Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Elder Statesman

Larisa wrote a rather emotional article on Friday that just happened to coincide with something I'd been noodling around for a while. She's previously written a couple bits about her age, but if you missed it, suffice it to say she feels she would fall on the upper end of the WoW-age curve (were it mapped out somewhere). However, I would not term her an outlier. That is to say, I do not think her being a bit... wizened and playing a video game is all that odd. Perhaps my own experience is biased, but I suspect there is a significant portion of the playerbase that is comprised of folks over 40 years of age.

Now, that's an arbitrary number, but that's when we tend to say someone is "over the hill," so I believe it makes sense to draw the line there. What line? Well, on our ten man raid team we have two gentlemen who I believe to be post 40. It's not really something we've ever asked or discussed, but we've known them long enough to know that they've been around the block a few times (so to speak). We lovingly refer to them as the "Elder Statesmen" of the guild. Thus, for the purposes of this post, I shall refer to people over 40 as Elder Statesman/woman.

To give the large picture of our raid age break down, most of us are in our mid to late twenties. We have a few that have slid over into their 30's, but they won't admit it yet. Our Elder Statesmen most certainly trump most of us in terms of life experience. Life experience that they're will to share ad nauseum.

In reading Larisa's post, I felt a bit of anger rising within my youthful chest. (We youngins do tend to be more driven by emotions, do we not?). Reflecting on losing our Elder Statesmen in such a manner woke the retired, cranky raid leader in me. It is important to note that Larisa chose, on her own, to leave the guild after her performance was called into question. Since she is both humble and realistic, she realized that, despite her best efforts (and she would never give anything but her best), she just couldn't keep up with some of the other raiders. I dropped the term "age discrimination" yesterday, but I do not mean to say that her guild discriminated against her, but rather she may have discriminated against herself. Or, more accurately, I think a lot of times our Elder Statespersons of the world fail to give themselves the credit they deserve. You could even go so far as to say that performance based judgment in WoW is inherently biased against older gamers.

You see, I feel it's important to note that I would take either of our Statesmen any day over younger, faster fingers. Like Ben Franklin in his guidance of Thomas Jefferson, our elders provide a calming influence and a point of focus for the scattered musings of us younglings. Being prone to passion, we benefit a great deal from the firm grounding provided by the more experienced personas around us.

I feel that at this juncture it is important to note that our Elder Statesmen are hardly basement dwelling slouches. They both have very colorful lives outside of the game. One is a prolific trombone player, while the other is accustomed to spending time on a race track. Point is, they're both sharp guys, with a variety of experience under their collective belts that have nothing to do with gaming. They know their way around computers as well. Much like we could say about Larisa if you've read anything from her. Being old most certainly does not equal slow or simple of mind.

Why, then, do the old folks get discriminated against? Why does the stereotype exist? Especially when there seems to be some truth behind it, were one to look only at numbers.

After all, our Statesmen would readily admit, as did Larisa, to not being as quick on the uptake as the rest of us young guns. They pay more attention to things like gear and stats, preparing harder pre-raid, in an effort to make up for some of their self-perceived slower learning curve. Yet, I do not believe that they lack the mental acuity or vitality necessary to preform well in Azeroth. It's certainly not that they don't put in the same energy, either. What is it then?

In my opinion, what we see in the case of Elder Statesmen is just the basic psychology of learning. Studies have shown that it tends to be easier for people to learn new things while they are young. This is especially true in the case of languages. A child raised in a bilingual household will pick up nuances of both languages that can serve them well in a quest to fluency. An adult attempting to pick up a new language later in life will almost certainly struggle a bit more. Not that that they cannot master a second (or third, etc) language as well, just that it is more challenging. The learning curve is forced a bit steeper.

I would argue that familiarity with computer gaming is in the same vein. If there is a marked difference between folks over 40, and folks under 40, we could look no further that the advent of the computer. In the early 90's, home computers were just starting to catch on and ramp up. That is the time that the majority of my mid-twenty year old brethren could call our "formative" years. People who are now 40 would have been in early adulthood.

So my theory, very simply put is that we grew up with it and they did not. Computers and gaming hit us in stride.

While many of them were contemplating things like mortgages and kids for the first time, we were trying to figure out how to properly jump get that blasted last piece of heart. Or the proper combination of buttons for a Shōryūken. Fact is, we've been playing games our whole life, having been inundated with electronics. Where they can still probably tell me stories about their first scientific calculator in high school, I was playing pong on my calculator in middle school (and getting kicked out of class for it). Is it any wonder that pressing buttons correctly comes more natural to the younger crowd? It's like a second language to us.

Still, raiding is not all about pressing buttons, a concept which seems to elude some people, especially on the hardcore end of things. In football, you can have an extremely athletic bunch of kids, an all-star team if you will, and you can still struggle. In basketball, you can assemble a group of extremely talented players in, say, Miami, yet still lose to the old guys in the Boston. Why? You hear about it all the time in the sports media: intangibles . Teams, to be successful, need to work well together on many levels, and in WoW there is more to that than simple button presses.

In baseball, teams will often keep an aging pitcher in their lineup, even though he's not nearly as effective as he might once have been. They do this to nurture the younger pitchers. The new guys can learn things from the experiences of the old guys. How they approach the game. How they prepare. How they deal with adversity. How to take joy in the small things. How to brush off unwarranted criticism. All of this comes from experience.

In the same way, I feel that our Elder Statesmen are an integral part of our raid team. We would not be as successful without them. They provide the team with a terrific balance. They bring numerous intangibles to the table that most people (including and especially themselves) would not give them credit for. Recount does not have an intangible pie graph.

In the same way, I felt like Larisa had failed to give herself credit for what she brought to the table. Fortunately, she was not deaf to the pleas of her guild. How she tells it, there were many people that recognized losing Larisa would equate an overall loss to the team. To them, it wasn't just about button presses. Perhaps, though she may be a few "k" short on DPS, she brings more than that "k" in intangibles to the table. (The trouble with intangibles, of course, being quantification).

Yet, she fell into the trap that the rest of us do at times and listened purely to the numbers. To forget the human side, to reduce this game to simple charts and graphs, is to do it a disservice. Team play, in any fashion, is so much more than that. The best players aren't necessarily dictated by the stat line. One should instead look for the person that makes everyone around them a better players. The person that brings the intangibles. DPS are, after all, a dime a dozen, right?

As a long time reader of the PPI, Larisa most certainly leaves the minds of the people she touches a bit better than when she found them. In the same way, the beloved Elder Statesmen of our guild provide a healthy share levity and help us to keep the game squarely in the proper context. They also tend to come up with some of the best tips, looking at the game in ways that only a non-native "speaker" of gaming might, and provide some of the funniest moments. Similar to Larisa's guild, ours would be worse off without them.

If us young folk are supposed to be learning from our elders, what, then can we learn from Larisa's tale? Don't underestimate the power of intangibles, obviously. And, also, though pride may have caused you to leave in the first place, don't be too proud to turn around when you hear their cries and run back into the arms of those you love and who truly love you in return. You may be doing them a disservice. Teams and humans are much too complicated to be analyzed by a line graph or bar chart.

But most of all, don't ever doubt the impact you can have on those around by simply being big of heart.


  1. You were right, it DID make more sense today. ;)

    Also, great post!

  2. :-). Thanks, it was actually rather difficult to write and I'm hoping that the message I intended got across adequately.

  3. Understandably so. It's hard to translate the value of life experience to things like computer games.

    But I see it in my job all the time. The old timers have lots they can teach to the new guys, no matter how educated the new guys are. At the same time, the new guys can offer some stuff to the old timers with their technical backgrounds. As long as everyone's willing to both listen and contribute, it can make for a great team.

  4. "So my theory, very simply put is that we grew up with it and they did not. Computers and gaming hit us in stride."

    I think your totally wrong about when gaming hit.. I am 42.. so maybe too young? However I started gaming when I was 13 on TI994A, Pong, then C64, Atari ST... so Gaming (although kind of crude you might say, I would say the Golden Age :)) really did start around the 40yr old mark...

  5. Would not classify yourself as an "early adopter" or maybe even a "nerd." That is, do you think embracing gaming as you did was typical of most people your age?

  6. Very good read. Thoughtful & interesting. I'd read Larisa's & several others takes on her posting. While I can see both sides, I appreciate your take on it, the intangibles & experiences that an older player can bring. We're not all gifted equally but its finding what you do shine at that can help the group. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Thanks. It just hit home for me since I feel like without our two Statesmen, the rest of us would have killed each other long ago. :-)

  8. What a beautiful post and so many kind words. I feel kind of embarrased. I don't think I'm half as wise as you credit me for. But still. Thank you very, very much. /hugs

  9. From your recounting, your guild obviously feels otherwise :-).


  10. Heh... 43 here. One of the best raids I've been on was an impromptu ICC-10 where one of the guys had his 8 year old niece in the raid. It was just hysterical listening to her cackle with glee as we took bosses out and she got to help.

  11. I'd like to say that as a 43-year-old WoW player, I did grow up gaming. My family had a Pong set. We had Atari. My brother would bring over his Intellivision somedays, and his C64 other days (hooked up to the TV, with a tape drive!).

    I've been a gamer all my life, and I am what you have classified her as an "Elder Statesman." Just because we're over 40 doesn't mean we haven't been gaming since we were kids.

  12. Would you say that is typical of people your age? Furthermore, do you feel like you experience the same self-doubts and issues that Larisa expressed in her post, namely that you feel incapable of performing on a damage meter as well as a younger person for whatever reason? Usually revolving around slower reflexes/thoughts.

    I'm trying to draw a correlation here between familiarity with gaming and current feeling of success in WoW. Basically, I want to say that it has less to do with age and more to do with when you began gaming and how much gaming you did. I would try to argue that people who didn't grow up with gaming have a steeper learning curve in WoW. Furthermore, that there are a higher percentage of such folks in the over 40 crowd. Not that there aren't exceptions. There are always exceptions!

    Whether or not that the presumption is true, I still believe older people can provide a much needed balance to any raid crew. I just would hate to see people dismissed for things they cannot help.

  13. I didn't play video games as a kid. It wasn't till after college that I got a console gaming system.
    When it comes to raiding, when I did it, I was in a fairly casual raiding group. There was never a lot of pressure to perform. We just had fun. I tried hard core progression raiding but it seemed more like work than fun. So I switched to a more casual guild. Maybe it is more about finding a raid group that is more your style than it is about age.

  14. There's probably a lot of truth to that as well. Do you feel your reflexes have gotten better or worse over time?