Being in born in 1981, I’m part of the generation that was always just the right age for current gaming trends. Video games were mostly aimed at kids when I was a kid. When they started to skew a bit more edgy with Doom and Mortal Kombat, I was just entering my teens so I was primed for all that. And when games started to dip their toes into more mature, adult storytelling and depth, it perfectly coincided with me first dipping my toes into adulthood. I can remember touting the statistics about how the average age of gamers was 28 at a certain point in the 2000s–likely because I was being defensive at some close-minded person who was calling video games a child’s hobby.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it happened, but eventually, the gaming industry stopped focusing on people my age and redirected their energy at courting the older teens and 20-somethings again. I think it finally hit me when I kept seeing people post in-game selfies of their characters from games like Final Fantasy VX and Watch Dogs 2 (and the fact that those games even had that feature in the first place): I’m no longer the primary target demographic for video games. After a brief period of feeling sorry for myself for being a dinosaur, counting my grey hairs, noticing a soreness in my hip for the first time, lamenting my inability to stay awake past 11pm anymore, and so on, I began to realize that it’s not a bad thing that game companies are starting to give more attention to younger gamers. Because the last time that video games forget about kids, kids forgot about video games.
Awhile back, I wrote a piece about how my daughter doesn’t seem to connect with “traditional” video games anymore, and how she’s all about Minecraft and mobile/tablet games (before you take me to task for lumping Minecraft in with mobile games and implying it isn’t a real video game, read the article I linked to for context). As much as I may lament how today’s kids are flocking to shallow mobile games and not playing enough “real” video games, my revelation about the maturity level of today’s games led to another moment of clarity: they did so because the gaming industry didn’t care about them. In the 2000s, when video games demographics were at their oldest, there was relatively little in the way of quality gaming aimed at children. Games were either trying to replicate R-rated movies, or they were simply too deep and complicated for children to properly play/understand. Even Nintendo, traditionally the go-to company for all-ages gaming, was setting their sights on adults more than they ever had in the 2000s with the likes of Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Metroid Prime, and the courting of mature third-party games like Resident Evil 4 and MadWorld. Hell, the GameCube even had the unedited version of BMX XXX. Games that were more kid-friendly in tone, like Ratchet & Clank, were often too complex for young children to play, especially those just learning how to play games in the first place.
So, while us adults were loving how video games were all about us in the 2000s, kids didn’t see much for them–and when they did, it was often shoddy, licensed garbage. So those kids started to turn to the then-emerging market of mobile games to get their electronic gaming fix. Mobile games were simple, accessible, and best of all, cheap. That last point also comes into play when we consider that many people were feeling the pinch of a struggling economy in the 2000s, and it was a much more attractive prospect to let kids play $2 mobile games than $30-$60 console, PC, and DS games. All of these factors conspired to lead a generation of kids away from traditional video games and right into the grasp of the mobile gaming market. And even as those kids have gotten older, that’s what they largely associate as “video games,” so that’s what they go right on continuing to favor.
I’m not a staunch anti-mobile-gaming crusader, and there are definitely mobile games I enjoy playing. But it is disappointing to see an entire generation largely ignore more traditional video games, especially when a big part of the reason for that is simply that video games ignored them. Current gaming trends skewing a bit younger is a good thing because it hopefully means that we haven’t completely lost everyone under the age of 20 to the allure of mobile gaming. If video games don’t want to lose another generation of kids, they can’t afford to ever make the mistake of overlooking them again. And because I can’t seem to write anything that doesn’t defend Nintendo in some way, rooting for Nintendo to fail in the console space isn’t going to do that effort any favors, either. Today’s kids will be the money spenders and taste makers in 20 years, and if they grow up preferring mobile gaming because there’s no Nintendo around to make games for them, how strong do you think the traditional video game industry will stay? Something to keep in mind before you go wishing for the Switch to fail…