In the past, gaming systems were seen as mere toys for children. That’s changed in recent years, of course; with consoles like the PlayStation 4, the Wii U, and the Xbox One, gaming has become more popular than ever. Their momentum won’t stop anytime soon, but that image problem may still be in effect. If anything, the reverse is true.
Studies by the Entertainment Software Association in 2014 have shown that the average age of gamers is 31; only 29% of the gaming population is 18 and under, while 39% of them are 36 or older. It’s a safe bet that the numbers come from the cost of gaming; the PlayStation 4 started off with a $400 price tag, so those with disposable income have a better shot at playing the latest games without having to pilfer from the piggy bank.
Still, it’s not hard to see why some people think of gaming systems as toys for kids. The video game crash of 1983 happened because of a market flooded with low-quality products, and consumers en masse turned their backs on countless overpriced systems. Nintendo helped video games bounce back in 1985 with the launch of the Nintendo Entertainment System — better known as the Nintendo NES — but did so thanks to misdirection. The console launched with R.O.B., the Robotic Operating Buddy, as a means to convince buyers that they would get their kids the hottest new toy instead of a console. The NES would go on to introduce young gamers to all sorts of video games, but in doing so helped build a stigma against the entire medium.
On the plus side, the retro video games of the past helped create lifelong bonds. Characters like Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, Samus Aran and more have long since become classic pillars of gaming history — a history that stood strong in the eighties, bloomed in the nineties, and inspired incredible passion in the new millennium and beyond. The people that once played games — and loved them intensely — are now the people making games, either as part of massive corporations or working as independent developers. Nostalgic appeal is common with the latter, with games like Shovel Knight leading the charge. But the former uses its resources to offer up something new.
Companies are aware that gamers are getting older, and the medium is changing. With the improved technology at hand, they’ve opted to make more complex worlds, stories, and characters. Major releases like The Witcher 3 task players with traversing a grisly world and making decisions with no right answer and long-lasting effects; 2013 saw the release of The Last of Us, a trek across post-apocalyptic America acclaimed for its emotional heft. Developers are using games to explore complex ideas, plots, and worlds so that gamers can feel the impact firsthand. At the same time the retro video game market has exploded recently. Many of these same people running the show are still going back to their childhood and buying used retro video games. The idea of re-living your childhood or just nostalgia is a huge selling point in the used video game market.
Consoles have evolved, much like the games and the people who play them. Given that, it’s plainly obvious that gaming systems aren’t just for kids.