Gen Z Retire: Diapers & gaming return.

Gen Z and Millennials will retire after growing up in a gaming world.

It is fairly well-known that gaming has grown tremendously. However, if you need some proof of that, here is an awesome graph that sums up, just how much the industry has grown. From the humble 80s arcade era, a $39Bn dollar arcade industry and a $20Bn consoles industry have jointly grown to a market of $165Bn. According to some projections, reports indicate that the industry is predicted to be worth $320Bn by 2026. Importantly, Gen Z, born between 1997 and 2012, and to a lesser extent Millennials, were born when gaming was a popular “thing” to do.

Image: Visual Capitalist

The 60 years old Gen Z is ready to game.

Statistic: Distribution of video gamers in the United States in 2022, by age group | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

A growing industry has led to older gamers.

Currently, there are 3.24Bn gamers that are spread across the globe. What may surprise you is that most of these gamers are not acne-riddled teens. The majority of gamers are aged between 18-34 years old. 40% are above 34 years old according to a breakdown by Statista above. To break expectations further, 48% of gamers are female, and 70% are playing on their smartphone according to USA Today. We will continue to see a steadily higher % of people aged above 34 years old, who play games. Simply because more people who grew up in a world where gaming was big and normalized, will age.

Gaming becomes less fun as you age, but will return as a diaper does.

Research indicates that as someone gets older, they are less likely to be keen on gaming. This could be for a number of reasons. Gamers could become parents, have long-term partners and take up demanding professional jobs for instance. All of this leaves less time for gaming, as the responsibilities pile up. A decline in enthusiasm may also stem from how adults perceived what a rewarding activity is. Society pushes adults to focus on being productive all the time. Gaming is not seen as a productive activity. This is backed by research, which cites a sense of responsibility as a factor that pushes adults away from gaming. This sense of responsibility is usually derived from activities such as work, school, or volunteering. This is changing as work-life balance gets more focus. However, it will likely still be tough for adults to “sit still” for years to come.

However, gaming can likely make a comeback when these responsibilities lessen. The elderly stop working at 60-65 years old. They also have kids who have established their own families and aren’t dependent on them. As you get older, a sad reality is also that you have less active social commitments. This is because as you age the inevitability of death chases you, and your loved ones (sad indeed). This creates an opportunity for gaming to make a comeback, as responsibilities lessen.

Talk about full circle, diapers might return but so too might gaming. I especially believe Gen Z and Millennials might be keener on gaming, as the gaming industry grows and gaming is increasingly normalized and marketed.

Stay healthy by playing games.

Well, how can gaming actually benefit the elderly? The games the elderly play might not be “Fortnite” or other competitive games. Research suggests preferences change when you get older, and that competitive gameplay becomes less important. As you get older you can’t invest the time and energy it takes to “win” at competitive games. You might not have the fine motor functions to match a teen either. Nevertheless, current games, and games designed for this market could have significant benefits for seniors, and be fun as well!

Studies have found that gaming has several benefits for elderly people:

  1. It can affect mood positively, especially among older women, and lead to better emotional well-being (told you it could be fun)
  2. There is a wide range of cognitive benefits (think memory here). Gaming can improve neuropsychological performance, and cognitive control (activities that help you navigate the world like multitasking).
  3. Gaming can help with physical tools including balance, and being confident in balancing. This is important when you’re older. This was shown using Wii Fit, a game where users are prompted to complete exercise-related tasks.

Hand the controller to Gran & Grandpa

With all these documented benefits, why are we not implementing gaming in retirement homes?

I would argue it is because the perception of a gamer, is incompatible with societal views of what a “gamer” is. Simply, I think it is because society does not believe that the elderly SHOULD be playing games. Games are reserved for teen males, while they sip Mountain Dew with their friends.

This is despite evidence that gaming has a real benefit for the elderly. Due to greater exposure in their youth to the growing gaming industry, Gen Z will likely be keener gamers. Fewer responsibilities in old age, and increased emphasis on work-life balance will only make Gen Z keener. Over 40% of gamers are already over 40 years. Current seniors have concerns about the negative effects of gaming and struggle to enjoy games. However, they grew up in 1962 when gaming just was not a “thing”. These concerns will change when teens highly exposed to the gaming industry, become senior citizens.

As this happens, I believe in the future we will see games designed for the elderly. Developers and publishers in gaming will also invest in this market. This will mean the elderly will have games designed with an “old body” in mind. How gaming should be adapted for the elderly is currently under-researched. Only a few studies suggest how a game could be developed for the elderly (see here).

Hopefully, policymakers and gaming developers, and publishers will also give this market the attention it needs. Who knows, maybe Grandpa and Granny will be having fun in a retirement gaming lounge near you soon.