The Greying of the Game

It’s a conversation I’ve heard repeated around the net and in gaming stores: gamers are getting old.

Oh we’re not quite ready to be put on oxygen with 24-hour nurses, but our demographics are shifting ever-upward. Instead of being 12-year-old geeks who worried about getting their books dumped or what that cute girl down the hall thought of us, we’re 20-something to 40-something geeks worrying about getting dumped from our jobs, and paying the mortgage.

As a result, grey hairs are becoming more and more frequent at conventions, except for the Goth folks haunting the vampire games, who of course dye their hair black.

All of this, certain pundits say, does not bode well for our hobby. The aging demographics turn off teenagers, who would rather be dead than be caught playing an old-fogie game. And worse yet, the Plague of Consoles is ravaging the RPG rolls by keeping kids planted on their couches playing Metal Gear 2 or Halo.

It all spells certain doom for the pen-and-paper RPG hobby. To that I say all this talk is a bit premature.

Computer games have always provided competition for RPGs, and just because Yar’s Revenge and Ultima IV aren’t as graphically intensive as today’s games doesn’t mean that I didn’t spend countless hours playing them. Still, Grand Turismo 3 is a heck of a lot more appealing than Pole Position ever was, so there is some merit to this argument. There are also new kinds of games that sap some of conventional RPGs player base, such as massively multi-player online games like EverQuest, which provide the community aspect of RPGs without needing to actually meeting anyone face-to-face. Meanwhile collectible card games appeal to power gamers who are in RPGs for its collectible and competitive aspects.

But although the game-counter and comic book aisle pundits are getting pretty good at slinging the bad news, I rarely hear anyone mention the good news, which can be summed up like this: We’re reproducing.

Yes, gamers are getting older. It is inevitable that a hobby founded by men and women in their late 20s and 30s in the 1970s would be in their 50s and 60s today. That’s just the way aging works. But at the same time, what I figure is the largest gaming generation — those who started playing the game in the early to mid-1980s are only just now coming into their late 20s and 30s. They’re getting married, settling down and yes, even having kids.

Now I know this seems shocking at first — hell, I’ve been married six years and it still shocks the geek part of my brain that is eternally 16 years old — but gamers really are reproducing. And as they reproduce, they’re doing what all parents do: share what they love with their kids. Case in point: one of the guys in my group has a 5-year-old son. He bought the introductory Dungeons & Dragons game — a stripped down version of D&D 3E — and has been teaching it to his son. Now that Zack’s gotten the hang of the game, we’ve been playing a few games with him as well, running him through a dungeon crawl before our own nightly game begins.

At this point in time, Zack’s the only kid in our group old enough to play D&D, but we’re working on the younger ones — my friend Bill played at one of our sessions with his three-month-old daughter in one of those baby slings around his neck. I foresee a day — not too far off — when most of those in my group are married, we’ve all got kids, and we’ve routinely have a pre-game session with our geeks-in-training.

Now there’s a downside to this — having kids cuts into your gaming time, and undoubtedly this will cost us a few gamers. But I think that if you’re still gaming at age 30, then there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll keep on gaming even when you have a few rugrats running around.

All of this means that we are on the cusp of a new era of gaming, a sort of gamer babyboom that I think will transform the hobby in unexpected and rewarding ways. No folks, a few grey hairs does not mean the end is neigh … just that old familiar end of the beginning.

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