What’s it like to be an older World of Warcraft player?

Larísa is a 42 year old Swedish woman with a background in journalism, today working with media relations. Since 2008 Larísa runs the WoW blog The Pink Pigtail Inn, where she shares stories from her WoW playing and her views on the game and the community. This article was originally published as a guest appearance at the gaming blog The Company of the Wolf.

A small WoW gnome with pink pigtails

A small WoW gnome with pink pigtails

There’s a lot of talk about gender issues in MMOs going on these days. There are entire blogs dedicated to this perspective on gaming, and it’s understandable. Female gamers have broken a lot of ground over the years, but there’s still much more to be done.

But sex isn’t the only way to sort the players in different segments. There are other dividers. Age for instance. In this I’d like to talk about this, because we don’t do it very much normally.

On most occasions when age comes up as a discussion topic, it’s about discrimination. Not of older players, but of younger ones. It’s quite common that guilds put up a minimum age limit as a way to protect their mature social climate, or to keep feeling free to use an explicit language in the chat channels without having to worry about how it affects the kids.

Some younger players complain about this, rightly pointing out that there isn’t any automatic connection between age and maturity. Many grown-ups behave ridiculously childish as soon as they enter an MMO, causing drama wherever they go. And there are teenagers who lead raids and guilds as well as any CEO.

However, in the end every guild is a social club that sets up its own rules, and I really can’t blame players who prefer to socialize with people about their own age for being prejudiced and narrow minded.

Prejudices against older players?

But what about the opposite; are there prejudices around against older players?

I’ve always been open about my age. It’s not as if I’m shouting it out from the rooftops – and these days I consider a PUG where you say as much as “hi” and “goodbye” as chatty. The topic rarely comes up. But if someone asks, I’ll answer truthfully (currently 42, if you’re wondering).

Until this day I’ve never been ridiculed for it, at least not that I know of. Most players don’t care, and if anything I’ll get an appreciating nod: “Cool”, after which we get back to Killing dragons or whatever we were up to..

However I don’t think the community is entirely free from views about elder players. I was reminded of this as I listened to episode 14 of the podcast The Mana Obscura. I wasn’t able to transcribe every word, but the conversation between the hosts was something like this:

“I am now the grand old age of 31”

“You’re officially old!”

“I’m not officially old, that happens when you turn 40!”

“Didn’t someone turn to you and say you’re too old to play Warcraft?” [Starts talking about a recent instance run]

“There was a 58 year old guy… He was sitting in BRD with us this moment”

“What a way to spend your retirement in Warcraft with junior olds!”

“So that’s why it took you three hours to finish it?!”

Laughter. Loads of laughter.

“It wasn’t so much the bad group but the fact that the healer was 58 years old!”

And this rubbed me a little the wrong way. It’s not that I think it’s impropriate to joke about age. I laugh a lot at my self. Self irony is one of my major cures against any angst that comes with ageing. But there was something in this dialogue that came out as if the guys weren’t laughing WITH the 58-year-old, but rather AT him, if you get the difference.

When I pointed it out to them, they were very remorseful and apologized:

“That’s a perfectly fair and valid point, possibly one of those ‘mouth activated before brain did’ moments, and then again maybe it a hint of age-bias that I’m not consciously aware of.”

I’m fine with that statement and I’m pretty sure it won’t happen again.

Pros and cons of being older

Let’s leave the discrimination side of thisand talk a bit about what it’s like to be an older player in WoW, because that’s what I was asked to write about. Is it an advantage or a disadvantage to be above the average age? I would say a little bit of both.

I’ll start with the negatives:

1. Slower reactions might cause problems

It’s not a secret that our reaction time will slow down slightly as we grow older. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem in WoW. With the exception for a couple of fights, WoW is quite forgiving. Provided that you have a decent computer and internet connection, keeping down the lag, you should be able to keep up anyway. But since it’s been announced for Cataclysm that there will be way more fights that require you to be constantly moving and reacting to your surroundings this might cause you a problem for a few older players.

2. We haven’t been gaming since we were born

Teenagers who play WoW started their gaming careers further back than they can remember. The hand-eye coordination is totally integrated in their system. It’s as natural to them to use the mouse and keyboard as it is to breathe and drink and sleep. It’s just something you do. If you belong to an older generation, you might still have been playing for a very long time, but it’s not the same as if you were born with it. I believe that this might lead to a slightly longer learning curve if you’re older. At least that’s the case for me. I need a couple of more wipes before I’ve learned the choreography of a new encounter than my younger guildies.

3. Families and jobs restrict our gaming time

Older players are more likely to have time constraints to their gaming. They have often more real life commitments to balance around, such as children, husbands/wives and job. An ageing body won’t as easily compensate for nights with only a couple of hours of sleep as before. The top guilds of the world have very few, if any, older players in their ranks. In those teams you have to be able to play very intensively – more than a full-time job – for short periods, when a new raid instance is released. For most 30+ers this is impossible.

4. It might be a bit lonely

The mix of people, coming from different life situations, of various ages and professions is one of the things that makes WoW attractive and interesting to me. But let’s face it; older players are after all in minority. And sometimes you might feel a little bit lonely when all the 20-year-olds are dropping names of artists and comics that don’t mean anything to you, and when you make a reference to something you think is as well known as Santa, they have no idea of what you’re talking about. Events that you have personal memories of – such as the fall of the Berlin wall – are history to them something that happened before they were born, something they’ve only read about in the books. They don’t remember what it was to grow up in the firm belief that the world would blow up because of a nuclear war. Most of the time this isn’t a problem; you’re playing a game and not discussing real life issues. But if you only play with 20-year-olds, being Forty-plus yourself, you might feel a bit lonely from time to time, longing to at some point interact with people sharing the same past and points of reference.

And now for the positives:

1. We have more life experience

I think that our general experience of living longer helps us to become better players, especially from a team perspective. Of course there are exceptions – I’ve once met an extremely childish 58-year old who selfishly was raging and sulking over a piece of loot he thought he was entitled to; but on average I think that older players thanks to their experiences from job and family are better prepared to deal with all the conflicts and challenges that inevitably will arise within a guild or a raiding team.

We know when it’s best to speak up in a group if you have an issue with something and when it’s better to take it privately. We’re a little bit more used to give and take criticism than the young fellows, which is something very useful in a team sport like WoW.

2. We rule ourselves

Older players may have time constrains but at least we can decide for ourselves. Surely there may be angry relatives who will pull the power plug when they think we’ve played too much, but that’s really a rarity. Normally older players have way more control over their own playing hours, especially compared to teenagers who still live at home and are under the supervision of their parents.

3. We’ve got more cash

Older players, who are done studying and have a job income, have a better economy. Most of us can easily afford the monthly subscription fee and don’t have to worry that our game card has run out and we can’t buy any new until next month. If we run into trouble with our computers or internet connections, it normally isn’t such a huge deal to replace it as it is to someone who barely can afford their school literature.

4. We last longer

If there one big difference I’ve noted between older and younger players, it is that the older ones tend to last much longer. If you have one of those in your guild, it’s way more likely that he or she will stick around for a long time, while especially teenager can get ideas very suddenly and then act on them instantly, meaning that they’ll leave the guild, change server or start playing another game following a momentary impulse. I’ve never ever seen a grown-up act like that. Since player turn-over and the following recruitment can be a heavy burden for guilds, I think it could be an advantage for them to look for a few older players who can serve as the steady rocks that you know will stay there, not only when the guild is successful, but also in hard times.

To sum it up I think there are pros and cons about being an older player or having one in your guild. If you ask me, I think that there are more advantages than disadvantages about it.

(Reposted from The Company of the Wolf)

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4 Responses to What’s it like to be an older World of Warcraft player?

  1. Ashelia says:

    If there one big difference I’ve noted between older and younger players, it is that the older ones tend to last much longer. If you have one of those in your guild, it’s way more likely that he or she will stick around for a long time, while especially teenager can get ideas very suddenly and then act on them instantly, meaning that they’ll leave the guild, change server or start playing another game following a momentary impulse. I’ve never ever seen a grown-up act like that. Since player turn-over and the following recruitment can be a heavy burden for guilds, I think it could be an advantage for them to look for a few older players who can serve as the steady rocks that you know will stay there, not only when the guild is successful, but also in hard times.

    Isn’t this sort of ageism? I’m not really sure, as I don’t know much about ageism sadly (my fault–I should read more about it and try to understand, it’s been my privilege to largely ignore it), but it seems like it’s saying younger people are more prone to leave a guild just like how people say older players have bad reflexes. Neither are necessarily true and are just conjecture based on age, I feel.

    In WoW guilds I’ve been in, we’ve sometimes fell to the idea that younger players will leave easier. But I always come back to one of my guilds, where I think one of our Paladins was sub-18 and stayed in the guild for three or so years as an extremely solid, 100% attendance player. If they’d listened solely to age, they’d never have had him.

    Anyway, I don’t know if I’m wrong and I’m sorry if I misread. I just felt I’d offer my opinion which is that people discriminate against age, but it’s just as discriminating to imply that older players are more loyal than younger ones–a stereotype either way.

  2. Pewter says:

    I agree Ashelia, but I think the distinction is that the ageism impacts younger players in a different way to the older players, and gaming culture is still primarily perceived by outsiders as being for kids, and internally there is the idea that it’s dominated by 18-35 year olds or even 18-25 year olds.

    Both are ageism, but the ageism functions differently.

  3. 4. We last longer

    This just hasn’t been my experience. I’m in a pretty close-knit social guild with ties to a raiding guild, and even though we’re all committed to the community we’ve built and are like an extended family, most of the members wander away for long periods to do other things. When Aion was released, we lost almost everyone for a few months as they all hopped onto a new game. We got some of them back, but a few we still haven’t seen to this day. We’ve had members wander away out of disinterest, members who just up and quit one day without telling anyone, and members who hopped servers every time they got a new friend into the game. I’m talking about a guild where the youngest player is thirty. I think whether or not a player is going to settle in one game has a lot more to do with personality than maturity or age.

    I’m also not sure about us having more money to spend, at one point more than fifty percent of our guild was unemployed. The unstable job market means that most of us have had to cut back, whereas someone whose family pays for their time may not need to. Also, most of the adult gamers I’ve been in guilds with have been severely underpaid, some of them with childcare and elder care duties that seriously curtailed their disposable income.

  4. Hap says:

    Well, I’ve been playing WoW casually for a few years now, and I’m pushing 50. I have actually been puzzled at why WoW doesn’t have more mature players than it apparently does (perhaps people lie about their age?) People around my age seem like they would be inclined toward this kind of recreational pastime – you can do it at home after work without the hassles that many other pastimes entail (commute/expense etc.); you can adapt the experience in a multitude of ways depending on your energy level or available time; and you can socialize with a wide variety of people very easily.

    As to ageism in WoW, overall I do feel it exists even if most people try to be cool about it. Indeed, I recently left a guild because the other members appeared to be freaked out about my age (they fished a lot to get me to reveal it, and then kept discussing it). But that’s okay – they were sort of a bunch of weirdos anyway. :) The rest of the guild were mostly early-20s.

    I think just like in life, if a 50-year-old shows up at a 20-something nightclub, the regular crowd is likely to view that with some discomfort. I myself have enjoying paying WoW with people of all ages, and I view that as a positive aspect of the game. But I realize that not everyone enjoys socializing with people from age brackets different than their own.

    Frankly, if I had the option to play WoW on a realm restricted to mature players (say over age 25 or 30), I would choose to do so. It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed playing with younger players – I have very much – but the overall vibe can be a bit of a bummer and let’s face it, you often have to “dumb down” to the level of other players, even if they are super-nice. I’d love to be able to play at a mature level consistently.

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