It’s January; money is tight and people are spending more time indoors, avoiding the winter cold and trying to recover from the excesses of the festive season.
Looking back on December’s family holidays, it’s evident that in many families, different generations have contrasting definitions of fun. For instance, there will be teens — and adults too — with eyes glued to their devices, playing on the video games. What’s interesting, is that increasingly these electronic games are no longer the solitary activity they used to be; social, multiplayer gaming is now a massive trend, with many new releases highly interactive in their gameplay. However older generations often don’t connect with virtual gaming in the same way, preferring to interact in with each other in person, over a strategic board game or quiz.
This disparity between generations can cause tension during family time — younger members simply aren’t excited enough by relaxed-paced physical gaming, while older members might not be open to the possibilities of electronic play.
So, is there a way to get everyone in the family happily playing together?
Understanding the different games we play
Video gaming is based largely around escapism, and allowing the player to take part in an activity they’d otherwise never be able to experience. Some might ask, why stay inside and play FIFA instead of going outside to play a game of soccer? Here, FIFA fans would argue that it’s taking on the role of team manager that’s key to the game’s success; it’s not just a digital kick-about, which can be easily replicated by a group of friends with a soccer ball, there’s much, much more involved. From the now infamous Grand Theft Auto, to wonderfully surrealist Pokémon and Super Mario Bros., bestselling video games all appeal to users by transporting them into another world.
Where electronic games start to become differentiated, however, is in their storyline and genre. What’s the key purpose of the player? What does the game ask them to do? Is it based around adrenaline-inducing action, as seen in the monumentally successful Call of Duty warfare franchise? Or perhaps it demands intelligent puzzle solving, which has been developed through gaming in a myriad of executions, over decades, from Tetris to L.A. Noire and beyond.
Whilst genre is subjective, and enjoyment derives from personal preference, some trends do emerge due to a combination of societal, political and cultural conditions. In recent years, American gamers have favored action-fueled, first person shooter games — a finding which is reflected in the massive sales of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, the bestselling game across the United States in 2016.
Video gamer demographics: it’s not as you might imagine
Whether you yourself are a gamer or not, you might be surprised to learn who is playing and why. The average age of a gamer is now 35 years old, and 54% of the most frequent gamers play with others, with 53% agreeing that gaming helps them connect with friends.
Additionally, the gender gap is not as wide as you might expect — the percentage of female gamers has been growing for a number of years, bringing the ratio close to 50/50 in 2015, although a slight dip has occurred in the lead up to our present day. Does this mean that overtly masculine games might soon be less relevant? What do female gamers want to play? Is there a difference in taste between male and female gamers, or are there games that appeal to both genders? These are questions that gaming producers are sure to be asking themselves — if they can get it right with female gamers, it’s a huge burgeoning market.
Knowing now that it’s not just young males engaging in video gaming, it’s not surprising that when families come to spend time together there seem to be few ways to keep younger and older generations engaged in the same activity.
Bringing everyone together in gameplay: what’s the solution?
Considering all the factors, you could conclude that there’s no video game currently available that appeals to all generations. What’s needed is something that’s not entirely aimed at one generation, with elements of gameplay for the strategists of the family, and enough excitement to keep the adrenaline junkies on-board, and crucially, in-person interaction.
What happens, therefore, if we look beyond the video gaming category, at new trends in other forms of social gaming? Immersive theater has replicated the surrealist, other-worldly character and anonymity of video gaming and brought it to life in person. Is it possible electronic social gaming can be recreated in a similar way?
One possibility is live action entertainment, like Boston Escape Game. Here, players are assembled in to teams, and immersed in a realistic — yet other-worldly and incredible — setting. Teams must work together to follow clues to solve a crime, find a missing espionage agent or ensure themselves a safe escape from a hijacking — and to add to the test, it must all be done within a sixty minute window. With all the adrenaline of your classic first-person shooter game, plus the strategy and interaction of a board game — is this the way to get the family playing together? Having experienced a thrilling surge in popularity, psychologists are now looking into the appeal of live-action team-based games, and are discovering that they offer an exhilarating alternative to electronic gaming.
It’s also interesting to consider who would perform better in such a situation. With years of experience in tense, simulated gaming challenges, can a frequent video gamer outperform others and solve an Escape Room faster than, say, their father, who has grown up playing strategy-based board games? Indeed, these are different skills born from responding to different stimuli and demands.
Ultimately, there’s no evidence to support one prediction over another — you could say it all remains to be played for! With over 1,750 Escape Room locations across the United States, you wouldn’t have to travel far to find out.