy Chess, and maybe their friends don’t come around too often, they can get online and play a game of Chess with a real human, anywhere in the world, at any time of the day or night.
Indeed Chess.com allows you to play free unlimited Chess without the need to even create an account. And there are a myriad of online games that can be played in this fashion: Tetris, Solitaire, Hearts, Backgammon, Poker, Rummy, Pac-Man, Mahjong – the list goes on and on.
As well as mobile gaming and online gaming, the advent of home voice technology devices such as Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Home device have unlocked the relatively unexplored category of voice gaming.
Naturally these devices have your everyday quiz games and guess-the-song games on offer, but there are also a select few examples of genuine voice-based adventure games. These games closely resemble text-adventure games of old, such as Zork and Colossal Cave Adventure, extremely popular in the 1970s.
One such example available to play for free on Amazon’s Alexa is The Magic Door. The Magic Door is a voice-based fantasy adventure game where you explore different magical lands, interact with a variety of characters and complete tasks to progress further in the game.
If you have an Amazon Alexa at home, why not give it a try yourself? Just ask Alexa to “open The Magic Door”.
But it’s not just puzzle games or vintage adventure games that the over 60s age demographic are interested in. As van der Kuyl attests: ‘there are no limits to gaming. You’ll find people from every age group playing every type of game, whether it be Super Mario or Skyrim.’
And to speak of Skyrim, mention must be made of 85 year old YouTube sensation, Shirley Curry. Known as the “Skyrim Grandma” Shirley, based in Ohio, USA, regularly shares videos of herself playing the open world, action-adventure game, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Shirley was featured in a documentary explaining her passion for gaming, the gaming community and gamers of all ages. Watch it below.
At the time of writing, Shirley has 973,000 subscribers on YouTube and is well-known in the Skyrim community as one of the game’s premier ‘vloggers’ (those who share their gameplay experience on public platforms such as YouTube or Twitch). She is so well-known in fact that the video game developers are immortalising her as a character in the upcoming much-anticipated sixth edition of the Elder Scrolls game series.
Shirley told The New York Times that the main reason she decided to begin her YouTube channel was in an effort to share and build a sense of community with like-minded people.
The New York Times states:
She used to be in a quilting group made up of other people her age. They knew she was a gamer, but she never had an opportunity to discuss the ins and outs with anyone else before she found YouTube.
“We talked about quilting and things like that, but we didn’t talk about games because they didn’t know anything about them,” Ms. Curry said. “I didn’t have anyone to talk about games with.”
The importance of this sense of community in the gaming world is echoed in the thoughts of Chris van der Kuyl.
To me there is no barrier to gaming. And it’s amazing to hear about people like Shirley embracing the idea of “I love playing games and I want to share this with people out there”. The gaming community in the main is not judgmental. In fact, it’s a real social environment that wants to see gamers come in from all angles because there is no typical gamer. Everybody is their own type of gamer.
It’s easy to think that video games are a young person’s territory alone, but that’s not quite the case. A surprising number of elderly individuals use the hobby as a way to test their wits, retain their fine motor skills, and — most importantly — have fun.Newsgroove
Establishing a sense of community and social belonging with like-minded people is one of the many health benefits of gaming and you don’t have to be playing in-depth role playing games like Skyrim to find it.
Popular mobile games such as Words with Friends (an online wordplay game similar to Scrabble) or verse-your-friends style quiz games can all serve to create the same feeling of community that can be so beneficial to boosting one’s mental health.
As van der Kuyl attests:
Socialisation and gaming come hand in hand. With the rise of the internet and digital connectivity the number of people who now play online with friends, its created social structures and brought people closer.
Especially when people say that those in later life start to become socially isolated, digital gaming is a way that people can start to socialise way more than we ever could before.
As well as providing mental health benefits through socialisation, gaming also proves itself as a valuable method of escapism.
Particularly during the lockdown period where we were disallowed from venturing too far from our homes, one could fire up their gaming device of choice and disappear into an alternate universe, far away from the pressures, demands and stresses of the real world.
A further important way that gaming is good for mental health is that through its nature, gaming promotes mental acuity. Gaming is problem solving. There is inherently something within gaming that is going to test your wits, your cognitive reactions, or your ability to out-think your opponent.
Whether it’s Pac-Man, Tetris, Candy Crush, or more intricate games like Minecraft, Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto, at their core video games exist to provide tasks and challenges for their players to overcome. And in so doing, gaming encourages critical thinking, logic and problem solving. It exercises the “little grey cells” as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot might say, boosting alertness and promoting mental agility.
Gaming is not only great for boosting your mental health, but is becoming increasingly beneficial for players’ physical health as well. Motor skills and hand-eye coordination are promoted within gaming and for this reason video games are often used in physical therapy and rehabilitation practices.
So-called “active gaming” is on the increase. When the Nintendo Wii was released 15 years ago, its Wii Sports and Wii Fit range were game changing in their ability to get players out of their chairs and on their feet, actively exercising whilst gaming. The Nintendo Wii proved a big hit in care homes and retirement villages for this very reason and was a popular gaming console across all generations.
A more recent example that got its many players on their feet was 2016’s hit mobile app game Pokémon Go.
Pokémon Go implemented what is known as ‘augmented reality’ to allow its players to use their mobile phone’s geolocation to hunt for and capture Pokémon characters in their hometown.
The game proved so popular that it resulted in increased congestion in public parks and on footpaths, as well as noticeable boosts in customers and revenue for any businesses that were lucky enough to be situated near important locations within the Pokémon Go world.
With so many health benefits, not to mention the fundamental enjoyment and entertainment that comes from gaming, you might be feeling intrigued and wanting to give gaming a try. But where to start?
Chris van der Kuyl advises:
I would say pick up your mobile phone, see what games are in the app store and just try things. Also ask people around you, whether it’s your own family, children, grandchildren, friends, ask for their recommendations and don’t be scared to try them.
Give it a try and if you don’t get it, that’s not the game for you, but when you find games that you love, you’ll find yourself coming back to them time and time again and gaming bringing a real enjoyment into your life.
We sat down with Chris van der Kuyl CBE to discuss his history in gaming and find out if gaming is something he will ever grow out of.
Do you enjoy playing games?
What are some of your favourite games or favourite memories of gaming?