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There has got to be something other than the “time commitment” that keeps older people from playing games.

It's a common sentiment you hear in real life, and a whole lot on gaming subreddits:

"I used to love getting lost in JRPGs or fandoms or games like Divinity/Witcher/Dragon Age, but who has the time when you get older?"

"I understand games want to make high stakes, but when I lose more than 20 minutes of progress, I just don't feel like a game is respecting my time. I might've liked it when I was younger, but now now that I'm grown up, I just can't deal with it"

"Once you get a spouse and kids and job and a house, you'll understand. I don't want deep long games anymore, I'd rather dip into each new release for a few hours"

"As I've gotten older, I feel like I've grown out of gaming. I listen to podcasts and read news stories and keep up with announcements, but I know I'll never have the time to actually play any of these"

What interests me about this is that as I got older to my late 30s, I actually only got more time for games, but I heard many of these same sentiments from my friends. People who once would have been scouring the internet with me, trying out Triforce rumors, playing the latest JRPG or indie game just to check it out, trying to 100% a game you really got into, or turning me on to a game I never would have considered. Now, it's all the same answer, "who has the time?". Even to play a 12 hour mainstream AAA game like the modern Tomb Raiders or something that's really objectively not a large time commitment. Or a half hour game like Emily is Away, which I know they'd love because it's a throwback to our time of nostalgia.

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I'm puzzled, because I'm still quite close with these same people and have a bit of insight into their day to day. I'll hear them say something like "Yeah me an my SO binged through Game of Thrones last month. I'm already caught up on Succession and Queen's Gambit. Last summer was all about It's Always Sunny and Office reruns. I'm looking for a new show, anyone have any recommendations?" I'll do the math at hours per episode, episodes per season and conclude that my friends are in fact spending over a hundred hours per month on screen time. When I ask, much of the time they're lukewarm on these shows that they're watching for 80 hours! And it's even more if you count social media scrolling it's way more hours. The sheer time commitment can't be it.

Now my point is not to say "Haha, got you, now play games!" If people don't want to play games, or nothing grabs them, or interactive media just doesn't have an appeal for them, that's a fine reason. It just kind of irks me when games are given this stigma of being a time suck. Compared to how most adults spend their free time in the U.S., I really don't think it is. I also kind of feel bad. They don't dismiss ideas like playing an easy to get into mainstream game like Uncharted because they're not interested, it's always the time issue. They really seem like they're wistfully wishing they could play a game like that but just can't bring themselves to do it. If I press my friends, I may get some more detailed explanations like:

  • They want something acceptable to do with an SO or something they can do while being on their phone
  • There's still a stigma. If another parent drops off their kid for a playdate with your kid and they see you playing a video game, you'll feel like a loser.
  • There's still this need to "be productive". Building a shed on a Saturday and then watching a football game for 3 hours is something you can tell anyone in society and they'll congratulate you and say you deserve it. Building a shed and then playing a few quests of the Witcher 3 still gets people to tsk tsk at you and by extension makes you feel less productive.

  • I think this is a big one for a lot of people – starting a new game feels like a hurdle. You need to learn new systems, you need to learn new control layouts, you need to figure out the feel and flow of a new game. However, in this sense, I still actually think this is a reason why I still like playing video games. I like learning new systems, I love to go from schlub to mastery of a completely new way of thinking. While some people think that the stress and need to perform at a job tires them out where they don't have the mental energy to learn something new, I still find the opposite. I've had a variety of jobs in my life, I make a fine living, I make music, I've started a business, I've even gotten patents. And I actually attribute my real world success to video games keeping my mind sharp and primed to learn new software or ways of thinking. It really almost amuses me that I'm succeeding at being an adult partly because of the thing that you're supposed to "give up" while being an adult.

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It's still a fascinating topic to me, how in a forum like this, truegaming, ostensibly the most engaged and passionate of all gamers, there's still this very traditional through-line of "eventually you grow up and have to give up childish things like diving into a video game with passion and settle for big adult things like watching sports and dramas and driving your kid to soccer practice". I just don't think that's true, and I think it partly comes from age-old ideas of what it means to be adult. What do you all think?


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