Tag Archives: ageism

I’m bored of hearing about your wife

Almost every time I go to a tech- or gaming-related conference, I hear middle-aged white men in suits talk about their wives and children. This would be lovely and rather sweet, were it not for the fact that they all seem to be married to the same woman, and they all seem to be raising the same children.

A photograph of a blonde woman smiling and holding two blonde children. FlickrCC image by Micah Taylor

“The wife”, as she is often called, is frequently described as “not very good with computers” or “not a gamer.” Often, I hear humbling stories about how The Wife provides an amazing insight into the human condition. Or how she teaches The Exec about what it’s like for the ordinary user, who isn’t familiar with the high-end technological wizardly in which he is apparently so accomplished.

“My son”, says the exec, “is already using an iPad, and he’s only a year old.” There are older children in the family too. “My daughter would be so embarrassed to be seen using a Blackberry!” remarks The Exec, concluding “young people are all using iPhones.”

It’s taken me a while to figure out why this bothers me so much. So what if the people running technology companies make public reference to their wealthy, heteronormative lifestyle in an attempt to give examples of use cases from ‘ordinary people’? They’re bound to draw on their own experience in their work. Far be it from me to tell them to leave their personal life out of it.

I’ve realised that it bothers me because they never once talk about focus groups, and only ever reference market research on a macro-level. These two things combined – coarse, macro-level demographic data and constant reference to the upper-middle-class nuclear family, are leading to design and product decisions that are bad for women, bad for the elderly, and not even that good for business.

I don’t care about this guy’s wife. What she spends her time on is her own business. I do care that he gives his technologically inept wife as the key example when talking about the vague demographic of ‘women aged 35-50′. I don’t care how talented his children are. I do care that he calls tablets “a technology that doesn’t require any training – your children will teach you how to use it” – someone actually said that at the Global Mobile Internet Conference this week. What if I don’t have any children? What if my children don’t have their own iPad?

The Exec decides where to allocate the product development budget. He decides what products get made. He decides the direction the tech industry is moving. And the future he sees is one in which women are removed from the means of production, and anyone who cannot afford to buy an iPad for their children is irrelevant. All because he can’t be bothered to carry out a focus group or buy some qualitative survey data.

This narrow-mindedness appears particularly stupid when you consider the millions of elderly people who are completely neglected by the tech industry. Many of them have a sizable disposable income and lots of leisure time on their hands – perfect for selling computer games to, as long as you get the platform and design right. I always wondered why they were being ignored by the market. Could it be because they don’t fit into the image of the nuclear family with which execs feel compelled to ally themselves?

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)