Never too old: Grey gamer boom brings grandparents and kids together

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Harry King started to play video games with his grandson Hugo during Melbourne’s pandemic lockdowns.

Back then, it was mainly just online chess. This Thursday at Federation Square, alongside gamers of all ages, it’ll be Mario Kart.

Harry King, 76, and grandson Hugo, 12, began playing games together during lockdown to stay connected.Credit: Joe Armao

So, why did King, a 76-year-old retiree from Brighton, pick up a Nintendo Switch controller?

“It’s a wonderful way to learn about your grandkids and what they think,” King says. “We have a lot of fun doing it, and it also provides mental stimulation for me. Over periods like the lockdown, it was a great way to keep interacting.”

He isn’t the only one.

Numbers of grey video gamers have boomed, according to an Interactive Games and Entertainment Association industry group report released in August which surveyed 1249 households.

The majority of Australians Harry’s age – 58 per cent of 75-84 year-olds – now play video games. That figure was only 31 per cent in the previous year’s report.

Australians spend $4.21 billion on video games annually: $2.65 billion for console and PC games and $1.56 billion for mobile, the report says.

And 91 per cent of parents reported playing games with their children.

Ange and Stella Hanson share the fun of gaming before the main event at Fed Square in the coming week.Credit: Joe Armao

The report puts the massive hike in numbers to older people learning how to use game consoles during lockdowns.

But also, because for over 65s, digital puzzles such the word game Wordle, which they can play on a phone, are now extremely popular.

After picking up the hobby, King has learnt his grandson is “a lateral thinker. And a great teacher which, for a 12-year-old, I find amazing”.

“He’s a very smart kid – way smarter than me,” King added. “He takes the time to explain things to me that must seem so simple to him.”

Hugo Gill said his poppy might’ve only got slightly better at the pair’s favourite titles, including the Australian-developed simulation game Moving Out, but that he enjoyed the time spent with him.

“I like being able to teach him something new since he teaches me about things all the time,” he said.

The pair will join an age-eclectic array of video gamers at Fed Square for the major highlight of Melbourne’s International Games Week, which runs until October 8.

Punters at the Big Games Night Out can play everything from FIFA (now FC, EA’s soccer simulator) to board games at the sprawling night festival – which also features a fashion show, esports tournaments, media presenter Myf Warhurst and pop singer Montaigne hosting a live music stage, plus a Melbourne Fringe show.

Arieh Offman, video games curator at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, said Cult of the Lamb: The Ritual would use projected art and giant puppets for a performance inspired by its namesake – a smash indie game developed in Melbourne.

Harry King says, “I refuse to get old”.Credit: Joe Armao

“The stereotype of who plays video games has been blown out of the water in the Australian sector,” Offman says.

Roz Rogers and her grandson Noah, plus mother Ange Hanson and her daughter Stella, were also enjoying connecting via button-mashing a Nintendo Switch when The Sunday Age visited the Fed Square festival site this week.

It’s an ever-growing pursuit, which Offman says has catapulted dozens of Australian businesses to the top of burgeoning global market as an international beacon of indie game development.

After picking up the passion alongside him, King says he’s seen his grandson mature “unbelievably”.

Roz Rogers, 76, and Noah Hanson, 5, play a Nintendo game together.Credit: Joe Armao

“He’s a smart young guy who you can have an intelligent conversation with. And I’m stunned at the young people today,” he says. “I just try to pass on things I’ve learned in life.”

But, what has Hugo learnt from Harry? “You’re only as old as you feel, and you’re never too old to play.”

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