The Games Will Grow With Us:
Video Game Market Growing Pains…and Pleasures

December 29th, 2005 by Benj Edwards

I know this site is called Vintage Computing and Gaming, but what this site is really about is celebrating the history of computers and video games. I’m interested in the history of computers and video games over all time: past, present, and future. What is current now will soon be in the past, and part of history. Those of us who ponder the history of video games can’t help thinking ahead and wondering what will come next. Well, one can’t get a glimpse of the future of an industry without knowing its past. That’s why amateur enthusiast-historians like myself are here.

It has been said many times that the video game market has grown up with the gamers who purchase and play the games themselves. For example, take “Gamer X,” born in 1975, who played his first video game console, an Atari 2600, at age 3. Then maybe he moved on to a Commodore 64 around age 8, switching later to a NES at age 12, then a SNES at age 16. By the time he hit 1995 and the launch of the PlayStation in the US, that gamer was 20-years-old. That 20-year-old was probably no longer content to play the same video games he did at 3 and 8, although he probably still loved them for nostalgic reasons. No, that person was at a completely different stage in his life with different dreams and a new worldview. As Gamer X grew up, video game complexity and maturity grew up with him, matching him almost perfectly along the way. He had Atari 2600 games with the simplicity for a toddler to pick up and play, NES games with more depth and imagination for adolescents and early teens, then the SNES with its more violent fighting games and deeper and more emotionally rewarding RPGs for mid- to late-teenagers. Then along came Sony. With the launch of the first PlayStation, Sony was the first company to aggressively go after the late-teen and early-adult gamer market. This was a huge surprise to the whole world of “older folks” (i.e. Baby Boomers and above) at the time, because until then, everybody thought video games were strictly for kids. Why did they think they were for kids? Because kids were young, flexible, and open-minded enough to embrace video games when they came into their own.

At this point, we’re due for a stop off at the present. Even today, in 2005, with the average video game player being 30-years-old (also see this), and — surprise — with Gamer X at 30, video games as an entertainment medium are still being misunderstood by the generations that have come before it. But this behavior is not new; other forms of popular entertainment have experienced similar growing trends…and growing pains. The rock and roll record-smashing of the 1950s and 60s was similar to what’s going on today with social conservatives and alarmist politicians pointing their pens at violent and sexual video games. Remember Elvis? Neither do I — I’m only 24. But I’ve read some books and I know that when he first shook his hips on TV, the whole world of over-40-year-olds thought teenagers everywhere would instantly collapse into massive inter-racial orgies, never to recover. It’s been the same story with every generational gap and entertainment medium since the dawn of time. You can look back in the history of TV, music (rap and jazz are good examples in addition to rock & roll), movies, theater, books, paintings, and poetry, and you’ll see the same trend as you do with video games today. It’s the same old story: the older generation in power just doesn’t understand, and frightened governments everywhere, knowing magically what’s best for people under 30, want to make state-parenting de rigueur.

Well, guess what? Gamer X isn’t going to stop growing, aging, and maturing. By the time people who grew up with video games take positions of authority, the current controversies over games as an entertainment medium will, for the most part, cease (to be replaced by some other concern, no doubt). Rock and roll music, once shunned, misunderstood, and censored by the WWII generation, has grown up with the Baby Boomers until we regularly see 60-year-old rockers like Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones drawing crowds of thousands.

Now, back to the present for a moment. At 30, Gamer X is currently enjoying PlayStation 2 games, with ever-growing depth and maturity. But soon (if he doesn’t already), he’ll have his own wife, kids, and family, and his priorities will change again. What happens when Gamer X reaches 40? At 40 years of age, I bet he’ll probably still want to play video games. But will Gamer X be content to run around and shoot hookers, kill virtual people, and steal their cars like he does today in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas? Or will he want something different? He’ll probably work hard all day and come home exhausted — to a wife to attend to, kids to play with, and bills to pay. Will he have time to play that 100-hour RPG any more? Or does he want something more casual and less involved? Maybe he wants to tend a farm. Maybe he wants to sculpt clouds and float casually through the air. Or maybe he craves more driving simulators for his pending mid-life crisis. And what if he doesn’t have time to master the super-sophisticated, glowing, 20-button control pad that is being peddled to teenagers of the day? Maybe he wants to simply wave his hands in the air (like with the upcoming Nintendo Revolution controller, perhaps), and control things more intuitively. Well, I don’t think Gamer X will have to worry, because I firmly believe that the video game industry will grow with him to meet his changing needs and desires along the way.

But why stop at 40? Eventually there will be video game systems and content suitable-for and tailored-to a market of 50-, 60-, 70-year-old gamers and beyond (Gardening simulators, anyone? :P). In 2055, when Gamer X is 80, there will be millions of people his age that have grown up with interactive digital entertainment as a way of life. They will want new games to play, and digital entertainment companies, eager for their Social Security dollars (if SS hasn’t collapsed by then), will provide them. This will give the phrase “gaming grandma” a whole new meaning.

Finally, our short story of Gamer X’s gaming life ends one day in 2082, when he is 107 years old. There, in a richly decorated room (with Star Wars posters and antique Spawn action figures), he lies on a bed, jerking, moving, and definitely occupied with something. Concerned, his 10-year-old great-grandson enters and poses a simple question:

“What are you playing grandpa?”

“Heaven 2.0, son. Now leave me alone, I’m busy!”

12 Responses to “The Games Will Grow With Us:
Video Game Market Growing Pains…and Pleasures”

  1. John B Says:

    Great article! I couldn’t agree with you more. I think the video games market will expand and in the future there will be numerous individualized markets big enough to sustain whole companies. Nintendo is doing the right thing by simplifying entertainment as to attract (thus, not terrifying) non-gamers and casual gamers. They’re what will keep the industry afloat.

    I work for and recently wrote a big article about just this topic. I also go into Nintendo’s, Sony’s and Microsoft’s individual strategies.

    Not sure if HTML works for comments, so here’s the link:

    Again, great article you’ve got here! 🙂

  2. RedWolf Says:

    Thanks, John. I really appreciate it. I’ll take a look at your article now.

  3. Bryan Says:

    As a 30 yr old I really enjoyed this article… sent it to my wife because she believes my gaming instantly qualifies me as a tool.

    One thing I’d like to say (and I’ve said to her many times) is that I/we owe a tremendous amount to video gaming over the years. In the days before plug and play, I’m sure every PC gamer had a story of configuring DMA’s, IRQ’s, motherboards, config.sys, autoexec.bat to get a game, sound card, or other peripheral device to work. Little did I know that these exercises would qualify me for and lead me into a career as an IT professional. It opened the door for me to do tech support in a major corporation through college… and eventually parlayed into my current job… and the wife doesn’t complain about not living comfortably (let it be said that she pulls her own weight as a DBA).

    Granted, today’s PC & consoles don’t present the same level of technical/configuration challenges that they used to, but many of the games as so advanced and complex that they really ‘engage’ a player. Whether that’s problem solving (strategy/rpg), communicating (multi-player co-op), or whatever… there’s still a lot of value in these things.

  4. jon from vancouver Says:

    Great article. I’m not worried about us getting old and left out of the gaming trends. The big companies seem to be moving along with us quite well. The Nintendo Revolution is a perfect example of a change in gaming that will encompass a greater group of aging indiviudals as well as young children.

  5. RedWolf Says:

    Thanks for your comment, Bryan. Yeah, I personally learned my share of technical knowledge from dealing with cranky PC-compatibles back in the day.

    My brother, who’s currently 29, was guided to his current profession by his Atari 800, on which he first learned to program BASIC (He also loved all the incredible games like Archon and MULE for it as well). Recently he said he’s wanted to be a programmer since then…and guess what? That’s exactly what he is today (and has been since 1995). Speaking of the 800, I just recently refurbished an Atari 800 and a few controllers for him, made some game multicarts (with all the classics on them) and gave them to him for Christmas. He said it was the best present he’s ever received. 🙂 Ah, Christmas with the classics.

  6. Kat Says:

    From the looks of the comments you have already, I think most of the people here who took the time do get the idea, but, you asked, so, here’s the previous comment.

    Redwolf, I’m glad you posted that last one ( because I actually didn’t pick up on that part of it the first time. The idea that the console and games will grow to equally match the player.
    I’m not sure about that actually, of course there will always be those few great titles that do something extraordinary and challenge those gamers, I’m not sure they’d grow like you seem to be expecting.
    In quite a few posts people have compaired video games to movies as an art form. I think that’s a fairly accurate assessment of the situation. The film industry has been evolving for a much longer time than games, but I wouldn’t say it’s evolved much quality-wise. Unless you consider flashier special effects quality content. Like I said earlier, there are always those gems that are revolutionary and interesting but most of them are formulaic and cookie-cutter.
    Allot of games are like that too. Playing style, controls, story etc. they seem like they all came from the exact same mold, the only difference is the amount of buttons you push to do the same action you did in the last game.
    Most new games now add more input buttons and better graphics and claim it’s something new when it’s just another FPS with a slightly altered story and different graphics than the last one. That’s a blatant generalization but for the most part accurate.
    I don’t think video games could continue to evolve with Gamer X because that would put other gamers off.
    A game like Armored core which utilizes every single button on the ps2 controller is an incredibly steep learning curve for anyone who’s never played it before and for casual gamers that’s fairly offputting.

    I think games and systems need to start creating more intuitive controls and genuinely interesting games or some people could simply fall out of it being stuck in the earlier generations and not evolving the way the game industries want to.
    That’s why I see games becoming more like a movie franchise, for the most part redoing the same genre/style/input, because it’s less likely to turn off potential gamers.
    So I don’t think they will follow Gamer X as he approaches 50, he may continue gaming and like the changes that appear, but I think the games will continually cater to the group they started with originally 40 and under.
    But, obviously, I don’t know what will actually happen as I don’t know what hardware will be available by then. Anyway, that was an interesting idea and I’m glad you mentioned it in your post because I didn’t understand it entirely until you did.

    Thanks for the interesting ideas and topic.

  7. Ron K Says:

    I grew up with the PC industry and played using the Nitendo and Atari systems and also PC games. Never really got into feeling a need to try out all the latest games and slowly got behind – you hit on it by talking about working all day long and contending with a busy home life which didn’t leave much time for gaming. Now in my 60’s, I want to bring myself “up to date” and try some relatively challenging games. However – a few issues immediately come up. The first being which system – XBox, GameCube, or PlayStation 2? And then, do I wait for XBox 360 to come down in price, or wait for the PS3? And finally, which of the games to buy?

    Today, because of all the questions, I (and we) relegate ourselves to playing Mah Jong for too many hours and it is getting boring. The sites I have gone to for deciding which system to buy do not cater to folks in my situation as the assumption is the person already knows which system to buy. The PS seems to be known as having many low quality games, the XBox as having higher quality, and the GC as being favored by long-term gamers. Yes – I agree that the industry will need to make adjustments to their marketing to bring us in my category back into the fold.

  8. RedWolf Says:

    Ron: The games on Xbox and Playstation 2 are most similar, while the Gamecube has more lightheartedly creative games than the other two. If you’re looking for guidelines, I’d say there are only two. First: go for the system with the games you want to play the most. Second, go for the system with the controller that you find most comfortable. Look for lists of the most popular games on each system, read reviews, and see which ones you like the best. Go to a store and try holding the controllers in your hands (if they still have displays) to get the feel of them. But if you want to simplify your decision and taste the mainstream of gaming at the moment, just dive in and get a PS2. The systems aren’t that expensive at the moment, so even if you don’t like it, you probably won’t have much buyers remorse.

    Good luck and tell us what you get! Maybe I should make a discussion forum for gamers over 40?

  9. Jake of Says:

    That is a damn fine article.

  10. RedWolf Says:

    Wow. Thank you, my friend.

  11. Teknik_SE-R Says:

    Excellent article! I am your age and have a family, and school, and a full-time job. I don’t have much tme for gaming right now, and your idea of what is fun for the “gamer x family man” is surprisingly accurate. My perception of what is fun sure changed when my life started to require more than 24 hours in a day to get things done.

    Since My life hit overdrive, I have been drawn more to my NES/SNES/genny collection, and as for current gen consoles, my GCN seems to get more use than my PS2. It is all aobut the simplicity, the entertainment, and the relaxation that gaming provides me now, not the depth of play, hours logged, or complexity of puzzles i solve in the virtual world.

    In fact, those aspects of gaming are downright frustrating for me at this time. It makes me realize more and more that certain “dead” genres (i.e. 2D, text-based, and the near-dead puzzle game genre) are fathoms more entertaining than the majority of today’s FMV loaded graphics specticles.

  12. ACW Says:

    Check out “Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter”, by Steven Johnson. If you enjoyed this excellent article, you’ll enjoy that book.

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