Folks, we’re getting old. Don’t worry, we’re not yet at the point where we’re crapping ourselves and referring to Metamucil as our “energy drink.” It’s more like we’ve reached a point where we can’t eat as many spicy foods and aren’t able to drink as heavily as we could in college. Still, we’re getting old. So is our industry. And only Nintendo can save us.
The average age of today’s videogame player hovers around 30. Four years ago, when DailyGame launched, it was 28. We may be old, but we’re not stupid; do the math, and the videogame industry is aging about half as quickly as we are. Many other things have changed during those four years, both in the industry and in our own lives. And you know what? Those personal changes may have more of an impact on our industry than the games and hardware itself.
Think for a moment about your grandparents. They didn’t have videogames, of course, but what was their hobby of choice? Probably dancing or reading. As they got older, they did both of those things less and less, likely to the point that you don’t really remember seeing them dance outside of anniversaries or read outside of the morning paper and grocery coupons. And we’re next. When we’re 70 years old, do you really think we’ll be playing Halo 27: Dentures Evolved? Do you honestly think you’ll be unleashing six-button combinations with your arthritic hands in Street Fighter II: Super Ultra Mega Killer Hyper Laxative Edition? It’s not going to happen.
For that matter, many of us already are gaming less than we used to. More gamers are getting married, having children, getting promotions at work and consequently having less and less time to devote to games. We’ve got other, more pressing, and more important things to do with our free time. As our kids get older, we’ll probably appreciate having a built-in co-op teammate, but what happens if our kids aren’t into games? A quick glance at today’s mainstream games and opinions show that to be a distinct possibility.
Gears of War. Resistance: Fall of Man. Rainbow Six Vegas. BioShock. Anything from Rockstar. More and more games are aimed at hardcore players, the ones who are old enough to understand the difference between unloading a clip into digital baddies and the audacity of even thinking of doing so in real life. More and more games are aimed at an older audience, the same ones who are the parent or guardian when buying tickets to an R-rated movie. More and more games are dropping F-bombs and cursing, the same words we use ourselves but ask our kids not to utter. Add these things together, and it’s no surprise the industry is aging. We simply don’t want our kids exposed to the top-selling games on the horizon. And that means they’re not in the industry equation.
So what happens as we get older and stop playing games, and our children aren’t as interested in videogames as we were at their age? We grew up with Pong, Centipede and Pac-Man. We graduated to Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros. and Paperboy. Games grew up with us, so it’s to be expected that the average age of a gamer increased along with the age of the industry. But with few mainstream games now appropriate for a younger audience, what happens when the industry wakes up and notices its bread-and-butter generation is too old to play games, and that the next generation, the only one that can keep the industry going, has been ignored for so long that it’s not playing games either?
That’s where Nintendo comes in. Like a knight in shining armor, Nintendo is going against the grain in this Xbox 360/PS3/Wii console war, and it could very well save the videogame industry in the process. Miyamoto-san isn’t afraid to work on games that appeal to kids, and he seems to actually prefer it to the dark games favored by id Software and Epic Games. Iwata-san isn’t against trying something completely new, even somewhat wacky, with a control mechanic that will get people’s attention and stir creativity. And Reggie-san (sorry, it just fits) isn’t afraid to defy conventional wisdom and shun horsepower for the promise of an inexpensive system that working families can afford.
Think about it for a moment. Nintendo may not be hip to us older gamers, but it’s got the right pieces to keep the industry alive. It’s got games designed for kids, which will hook a younger generation on games much like we were hooked at their age. It’s got an innovative control scheme, one that will engage children and parents on a much more interactive level. It’s got a library of classic games via the Virtual Console that will let parents share their childhood experiences with their offspring. And, above all, it’s got a system that’s within reach of blue-collar workers, the bread and butter of America’s Wal-Mart shoppers.
Will Wii single-handedly save the industry? As difficult as it may be to swallow, it very well could. The Nintendo Wii isn’t the only system you’ll want to own in this generation; we’ve gotten too used to our shooters and gore and adult-themed games to go without an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. But without the Wii in the next-gen picture, the industry could very well miss out on the next generation of gamers. The hardware manufacturers and software creators seemed so focused on the technical aspects of the term “next generation” that they’re missing out on the real next generation: the next generation of gamers.
If the only way the industry can show progress is to create bloodier, dirtier, more adult-themed games, videogames will become little more than top-shelf porn. For all the talk about videogames becoming too easy, that’s actually part of what games need to survive. Videogames need to present more accessible, lighthearted and G-rated experiences. That doesn’t mean they can’t be fun, it just means we have to look at what’s “fun” for different audiences. Because if the videogame industry forgets about the real next generation, if the average age of the gamer continues to rise, the future looks pretty bleak when we all hit 70.
— Jonas Allen