Old Grandma Hardcore

This blog is the chronicle of my experiences with Grandma, the video-game playing queen of her age-bracket and weight class. She will beat any PS2, XBox, GameCube, etc., console game put in front of her, just like she always has. These are her stories. She is absolutely real. She lives in Cleveland.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The current state of things

Wii bowling teams at retirement homes, the Penny-Arcade guys having one of those moments, AARP trying its best to teach older folks about video games, a 95 years young Japanese woman playing Halo 3, the Brain Age phenomenon with all of its knock-offs and cheap imitations, pensioners becoming addicted to World of Warcraft... and what does it all mean? Where are we going? What is the significance? Are the older folks leading the games industry to new frontiers or is the gaming industry trying desperately to steer us all back into the comfort of the familiar? What will all this look like in ten years?

All questions being currently asked and answered by people much smarter than us, no doubt; a massive amount of purchasing data is being illustrated on the whiteboards and Powerpoint presentations in the offices of the curious executives and shareholders of the industry. Grandma wasn't a catalyst for all this. She doesn't influence these folks or hold some position of advocacy on behalf of her generation; she never did. As we have said before, Grandma is just a teeny, tiny part of an inevitability. The attention brought to her, however, has afforded us with the opportunity for a unique perspective on the future of things; to see the whole picture from different levels.

So let's do some predicting.

1. Media & Sales

Here's how it works for a lot of older folks today: Through news programs, newspaper articles and the front pages of websites like Yahoo and MSNBC that syndicate Reuters or AP feeds (before they check their email, they usually glance over the news a bit) they'll hear about Brain Age or about the Wii. When talking with their friends, they might talk a little about how they've heard it's fun and easy to play. The conversation tends to lead to one of three different ways: First, about how they know someone whose kids have one and really like it to which the subject switches to the kids and not the system. Second, about the mental health benefits of things like Brain Age to which the subject switches to homeopathy and the snake-oil promises of charlatans. Third, and most unfortunate, is how difficult it is to get one of those newfangled Wiis nowadays.

Now- of course this isn't everyone, it isn't even Grandma's personal experience (she's a bit of an anomaly), but give us the benefit of the doubt when we say it's the trend.

Next, it will be a day of shopping in a mall or big-box store like Best Buy, Circuit City, WalMart or Target (less typically a GameStop or EBGames or something similar). They will look at the displays a bit and the first thing they will usually see is a giant wall of games behind glass of all varying degrees of violence and cartoonishness. It's pretty overwhelming at first glance to an impulse buyer. You'll notice already that in some instances, a repeating video in the fashion of an short infomercial, rather than a playable demo, will play above the Nintendo section, which stands out from the rest of the wall because of the thick, white borders on all of the games. If they watch a bit or at least confirm that this commercial is talking about the same thing they heard or read about, they might stay a bit longer; completely abandoning the impulse buyer attitude and moving towards the behavior of a true shopper. Overcoming all odds, the person will approach a salesperson.

"Excuse me, is this the thing... the um... Nintendo something or other I heard about with the bowling and the math problems?"

Good Salesperson - "Yes! We've sold these for kids, for college students, parents, retirement homes, it's pretty much for everybody...."
Bad Salesperson - ".....yup. For your grandkids, right?"
Most Salespeople - "Yup."

If the salesperson manages to fish around to find out what the person already knows about it without sounding patronizing and rude AND doesn't overcomplicate things as they typically do around older folks to get a moment of feeling "man, old people don't know shit about electronics. I should ask her what it was like to ride a motherfucking horse to school" feeling of superiority (this isn't always out of malice, but some salespeople tend to overuse acronyms and spew technobabble so they can feel as though they are educating the customer), they will score a sale.

That's about how it works nowadays.

Here's how that's going to change:

Older folks are going to become a lot more web-savvy. They are already a lot more internet proficient than most folks give them credit, but the days of the newspaper and single-time-slot television news shows are coming to an end, for better or worse. This means in a decade or less you're going to have a hell of a lot more 60+ year old forum users. The older demographic will be courted the same way the rest of us are courted now, with PR plants, trusted review sites, and blogs. Sites like ours will do alright, I suppose, but it's going to be the large community sites like GeezerGamers and 2old2play that will hype the newer stuff and influence buying decisions (if hype is warranted; both sites are filled with honest folks who give honest opinions). Truth is, they probably aren't going to need to change their format much if at all, but the big dogs will be the community based sites linking the videos at GamesTrailers and articles on Kotaku and Joystiq and The Escapist and all the good ones that exist or have yet to exist. New blogs written by older gamers will appear and become popular and trusted.

It isn't a "new paradigm" or any of that bullshit, it's just a demographic shift. Today's 55 year old dad and VP of International Sales is the 65 year old bored-ass blogger of the future. It's possible that a mature gaming magazine might pop up and become popular, but the way publishing costs are these days, it's fairly safe to assume most opinions will be formed on the web first. Most of all, it's going to be about trust. Plants, carefully disguised press releases, and paid-for articles of praise for games and systems will always be a part of things, unfortunately, but they are going to have to get really sneaky. In ten years the whole Web 2.0 cliché user will be pretty seasoned, and it will be tempting to use the tricks of today, but god help the poor marketing folks of the future who try to fall into old habits. The older generations have a wicked bite when they've been played.

Because of this media change, the point-of-sale experience also changes. You'll see more of them in GameStops and EB Games-type stores. They will already know exactly what they want; everything else is just polite conversation. The box stores will no longer require the Brain Age kiosk or the repeating infomercial to stand out from a mosaic of choices. The older generation isn't a primary focus of the industry in the future same as it isn't one today; but they are assimilated. No longer will a salesperson immediately break out the casual game recommendation when a mature gamer asks for ideas for personal entertainment. It won't just be Brain Age and Card House, it will be the nineteenth iteration of Final Fantasy VII for the PSP 9000³ or whatever the fuck we're all playing then. A good RPG will be the new audio-book for many; a game that rewards you with a great story.

That's the good. Now for the bad.

2. Games & Design

There are some obvious adaptations we'll likely see in games; mandatory closed-captioning or subtitles (sometimes a pain in the ass for developers but long since overdue), newer accessibility options and an advanced, chock-full-of-ads social networking system that may likely become cross-platform; Home for the PS3 and XBox Live for the 360 will seem as antiquated as AOL web browsing is to us today, no- a truly powerful network will be accessible and changeable from all consoles. Like MySpace but more clumsy and full of achievements and successes and records and videos of all of your gaming travels.

But even this mystical beast will be overshadowed by something horrifying.

Consider: For every Orange Box and Okami, there are 30 Kane & Lynches and Red Steels. The primary market focus isn't going to disappear with the inclusion of an older demographic BUT you are going to see whole shitload of horrible, god-awful games flooding the shelves at the big box stores that will try and desperately fail to make incredible claims about the broad reach of appeal. So, comparatively, for every Brain Age and Wii Sports, you're going to have 30 World Championship Poker IIs.

This isn't just because they want to exploit a new, older market. It's something more sinister. We, as a gaming community, young and old, have to prepare for a time when the Jack Thompsons of this country will win.

Gaming has always been an easy scapegoat of the publicity hungry politician. If the ESRB continues to handle them the way they are now, it is likely that those of us here in the states will soon experience the same kind of gaming iconoclasm that is already in place in Germany. That means banned games, harsher ratings boards, and extremely cautious retailers.

So: there will be a factioning of the gaming community. A broad spectrum of gamers of all ages who have been enjoying their entertainment for a time will try, and likely fail, to fight back against the censors. There will be older gamers who focus primarily on casual gaming that will feel as though they have won a moral victory and directed the industry into something more noble. Then there will be younger gamers who will blame the older crowd for spoiling the fun; isolating them in an attempt to return to the days where everyone, in a way, was represented in the market.

Shareholders of major publishers will panic and demand expansion rather than a costly lobbying battle. Think of it. Partridge Family Expansion Packs for Rock Band. New, downloadable house designs for The Swiss Family Robinson Adventure built of the Little Big Planet engine (fuck, I might just play that now that I think on it.) And yes, Biblical games out the ass. Maybe even a few good ones. ANYTHING to cater to the populist call for a new technological conservatism. And yet, it will come from both major political parties leaving everyone to congratulate themselves, and all of us to blame for the apathy that set it in place.

This is big money. We can't reasonably assume that the art is going to be protected at the expense of losing a corporation. Forget the masses of gamers who vote, forget the popularity, this is simply a war we cannot win if today's lobbying efforts are any example of our competence as an influential community. Chances are, this terrifying new world is exactly where we are headed according to Grandma.

Games are going to be quite different in a decade, but it's not just going to be improvements in graphics and audio and new input devices, it's going to be a whole different realm. The older folks are going to be blamed for it. And they will certainly not benefit from it.

This isn't what Grandma wants to happen. This isn't the gaming utopia we all dream about; the paradise we seem to feel is on its way. Things are great right now, but that doesn't mean they will stay that way. Could we be wrong? Maybe. I fucking hope so. I would be so happy to learn in ten years time that we were the crazy people who hoarded food for a Y2K disaster that never came. But as we all enjoy the current state of things, we have to think long and hard about what is to come.

Game on.

18 Comments:

  • At 5:11 AM, Blogger Jó hó hó, jólin fara að koma said…

    Hi this is nise wisit from Iceland santa

     
  • At 7:12 AM, OpenID tr67 said…

    I don't follow your argument of "the Jack Thomspons winning." From the perspective of mature gaming, in ten years we're going to have a congressperson that played Doom in their youth. Political turnover seems to oust more opposers than it breeds.

     
  • At 9:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I agree with the political turnover thing. The older politicians can't live forever. Although Strom Thurmond almost proved that statement wrong.

    I think there will always be multiple systems. The conservatives can have their Bible games for their system, and the left can have GTA for theirs.
    That is, unless Hillary is elected. Then we're all fucked.

     
  • At 6:22 PM, Blogger Sarah said…

    There's always gonna be loads of shitty games for the small amount of awesome games. As the gamer generation (Generation Y) gets older, we will still continue to play games. I know I will still be playing games while yelling at the damn kids to get off my lawn.

    But its right, the gaming business is changing to allow in more people that were drawn in by the Wii. A few weeks ago my dad said he wanted to get a Wii for my step mom for Christmas, and pointed at my Xbox 360. And when I finally scored them one off amazon.com due to crazy shoppers in local stores, he thought they were $600. I do wish that my dad and step mom would come to me for advice cause I KNOW they will fall victim to the onslaught of shitty games.

    Now I really can get behind captioning/subtitles cause I REALLY NEED THEM! I'm deaf so I don't get the luxury of cranking the TV and putting on some headphones like Grandma does. If a game doesn't have any sort of captioning or subtitles, I would not continue to play the game and return it right away. I played the Half-Life 2: Episode 2 demo off xbox live marketplace the other day and I was so delighted that they actually captioned it (subtitles are just "translation" of words, captions is every sound and word) so I could see all the mob noises that I would usually miss.

    So what is coming is equally cool and equally crap. But when was gaming ever not crap, and just perfect? There's always bound to be something bad to keep it in a good balance.

     
  • At 8:53 AM, Anonymous Matt N. said…

    Im sorry, but i am disapointed in this update. I come to this site to hear about Grandma and her gaming adventures, and i wait this long between updates just to hear someone rabble on about things in the game industry that is common sense to the world.

    I want to know what Grandma is palying and doing, and maybe a video, not this shit.

     
  • At 1:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I hate when you try to act and sound all professional, with your fancy words that dont mean a damn thing to common folk. Your just an average kid, who smokes disgusting cancer sticks, stop trying to act grown up.

     
  • At 10:46 PM, Blogger CtrlAltDelete said…

    tr67-

    I think Grandma is addressing more the insincerity of politicians. Think about our congressional legislation at the moment. We have some younger members in there already. Some of them probably partied in college and didn't care much for religion, and yet now we hear them rail against the immorality of the world to gain a few points for their constiuency.

    anonymous

    The current folks in congress are going to do their damndest to retain their positions. And even if they can't, we can't resonably assume there will be a massive political turnover in only ten years, unfortunately.

    Sarah

    I think it comes more from Grandma and I just discussing things to come is all. I know exactly what you mean about Half-Life 2, and all the games in Orange Box. She isn't always able to hear the enemies approach, so the captioning was a HUGE help. The changes we're talking about might be hyperbolous, but it's always better to panic then to approach things unprepared.

    Matt N-

    I can appreciate that, but at the moment she's staring at the television playing Mass Effect, and she's not quite sure what to think yet. So, I could post that Grandma doesn't know what to think about Mass Effect yet, or I could post about what she and I have been talking about lately.

    anonymous-

    What the fuck am I supposed to say to that? Fuck you if you don't like us.

     
  • At 2:11 AM, Anonymous Jen (dontgiveahoot) said…

    I can see where there would be a certain amount of concern, but at the same time I'm pretty sure that there will always be decent games out there. It's a huge market now, and a good game is practically an art form, when you consider graphics, programming, storyline, voice acting and sound effects, music, and so forth. The amount of people employed in the games industry, from the creators and the people involved above, to those people that make the consoles and those who sell them... well, doing too much damage to the industry would mean a lot of unemployment that the politicians may not want to deal with. Sure, complaining about "dangerous" games and movies is an easy ticket to votes, but I doubt too many of them would like to take on the issues that would come with actually getting rid of these games.
    You'd think that people would realise that a ratings system is there for a reason. Kids can't BUY the mature games, and if a parent is foolish enough to buy it for them and then blame their child's behaviour on the game, most people are going to figure out quickly that they're silly.
    Of course, in Australia we have our own issues with ratings (our system is stupid) and of course we rely on Japanese and US games companies for the majority of our games (and the Japanese games still have to be translated etc.)
    I guess that without being a U.S. citizen, I can't really weigh in with an opinion, since I don't know enough about your political systems and how it affects gaming.

     
  • At 3:47 PM, OpenID tr67 said…

    Agreed, politicians will always be politicians. Hopefully the commerce following the gaming industry holds off legislation until public sentiment changes.

     
  • At 8:38 AM, Blogger Doyle said…

    I am an infrequent poster on here, but that's usually because I don't think I have anything extra to add to what is usually a rather complete argument/conversation. However, comments that include things like, "I come to this site to read about Grandma and her gaming adventures," and, "I hate when you try to act and sound all professional, with your fancy words that dont mean a damn thing to common folk. Your just an average kid, who smokes disgusting cancer sticks, stop trying to act grown up," aren't really able to be taken seriously. This site is run by a grandmother and her grandson, and it is their right to post whatever they want to, because it belongs to them (its also Tim's right to smoke cigarettes as they are currently legal and he is of age. I don't smoke cigarettes, but all the legislation that makes them worse than selling your body for crack drives me nuts). If they want you to read about what they think of the future of gaming, well, then they can post on it. I don't want to lose them readers, in fact, I don't think that G-ma H's stock will go down anytime soon as the media has ahold of her story, and will bring it up every so often when its around con time, Christmas, or if there's some breakthrough in gaming that no one has caught wind of as of yet. That, and the fact that her opinion is respected by hundreds of gamers out there, and obviously the gaming companies who keep sending her stuff. As such, her opinions on politics that affect games comes into play as well. So, a part of GH's draw for the companies that influence the politicians is the fact that she has gaming adventures, and if she does not use that influence to help the gaming industry, then that is when we should complain. Not because she's currently buried in a game and just able to think about gaming's situation rather than explain the intricate details of the boss she just beat in Mass Effect. Keep it up, in my opinion. And not to be insulting, but what part of that post couldn't be read by any worthwhile student in a functional high school in these United States?

     
  • At 2:15 AM, Anonymous Stu said…

    I have to slightly disagree with your dystopian version of the future of gaming, GHC and Tim.
    First, I believe (and fervently hope) that gaming will evolve in much a similar manner that the movie industry has. Over the last century (and even within my limited 30 years) subject matter in movies that used to pull an R rating now barely gets a PG-13. While that speaks of a whole other cultural phenomenon, what passes as acceptable in movies now would have had my grandparents leaving the theater in a huff. So I don't feel that the "Jack Thompsons" will win, although they will continue to flog the video game industry in order to obtain votes.
    Second, I don't think that we'll see a mass of crappy games. Although there will always be crappy movie-licensed games, and knock-off clones of popular titles, broad-based appeal doesn't have to equal crappy games. What I feel we will see is games that appeal to an aging generations abilities in terms of small motor control. I don't think we'll see less of the games we enjoy now, but we will see more poker, bridge, backgammon, etc.We will see more games that rely on knowledge, mental acuity, and story rather than on rapid button-mashing or extensive input sequences. My own father, who is 55, enjoys the games of today, but is frequently annoyed by having to mash buttons or input long command sequences in order to pass.
    So I think we'll see more games focusing on strategy and management, of which there are already some good examples, such as SimCity, Sid Meier's Civilization, and some good puzzle games.
    More of today's middle-aged gamers play online flash games at sites like Yahoo and Pogo than consoles, and the console makers and game companies are going to have to court the older gamers away from the PC and in front of the TV.

     
  • At 8:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

  • At 8:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

  • At 7:45 AM, Blogger BigBearButt said…

    It's not just older gamers that would appreciate fine quality games that require less fine motor control, either.

    My wife loves video games, too. She really does. She's not 'hardcore', but she played and beat all the Spyro games on PS1 and PS2, until in her opinion they lost focus on tight dragon platforming, and went towards multiple character's POV.

    But she enjoys the exploration and puzzle solving at her own pace more than the tight controls and frequent dying often needed to learn the timed paths through most platformers.

    So she has started playing World of Warcraft, because she can choose which parts of the challenge to step up to at any given time. If she just doesn't feel like 'twitch gaming' in PvP or whatever, then she doesn't have to. She can manipulate the auction house for a while, or quest.

    Has Grandma ever tried WoW or another MMORPG? I know she loves the console games, but you did mention the MMOs as having a draw for their pacing and accessibility.

    I'm pretty curious what her take on the genre is.

     
  • At 5:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

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  • At 4:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I believe thereDiablo 3 items will always be multiple techniques. The actual conservatives might have their particular Bible video games for their program, and the left might have GTA regarding their own.
    That is certainly, except if Hillary is actually chosen.Cheap wow gold Then all of us are banged.

     

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