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Does Age Matter in Gaming?

Inspired by TT forum member Rophan [1]‘s thread that asks How old are you and your players? [2], three related questions:

And if the answer to any of those questions is “Yes,” does that answer change depending on the situation — a home game vs. a convention game, for example?

Personally, one of the things I’ve always loved about gaming as a hobby is that it’s so welcoming to players of different ages. I don’t worry about how old my players or the members of my group are — it’s not age that matters, it’s maturity: coming to the table to have fun, and help everyone else have fun, too.

In my regular groups, what matters most to me is that I’m playing with friends. That tends to mean most of the folks I game with are in the same age ballpark, but not always: up until recently, our D&D group’s age range was 22-36 (I’m 30).

At conventions, I’ve been irritated by immature older players just as often as by immature younger players, and neither situation has come up very often. I’ve never gamed with a GM who was much younger than me, but I suspect it wouldn’t change anything — at least up to a point (I think I’d feel odd playing a game run by a 10-year-old).

How about you?

(I’m out of town on business from Tuesday, August 7th through Friday, August 10th, and I most likely won’t be able to check in while I’m away. There’ll be a new post every day, as always, and I’ll catch up on comments and the forums when I get back. See you in a few days! — Martin)

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#1 Comment By Jennifer Snow On August 10, 2007 @ 5:33 am

I’ve never found age qua age to be a major consideration, but I haven’t gamed with a lot of much-younger people because they can’t keep up with me. People 5 years older than I am with a college degree can barely keep up with me: knock 15 years of education and experience off of that and even the most intelligent person is going to come off poorly.

I just don’t have the energy to game with people that don’t know the rules or how to have a comprehensible dialogue any more. I take my hobby seriously and I want to play with people that also take it seriously.

#2 Comment By robustyoungsoul On August 10, 2007 @ 6:00 am

I want to play with people that like to have fun. I think it is called “gaming” for a reason.

What I like about the last few years of the hobby and all of the new, small games is that there is something out there for everyone, from the folks that really take this seriously to the folks that want to have a good time and tell a story. Me, I like a focused, intense game, but I like it to still be a “game”.

What I DON’T like about the new movement is that sometimes it becomes exclusionary. When playing at a small Con about a month ago I realized that the CCG players were making fun of the tabletoppers, and the tabletoppers were making fun of the different styles. I think that is kind of sad, we’re all in this to have a good time. Even if our ideas of “fun” are a little different, I don’t think that’s license to say one way of playing that doesn’t match up with yours is dumb.

#3 Comment By Micah On August 10, 2007 @ 6:14 am

Don’t forget that the gaming hobby is about more than just playing the game. You sit at a table with these people for several hours, once a week. You had better have something in common for when the discussion runs off track. If you have age ranges from 10 to 100, it will be difficult to have a conversation beyond the weather.

For me, I love to reference Star Wars quotes, old episodes of MacGuyver, and why I hate Final Fantasy games. If I’m gaming with someone who wants to talk about the new Bratz movie or Britney Spears’ next album, we’re going to have a fundamental disconnect. It works in the other direction, too. I would be at a loss if someone wanted to chat about their favorite episodes of some 70s sitcom.

So yes, age does matter. Don’t exclude someone based solely on their age, but be aware that large differences in age can make it much harder to connect on a pop-culture level. And for gaming, that’s a big issue.

#4 Comment By John Arcadian On August 10, 2007 @ 6:27 am

“it’s not age that matters, it’s maturity”

Exactly. I’ve played with people who are older and frighteningly immature. I’ve played with people who are older and rock as gamers. They take their turn and are not trying to grab the spotlight all the time. Some issues of maturity can be attributed to age, but not all of them. Some people just don’t grow out of it. Most people do, and everyone who hasn’t still has the potential to.

robustyoungsoul: I agree with you on liking the new trends in games, but that some of the new movement is exclusionary. Some people are die-hard indie gamers and everything that came before and inspired people to make indie games has little worth. That is too bad, because even though I enjoy playing dogs in the vineyard, ninja burger, dread, etc. I still like going back and doing a dungeon crawl in DND. Even if I didn’t I see no reason to knock down people who do.

The converse holds true as well. There are D20 gamers who think everything else stinks and doesn’t hold a candle to their way of doing things. It is a pity that people hold those attitudes.

#5 Comment By Tikanni On August 10, 2007 @ 6:30 am

I’d say age may matter if the setting or subject matter you’re dealing with is more mature. Otherwise I’d agree with the author above who points out you can find more mature younger gamers and more immature older gamers.

#6 Comment By Telas On August 10, 2007 @ 6:32 am

Martin touched on the maturity of the player, which I think is a much bigger factor than age. A 50 year old adolescent is still an adolescent.

I do think that a younger gamer limits what topics the table can venture into. I wouldn’t feel comfortable dealing with sex or gory visuals around someone who can’t drive yet, and certain behavior may not make sense to them (guilt and the quest for redemption spring to mind).

#7 Comment By Rick the Wonder Algae On August 10, 2007 @ 6:46 am

I think you’re making a mistake attributing the exculsionary nature of gaming to the new indie trend. Unfortunately ever since RPGs aplit from their wargaming parents, that’s been going on.

Re: the age issue, I find that there are certain themes and focuses that are prevalent in certain demographics, including age, that other demographics find less entertaining.

For example:

In my experience you’re more likely to have younger gamers interested in playing anime archetypes as opposed to classical ones. This isn’t to say that either of the archetypes are “better” or “more mature” but rather that anime archetypes (outside of Japan) are culturally newer so older gamers are less exposed to them.

In my experience, less experienced gamers tend to set up their world in “grand symbolic harmony” style where every class, color, moral worldview, and element are linked into groups, ie: “here we have the house of Aurora which has lots of fighters and elves, is lawful, they all wear blue, and are represented by the element water.”

So on and so forth. This means that there CAN be a problem with players and DMs of different age groups since their idea of what’s “Fun” or “neat” can easily be different.

#8 Comment By robustyoungsoul On August 10, 2007 @ 6:50 am

Rick: That’s actually a fair point… that sort of thing did start a long time ago, when I was cutting my teeth on the blue box.

I just think there might be more of it now that there are so many “different” kinds of games. That’s not a fault that should be laid at the foot of the “indie movement”, however, just an unfortunate byproduct.

Re: Age – The younger players I’ve had a chance to play with tend to follow the lead of the old heads at a table. To that end it might actually be EASIER to play with them because they’re more likely to accept your style.

#9 Comment By Darrin On August 10, 2007 @ 7:21 am

Maturity is a concern. Granted, age and maturity are not necessarily proportional. However, in my experience, I have found that on the average, age and maturity are proportional. Is this prejudice? Yes, it is. Do I have an age limit in my campaigns? No, I do not. However, I probably scrutinize the younger players more closely than older players. Of course, I have other prejudices which causes me to scrutinize someone with trait x more closely than someone with trait y.

My fun is directly proportional to the similarity of gaming style between myself and the other players. Therefore, I seek out like-minded individuals. Crucify me if you must. If you are young and immature, I will not game with you.

#10 Comment By Shandar the Ashen On August 10, 2007 @ 7:42 am

Well, since I’m a AD&D Second Edition hold out I’m more likely to find gamers who want to play in that system who are older rather than younger, so that’s a point.

I agree that part of the fun is having shared cultural references, and so that’s a point.

Mostly, though, the difference I’ve noticed as a GM is that older players seem to want to explore more and fight less, and younger players want to get to the fighting quicker.

I suspect that while this is obviously a broad generalization, it has played out in demographic research because the D&D minis game by WOTC is marketed in that obviously profitable direction.

Recently on an official chat board for D&D minis I bemoaned that RPG related material is so often left out of the new manuals, such as the 3E MM V doesn’t even list anything like “number appearing” and none of the 3E books provide any of the info 2E devoted so much time to, like diet and habitat.

They didn’t call me an old fogey for worrying about stuff that didn’t matter in their version of the game…but the implication was pretty clear. Old School is boring and complicated, New School is exciting and easy to learn…partly because uninteresting details like role playing were minimized and combat maximized.

Obviously the stuff I find most interesting in the Old Scholl game isn’t going to be valuable to the single session table top skirmisher and the RPG market isn’t profitable enough to invest in, or at least that is how it appears.

That being said, our group recently got rid of a player by turning him into a figurine of wondrous power we never activate because all he did was tell us how great his 1st Edition campaign was and why 2E rules sucked….Every generation has its gap. 🙂

Age alone does not determine what the players will find interesting, I realize…but life experience does have an impact on what players are interested in spending time role playing through. And annoying is annoying no matter how old you are.

I won’t rule anything or anyone out based solely on age, but the adage of birds of a feather flocking together tends to hold plenty of water. I like spending time with people who have similar interests…and they tend to be within 5 years or so of my own age. And not just because we’re all more likely to comlain about the same people (everyone older and younger than us!)

#11 Comment By Rophan On August 10, 2007 @ 7:45 am

We have about a 34 year age difference between our oldest to our youngest player, and the youngest is the son of the oldest. Obviously there are some issues of maturity, and levels of understanding in the game, but often it adds to the entertainment of the night. Often I am the one most likely to want to “get the game moving” but I am learning to relax and enjoy the moments… We are there for fun, not to get through hordes of material.

#12 Comment By Telas On August 10, 2007 @ 9:16 am

By the way… it’s okay to generalize about groups. The problem is when generalizations replace one’s perception of reality, or when they’re applied to individuals. (Or when they’re used to justify mean or stupid actions.)

Example: Generally speaking, Orcs are strong, stupid, and ugly. But an Orc Wizard/Favored Soul is probably none of these.

Telas

#13 Comment By Rick the Wonder Algae On August 10, 2007 @ 9:19 am

I WILL say, now that I’ve thought about it, that we had one of our players bring his (12?) year old son to the game twice (Without asking ahead if it would be O.K. Way to go Dad!) and I enjoyed having someone there who was enthusiastic about everything that was going on. Dave (The kid) was easy to get along with, listened well, and was generally well behaved (more so than his father, who I’ve bitched about in various forums posts) so even given the points I make above about the interests of various demographics, I wouldn’t rule out someone younger (or older) in my group.

#14 Comment By Heather On August 10, 2007 @ 9:37 am

I’ve found that whether age matters or not depends on the individual. Kids tend to be less mature just because it’s age and experience that matures us—but that isn’t a guarantee that any given kid will be immature or any given adult will be mature. I’ve refused to play with adults because of their attitude, and been perfectly happy to play with kids less than half my age because they were interesting, articulate people who were willing to learn and wanted to have fun.

#15 Comment By Frank Filz On August 10, 2007 @ 10:00 am

Age differences do have some impact on the game, but a large age difference need not spell disaster. I very much enjoyed the participation of an 11 year old boy in my first Arcana Unearthed campaign. Sure, he liked to switch characters too often, but otherwise, he was a solid contributor, knowledgeable in the rules, and very mature when his first character died.

I also look back on my very early years of gaming. I remember visiting a somewhat older guy his game session and getting advice. I remember the hobby store owner who introduced me to Glen Blacow who patiently talked to me about gaming (and one time, the hobby store owner even paid me a couple bucks to watch the store for a few minutes while he ran an errand).

Later, at the urging of one of my friends older friends, I went to a game convention at MIT. This friend was enthusiastically recruiting players, mostly college kids (I was a Sophmore or Junior in high school at the time). By the time we started, I had 16 players. It was a great session, and after it, two of the players complimented me on how well I ran the game. A month or two later I started attending the MIT game club, where I came into contact with Glen even more. I occaisionally played in Glen’s games, and Glen played in my game a few times (and enthusiatically wrote up at least one session in the Wild Hunt APA).

Mostly what I have seen in age difference is not game related but general socialization. Sure, some young players (and some older players) might be immature in their play, but by and large, I’ve seen younger players rise to the standards set by my game.

As far as connecting on non-game interests, I’ve found that to be not as much a problem as one might imagine. The likelyhood is that you do have things in common. Music is a lot less ageless than we might think. So are movies. And books. I probably share less interest in books, movies, and music with my fiance than I did with that 11 year old…

On subject matter: I never really felt constrained to limit my subject matter. The reality is that kids today are plenty exposed to more violent depictions than almost anything we do in game, leaving sexuality. But sexuality is so touchy even among peers that I don’t see that as an age constraint (and for what it’s worth, the mother of the 11 year old told me she would be comfortable with his exposure to any sexual themes she would be comfortable with for herself [she played in the game also, though not as often]).

Frank

#16 Comment By Rick the Wonder Algae On August 10, 2007 @ 10:37 am

Frank, I feel like I have to add a caveat to your comment about using sexual themes in a game with a player that’s a minor in them. While that particular minor’s mom understood that you were trying to create a fun game, that strikes me as something that’s generally best avoided. Even ASKING for parental consent may end up with police at your door questioning you because someone reported you as a predator or some such. Probably best to avoid that entire issue alltogether.

#17 Comment By John Arcadian On August 10, 2007 @ 11:29 am

For my money avoiding sexual content in a game is generally a good idea. My group all makes jokes about stuff like that (as any group is want to do), but if a situation comes up in the game that would take the game to a sexual place, it gets handwaved in our game.

We are all over the age of 20, but it just tends to work out better to avoid it. Some groups can go with those kind of themes easily, but making sure that everyone, young or old, is comfortable with the situations presented in a gaming session is something that is key to making sure everyone is having fun.

#18 Comment By Micah On August 10, 2007 @ 12:10 pm

A hearty second to avoiding sexual themes altogether. Maybe it’s just me, but DM’ing these scenes always makes me uncomfortable. sure, sex makes up a huge part of “the human experience” but so does sleeping and going to the bathroom, and we handwave those away in RPGs.

#19 Comment By Jennifer Snow On August 10, 2007 @ 7:36 pm

Shandar the Ashen said:

“Recently on an official chat board for D&D minis I bemoaned that RPG related material is so often left out of the new manuals, such as the 3E MM V doesn’t even list anything like “number appearing” and none of the 3E books provide any of the info 2E devoted so much time to, like diet and habitat.”

This is because they realized that random encounters are dumb! (Don’t hit me, I’m teasing but you can’t see it!) There is a fair bit about diet and habitat in the monster entries in the new books, too, but you have to read the flavor text all the way through to get it. Stuff like the fact that Dragons are not just omnivorous, they can actually eat *anything*, like unrefined minerals and seawater and what-have-you.

Someone else mentioned that younger gamers tend to follow the experienced gamers’ lead: this is exactly what I *don’t* want to put up with in a game. I can’t *stand* players that go with the flow and constantly “me-too” the other players. (Some older players do this too and I find it incredibly annoying that they aren’t coming up with original things for their characters to do and they insist on “getting in on someone else’s action” all the time. Wow that was a run-on sentence.)

But, this is my own personality more than anything. If you have fun with the younger folks, please, please play with them. If you meet an overachieving RPer that doesn’t fit in your group because he/she is decisive and determined, send them my way!

#20 Comment By Jervis Pax On August 11, 2007 @ 7:29 am

It’s all about maturity and the game. Immature players come in every shape, size and age…the difference with youthful players being that they tend to sit down and listen if you ask them to be quiet.

Immature “players of a certain age” may often know more than everyone else (or think they do), have more going for them than everyone else (or think they do), and get the point better than everyone else (or…think they do).

I never let a new player into my game (of any age) that I don’t know or that doesn’t come with recommendations from someone else I know. Immaturity in the game can spoil the effect we are looking for…the creation of a complex story in a complex world. Oh…and to have fun.

Finally, if the GM can’t make the story interesting to every age at the table, it won’t matter what the maturity levels of the players are; boring is boring. If the GM tells a good story, weaves an interesting adventure, and knows when to cast “silence” on certain players…everything will be fine.

#21 Comment By Martin On August 13, 2007 @ 1:51 pm

I wouldn’t touch sexual themes with a ten-foot pole in a game with younger players, although I can see where Frank’s coming from. Actually, that might be an interesting topic for a post of its own: sexual themes and mature elements in general as they relate to the age of the folks in your group.

#22 Comment By Lotus On August 15, 2007 @ 12:43 pm

I think a variety of ages makes for more fun. the group I’m in now has people from their 20’s to their 60’s (I got my mom hooked on D&D and she now plays, too!) I have also played with a group of guys who played with Gary Gygax (I’m 29) done very well and learned some things to boot!.

#23 Comment By Protohacker On August 16, 2007 @ 10:07 pm

I agree with people here; it’s not physical age that matters, but maturity. Our group ranges from 17 to 47 and all are master gamers (of course, it helped that the experienced ones helped the kid along, so he never had a chance to become a twink). The kid is more mature than a couple of 40-somethings who used to game with us.

But what’s also (and possibly more) important than maturity, is that the group share a common ground. We have been lucky in that we have a common approach to gaming. Our ages are unimportant, but the fact that we all approach gaming the same way is. We all game for the same reasons, so when the game really comes together, we are all happy. That’s what has held us together all these years more than anything else. (Well, that and we totally rock!)

As for mature content, we have had sexual encounters within the game, but because of certain sensitivities, they have been toned down (I’m sure the 17-year-old hears worse at school). The group used to be pretty wild and woolly before a couple of members joined. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the 17-year-old who changed that; it was the 47-year-old, but probably because she is a woman. The guys had a hard time making rude comments around her, so the game became quieter on its own.

Sexual encounters can be handled tastefully. One of our major characters is falling in love (it was not intentionally added to the game; it just happened as a natural progression of who they were). I think because these have been meaningful (how I hate that term) encounters between adults, it doesn’t offend anyone. Even the one night stands that have happened between characters have been handled in a mature manner. I think we would have had a problem with the teenage sort of fantasy, but the way it developed in our game; it’s okay.

#24 Comment By Lostscotsman On August 18, 2007 @ 8:20 am

As a father of two kids, one now nine, this discussion has given me great pause for thought.

I just cannot imagine my son playing with my group until he is a twenty something! The group I am in has an age range of 24 to 43, but elements of a sexual nature, and extreme violence sometimes come up in our stories. Its not that I would be afraid to expose my son to this stuff, its just that a certain level of maturity is required to deal with it so that the games does not de-rail.
As other posters have said its not the chrono age that matters in the end, but the individuals maturity level.