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Beyond the silver surfers: gaming is not just for the young

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Her family calls her granny. On official documents she’s Inger Grotteblad. But to the Swedish gaming community, she goes by Trigger Finger. Grotteblad is 70, with ice-blonde hair and, when I speak to her over Zoom, she’s wearing dangly earrings and a T-shirt emblazoned with the name of her competitive gaming team, the Silver Snipers. The group is dedicated to older players, with an average age of 70.4; the oldest member is 80. They specialise in popular shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and when they go on to the streets of Stockholm wearing their branded jackets, people recognise them. “Young kids love us,” says Grotteblad with a smile. “We show that games are for everyone.”

The Silver Snipers represent older gamers, a demographic which is growing as the first generation of life-long gamers now approaches retirement age. The average age of gamers has risen to around 35 and a survey found that the number of gamers aged between 55 and 64 has increased by a third in the past three years. One of the most prominent is Shirley Curry, aka “the Skyrim Grandma”, who streams gameplay multiple times a week to a fan base of more than a million YouTube subscribers, who she calls her “grandkids”.

Gaming is still largely considered a pursuit for the young, and not without reason. The Silver Snipers struggle to compete at a professional level. They did beat other teams of older players in a 2019 tournament but when they played Norway’s best team, Grotteblad suspects the youngsters let them win. “It’s hard to compete with young players because they’re faster on the trigger,” she says. “If I stand in front of them, they’ll always shoot me first.” Research shows that human reaction time peaks in the late teens and begins to decrease from the early twenties, and older players can have trouble with finger and wrist mobility. Although the difference is usually mere fractions of a second, these intervals matter in professional esports.

Grotteblad started a Facebook group called Senior Gamers to introduce others to her hobby and help them work around their slower reaction times, alongside other age-specific obstacles. Where older players might find modern games have forbiddingly complex controls, she suggests they might play more considered genres such as strategy or puzzle games. If people don’t have long stretches of time to play because of family and work responsibilities, they might consider avoiding 50-hour blockbusters and instead try casual or turn-based games which can be played in short bursts.

Games have been shown to improve cognitive function, strategic thinking and boost memory, and can have other benefits for older people too. Alexander Cotgreave, 54, told me that gaming was a lifeline for him when he had to rest following a stroke and heart attack. “I used gaming as part of my recovery and it proved what a positive force it can be, keeping me engaged at a time when I was feeling very low,” he says.

Alongside her 570-strong Facebook group, Grotteblad gives in-person gaming lessons to a group of older women. She says they are mostly motivated not by entertainment but by gaming’s sense of community and family. “They’re able to build bridges towards their grandchildren,” she says. Her own teenage grandsons have helped her improve her aim on Counter-Strike, while she in turn has introduced her seven- and nine-year-old granddaughters to survival game Valheim.

Cotgreave extols the social benefits of gaming. Every Christmas, three generations of his family play Wii Sports together, including his 80-year-old father-in-law. Meanwhile he regularly connects with his younger son through Fifa. “I’m not a football game fan but this means that I get to spend quality time with my 11-year-old doing something that he loves,” he says. “It makes me feel fantastic to know that I’m engaging with my children on something that they’re massively interested in.”

While researching this article, I sent out questions to a large community of older gamers who congregate on the online chat platform Discord. The subject that garnered the most strident responses was: “How long do you think you’ll continue gaming?” One 57-year-old said: “You’re never too old to be a gamer. As my mother told me once: ‘Inside, I’m 16’. Gaming lets that 16-year-old out. I will game until I’m physically unable to do it.”

Another in their late fifties said: “Gaming is a way that we can inhabit our imagination and share it with others. As long as I’m alive, that shared experience is too important to ignore.”

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