For retired nurse Sandy Barber, 66, of Plainfield, Connecticut, game play has provided something more, a “lifeline to sanity,” as she puts it. Though Barber has been playing games of one kind or another on various platforms since the mid-1970s, video games help these days to distract her momentarily from the extreme sadness she has felt since her son Michael, 45, took his own life in 2020 during the pandemic.
“It gives me a means of escape, relaxation, friendships I would never [think] I had or would need,” Barber says. She forged a bond with a thirtysomething couple from the United Kingdom, whom she met through a group on Facebook devoted to the Animal Crossing social simulation game.
“The younger friends I meet and can talk [with] about the games they are playing keeps my spirits up,” Barber says. “Their support helped me through my darkest times.”
Electronic games aren’t just for the young
Video games are stereotyped as the digital playing fields of youth. But the ranks of gamers 50 and older have grown by more than 12 million in the past six years, a 30 percent increase, according AARP Research. A little less than half of older adults said they played video games in 2022, up from 38 percent six years earlier, representing more than 24 percent of all video game players.
Using different age groupings, New York-based Insider Intelligence market research firm found that 36.6 percent of all adults 45 and older played games digitally through the internet. The figures include games played on a console, desktop, laptop, mobile app, social network or web browser.
- 11 and younger, 9.2 percent
- 12 to 17, 9.8 percent
- 18 to 24, 12.4 percent
- 25 to 34, 17.6 percent
- 35 to 44, 14.3 percent
- 45 to 54, 12.3 percent
- 55 to 64, 11.8 percent
- 65 and older, 12.5 percent
While some players discover gaming later in life, perhaps to connect with their kids or grandkids, many have been at it on and off for decades, even dating to the era of Pong and Asteroids. Following his wife’s death, some of the lifelong friends that gamer Joe Shaw met while playing were able to console him.
“That’s part of it, the camaraderie, the companionship that you have from sharing a particular interest,” says the retired national trainer for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, 73, who lives in Magna, Utah.
“I remember playing a game with a younger man and I mentioned something about my age,” Shaw says. “He said, ‘Wow, why are you playing games?’ Well, I’ve been gaming one way or another before that kid was born."
The friendships that Barber has made with younger players enrich her life, she says. She plays Pokémon and other games with her UK pals hours on end. They’ve invited her to visit England.
She’s also worked as a school bus driver after retiring from nursing and now works part-time at Lowe’s.