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6 Things That Frustrate Older Video Gamers and How to Fix Them

Players 50-plus want to connect socially, play free games that are really free

spinner image a multi-generational family playing video games together
Photo by: Kong Ding Chek / Getty Images

Ketrick Copeland does not generally see people his age reflected in the video games he plays.

“I feel like we get left behind, left out,” says the 53-year-old gamer, who lives in Pittsburgh and plays a few times a week.

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He’s not alone. Seven in 10 gamers 50 and older whom AARP surveyed in advance of its April 18 AARP Games Summit in Washington, D.C., say they believe video games are not designed with them in mind.

Many older people like video games as much as their younger compatriots do, but too often they’re frustrated with industry practices that leave them feeling marginalized.

Here are some of the things that bother older players and ways to address them.

1. I can’t even get started

The roadblock. Gamers of all ages want to be challenged when they play, but confronting obstacles during a game and figuring out how to play is sometimes a fine line.

“There’s so many big titles where people would just get stuck in the tutorial,” game developer Bob De Schutter, an associate professor at Northeastern University in Boston, said during the Games Summit.

The fix. Game developers and companies need to make instructions easier to read and digest.

2. Playing with others isn’t easy

The roadblocks. Plenty of games can be played solo, including venerable pastimes such as Solitaire and Sudoku or the more recent viral sensation Wordle. Plenty invite you to compete against others.

But unless a wannabe player knows a friend is online, many people have difficulties finding opponents with the same skill level and age range, someone who might become a friend. Stranger danger is a real threat, as evidenced in the romance scams that popped up early in the pandemic for some older adults playing Words With Friends.

Hardware also can be a barrier. You may frequently play on your smartphone, but a potential pal could be on a laptop computer, PlayStation or Xbox in their own parallel universe of games.

The fix. Search for games that can be played “cross platform,” hopefully without you having to jump through too many hoops to connect with others.

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3. Games that my kids like, I don’t

The roadblock. Face it, your kids and grandkids probably don’t love the same games you do. Generally, older gamers aren’t into violent shoot-’em-ups as much as younger players.

The fix. Don’t focus on the differences. You might be surprised at how many types of games appeal to young and old. Gravitate toward games that help you connect with the kids or grandkids, maybe an online version of a classic board or arcade game, especially if you’re playing long-distance, or another genre where you all can find common ground.

“With the whole digital thing if you’re a grandparent, you’ve got to meet people where they’re at,” Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins said during the summit. “You’ve got to figure out, ‘OK, what are the grandkids doing that I can do with them?’ ”

4. That ‘free’ game wasn’t really free

The roadblock. Games found in some of the app stores that are free to play may mean free to try or free at some very basic level of gameplay. At some point, you may be pressured to pay to advance to a higher tier in the game or to avoid distracting ads.

People “don’t love a lot of monetization techniques that are currently being used when the game appears to be cheap and free and then ends up being very expensive,” De Schutter says.

The fix. Read the fine print before investing your time or money in a game you may get hooked on. Yes, paying might be worth it to have some fun. Just be aware of the terms going in.

5. I don’t understand a lot of games

The roadblock. Not every genre of video games will appeal to every age group. But many game developers don’t think about older gamers because they aren’t older themselves.

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When you’ve reached 50 and beyond, you’ve had a lot of life experiences. Not enough games play to those strengths.

Free games, trivia ​​

AARP has games you can play for free — some for members only — including puzzle games, video versions of board and card games, and Atari arcade classics.

AARP’s Game On! newsletter can come to your inbox once a month if you sign up.

The fix. Look for a type of game you can relate to. Trivia games can be attractive when questions cover topics you remember because you were alive then. You know firsthand what others consider history.

De Schutter recommends games that allow you to tap into your accumulated knowledge, life experiences and vocabulary — or that allow you to reminiscence, what he calls “gaminiscing” — while playing.  

A game that can help you regain something from your past is even better.

“I remember interviewing an 80-year-old person who was almost bedridden and used [the online virtual world platform] Second Life to wear heels again,” De Schutter said. “She was like, ‘I would love to dance when I was younger, and now I can dance again.’ … It’s a beautiful way of how games can enrich somebody’s life.”

6. Characters don’t look like me

The roadblock. Copeland and others feel left out in part because few older adults are developing video games. They can’t relate to the fictional cast in the games because any characters that might be older are often caricatures.

The fix. The status quo won’t be easy to change in an industry that was still young when today’s 50 and older players were in college. If you’re an older gamer with a creative idea and the skills to make it happen, push to get your foot in the door. 

The average age of workers in the game industry is lower than the workforce as a whole. In 2021, 3 of 5 people employed in the industry were 34 or younger, according to a survey for the International Game Developers Association.

All is not lost. As a gamer, you can influence budding developers, perhaps in your own family or on social media, by making your opinions and preferences known.

Younger designers do develop games that are popular across all ages. A software engineer in his mid-30s created the 2021 phenomenon Wordle, since acquired by The New York Times, which introduced many older adults to word games and sharing results with friends and family.

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