Video games aren’t just for kids — older gamers thrive on mental challenge, connection

A 70-year-old gamer from Missouri known as @GrndPaGaming said he’s been playing videogames since 1976 and has never looked back.

“The graphics have changed immensely. The games are now more detailed, realistic and faster,” said @GrndPaGaming, who declined to give his name. He first started playing on an Apple 1
computer, but now streams his gaming on YouTube

where he has a following of more than 75,000 subscribers, and Facebook
He said he’s a fan of survival games.

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“It’s the challenge, the camaraderie between you and the player and teammates,” said @GrndPaGaming, who added that he plays games to help keep his mind off physical pain in his neck. “It keeps me mentally sharp. It requires mental capacity to solve puzzles. It’s a major aspect of keeping my mind sharp.”

And @GrndPaGaming, a retired Navy veteran, is not alone. 

According to the NPD Group, there were 87 million people in the U.S. aged 45 and older who play videogames (and this includes all videogames — everything from PC and console to virtual reality and mobile), making them the fastest-growing age group last year. That’s up from 64.9 million older adults in 2018 and 82.9 in 2020.

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Meanwhile, the number of teens and young adults gaming is down from 2020. Last year, 45.2 million teens and young adults were gaming, down from a pandemic high of 49.6 million and roughly flat compared with the 2018 volume of 45.8 million, the NPD Group said.

Why are older adults outpacing the younger cohorts?

“We have some (people) aging up into this 45+ bucket for those folks that have been playing videogames all their lives. They had an Atari 2600 or Nintendo Entertainment System as a kid and never stopped playing,” said NPD Group videogame industry analyst Mat Piscatella. 

“We also have a group that were introduced or reintroduced to gaming during 2020, which had to do with staying in touch with family and friends as well as for general entertainment and have then told their 45+ friends about it, encouraging additional growth,” Piscatella said.

The 45 and older segment is what Piscatella would call “light” players, as well as incidental players, who play on their mobile devices while doing other activities. The group also includes “daily dabblers,” who do puzzles and chance games, he said. This group of older adults plays about seven hours a week.

“These are not really what you consider as a hard core gamer,” Piscatella said.

In comparison, @GrndPaGaming streams gaming 15 hours and plays for fun, as well.

Meanwhile, the number of teens and young adults playing videogames dropped as the pandemic eased and young people went back to school and work and got outside again experiencing other forms of entertainment, Piscatella said. 

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. polled over 65-year olds in the United Kingdom who were interested in gaming or who were already playing and found over four in five (85%) now game at least once a week, and more than a third (36%) gaming every day. 

Almost a fifth of grandparents from the sample that Samsung spoke to in the U.K., play videogames to keep in contact with their grandchildren. The emerging trend reveals two-fifths (42%) of those surveyed game to bond and spend quality time with family members and nearly a quarter (22%) are doing so to boost their mood and stimulate their minds.

Still, some older adults face obstacles to playing. Almost a third (32%) of those polled cite “not understanding the technology” and “needing someone to explain how to play” (31%) as holding them back to starting gaming in the past or the future, while more than a quarter (29%) feel they don’t have the right equipment to get involved, Samsung found.

A quarter of those polled play to keep their mind active and over a fifth (22%) find it helps to boost their mood, while 23% find gaming “calming” as it “takes their mind off the busy world” around them, the Samsung research found.

The study also revealed that while around half (51%) of grandparents who already game or would be interested in gaming would like to play by themselves, many already play, or would prefer to play in the future with their family such as with children and grandchildren (42%) or a partner (41%) as they look for more interaction over the winter months.

“The power of connection that technology can bring was evident during the pandemic, and it’s incredible to see the older generation embracing the virtual world and continuing new habits formed over the past few years,” Graeme Little, head of display at Samsung Electronics UK.

That compares with a 2022 AARP study, which found that almost half of grandparents play videogames at least once a month—more than non-grandparents—and daily play is also more common. 

Grandmothers account for a bigger share (61%) of the gaming grandparent audience, AARP said. And although gaming grandparents say they play to “spend time with family,” they play solo 80% of the time.

For @GrndPaGaming, he said he played videogames with his two grandchildren when they were younger, but they’ve outgrown it.

“Not me,” he said. “I’m not outgrowing this.”

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