Ask Dr Mark

Ask Dr Mark
Middle-Aged Gamers

Mark J. Kline | 19 Sep 2011 16:00
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I've known older adults to play a wide range of games with great avidity. The most accomplished player of the game "Angry Birds" I ever met was a man in his 50s. Many play solitaire and word games obsessively. These games can be engrossing and distracting and provide a great way to kill time while commuting, waiting at the doctor's office (we old guys have to go the the doctor a lot), or relaxing at home. Many of these games don't require specialized computer knowledge, and some are simply digital versions of games we played as kids (I'm still waiting for a digital abacus so I can do mathematical calculations like in the good old days....)

Other adults play online multiplayer games avidly. Some do this as a way of staying in touch with friends, relatives, and even kids. Family Halo night may have a different feel than family Parcheesi night, but it may offer a better way to stay connected with people who are far away.

If gaming is a great way for teens to escape the strain of reality and make connections in a virtual world, why wouldn't it be just as effective for adults? We just have different stresses we are trying to escape. Some adults turn to the hobby to avoid chronic physical illnesses (not that younger gamers couldn't have these as well) or the common, grinding aches and pains of aging. Others became gamers to cope with divorce or loss. Others are trying to escape tedious jobs or unhappy families. While the reasons may differ, the phenomenon is largely the same: enter an engrossing and fascinating alternative reality to have a great time and get relief from festering irritations that don't go away.

Whether gaming is an enjoyable diversion or a problem depends on how it affects you and the people you care about. If your wife wanted me to write about middle aged gamers, could this mean she has a problem with your gaming? This can be complicated to sort out. Some spouses are happy to be left alone while their partners game, though eventually the habit can lead to isolation and feelings of abandonment--fractures that can easily become crevasses in any relationship. Other spouses join in, and gaming becomes a way to have fun together. If you are happy with your gaming habits, but your spouse is not--if it takes important hours away from children, sleep, or work, then you may have a problem.

My guess is that we will be seeing a great increase in middle aged gamers as todays' teens and young adults age. I wouldn't be surprised if someone demonstrated that moderate gaming actually helps keep aging minds sharp and nimble, just as moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to have salutary effects. Just be sure to touch down and check in with those you love every now and then. Very sad to lose them over a game.

Dr. Mark Kline figured out how to open a Steam account and was miraculously able to remember his password a week later. Have a question for Dr. Mark? Send it to askdrmark@escapistmag.com. Your identity will remain confidential.

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