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I'm a senior citizen gamer – and gaming changed my life in ways I'd never imagined

Novelist Richard Sparks is a 72-year-old gamer. Here he describes how computer games have helped him grow more confident and make new friends

gaming product in neon lights© Getty
January 8, 2024
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I didn't start playing computer games until I was in my sixties. Before that, they’d been hiding in plain sight,  I just hadn’t been looking in their direction. 

Then I heard my teenage daughter’s friends earnestly discussing their in-game adventures. They sounded fascinating. Tentatively, I took a look and before I knew it, I was off and away. Where I’d thought that I’d be stepping out of my comfort zone to start gaming, I found to my delight that it was the complete opposite: I was diving right into it.

Isn’t that the thing about comfort zones?  There is so much beyond them that can be life-changing. Which you will never know until you try.

Gaming room with backlight and laptop for gaming and filming vlog at home.© Getty
Richard discovered gaming later in life

 In some games, you are the hero of your own story. It’s an experience many degrees deeper than passively watching a movie. You—or rather, your avatar—can go anywhere, and do anything in the wonderful worlds that their designers have created for you. 

You can build your avatars to be whoever, or whatever, you want them to be, of whatever gender you choose, human or inhuman, Orc or elf or vampire or werewolf, and adjust their appearance to get them to look just the way you like them.

Then you’re off, into outer space or fantastic lands of sword-and-sorcery, or the post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested wild west, or the criminal underworlds of the mafia or yakuza, or steampunk Old London Town. The possibilities are limitless.

I've made many friends through gaming. You, with a posse of your new best friends all over the world—about whom you know little, really, beyond their avatars—heading out to create mischief. We all chat and chuckle and celebrate on the chat channel —or commiserate as we resurrect after being 'wiped' by our opponents.  My online friends have me aching with laughter at our antics.

 READ: I changed my entire life at 54 – here's what happened 

When I first started online gaming, I assumed that all gamers were young. Then, one day in our group, one player announced that she was retiring as she was turning 85 and asked if anyone want to take over running the group.

I have spent hours online in the company of people I have never met IRL (in real life), who live all over the world.  Some are happy to chat about their lives and circumstances, some never do – and it’s all very friendly regardless. I haven’t yet gone as far as a (real life) friend of mine who hosted a gathering of his online friend in Las Vegas. They all had a great time, by the sound of it.

woman gaming© Shutterstock
Gaming is a great way to make new friends

I wish I’d been there.  It must have been fun to meet an Orc—and discover that she’s really a housewife from Kansas.  And that her husband is a witch.  They’d never all normally have met IRL.  How interesting it must be to meet someone for the first time who you already know that you like and who you have done a lot of adventuring with.

You don’t need any special equipment to start—just your computer and a mouse. A headset comes in useful, for privacy. I wasn’t any good at first, but gradually discovered a whole new skillset. You learn quickly as you play—and it’s a nice feeling to discover that, soon enough, you are good at something wholly new and unexpected. It makes you wonder what else you can try your hand at, and gives you a new why not? attitude.

 READ: I went on my first solo holiday at 69 – here's what happened 

People’s eyes light up when they discover that you too are a gamer. Suddenly, you have so much more to talk about than the weather—and it’s less fraught than discussing politics. A moment before, you were strangers. Now, you’re fellow enthusiasts.

Gaming is an escape. You can wander around and explore lands and worlds and galaxies from the comfort of your own home. Talking of home: you can build a virtual house, or underground lair, or mountaintop castle, and furnish it how you want—and invite your friends over for a party.

You never know what will happen, and what you might get up to in all those places that you could hardly imagine, but would love to explore.  They are a richly rewarding experience.

I was in mid-game when the idea for my new book, New Rock New Role, hit me. What would it really be like, I wondered, to be that guy? In a world like that, with its endless possibilities? A battlemage, with a magic staff that can heal my crew as well as blast out damages at our foes? Skilled, on a mission, surviving by his wits, and above all—young again.

New Rock New Role by Richard Sparks book cover
New Rock New Role by Richard Sparks is out now

So I invented a narrator who is a retired schoolteacher, a widower, living alone in his bungalow on the edge of a small town in England, where he spends every spare moment online, gaming, where life is richer and more varied and far more exciting as his battlemage avatar than his own humdrum real life. And off we went together—not into any game, but into a strange new world that was inspired by them.

Computer games have given me much more than the idea for my books. But I’d also never have had the idea for my book without them.

New Rock New Role by Richard Sparks is out now and available in bookstores and at all major online booksellers.

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