There are a variety obstacles standing in the way of older people enjoying games. Many get hung up on the technology and the difficulties those inexperienced with computers may have playing at all. Others may object to having to shell out cash for new equipment and games. But there are tutorials and YouTube for the former, and many local used games stores around selling games that have been out a while for cheap.

No, the biggest problem getting into gaming for geezers is two-fold. There’s the question of why play at all? And a there’s also the question of who do I play with?

In reality, these are actually closely related, despite appearances. For many older folks, the dislike of having wasted time steadily grows. But any person of any age does best when the effort exerted actually accomplishes something that they feel is significant. Playing games by oneself can easily seem to be a waste, or worse, a necessary evil, like physical exercise. Few things can drain the joy out of something faster than what should be a pleasure becoming a chore.

Unless one can come up with a better reason than “it’s supposed to be good for me”, any effort at playing games (or anything else) is not going to last long. I tried; first, with online versions of old games that I loved as a kid, such as RISK, but I could barely force myself to start, much less finish. I’d rather read a book; at least then I might learn something. Traditional games proved even more dismal. Fine time-killer as it was back in the day, SOLITAIRE just left me feeling lonely.

And that, I think, is the key. Looking back to the games I enjoyed as a youngster, social interaction gave me the most pleasure – whether it be Chess, Monopoly, RISK, or a strategic board game. It wasn’t so much what I was playing but whom I was playing with. Like most teens, I generally played with the same small group of friends every weekend with occasional marathons lasting late into the night during summer vacations. Good times indeed.

Seeking to reproduce those feelings as a mature adult can be hard. Old friends got lost along the way, and even those few remaining are much changed by age. Unless one has a group of peers with whom one regularly interacts – either through living arrangements, email, or Facebook – or are blessed with congenial family members, especially patient youngsters – it may be hard to find fellow players.

And in seeking somebody to play with, one could get seriously burned.

Recently, Xbox chief Phil Spencer of Microsoft wrote in praise of gaming. He proclaimed that “gaming is for everyone” and spoke highly of all its benefits and how it needed to be safe for everyone. In that, he admitted that “digital life includes a growing toxic stew of hate speech, bigotry and misogyny.” He called upon the entire gaming industry to make the environment safe. Why is that necessary? Because a great deal of toxicity can be found in online gaming.

I always knew that gaming was universally recognized as a refuge for juvenile males of all ages. But before writing this series of articles, I had no idea just how deeply-tarnished video gaming’s reputation is due to misogyny, hate speech, harassment and bullying, and all the evils that go with it. Teenage boys being the testosterone and energy drink fueled chest-pounding egotistical apes that they are, a whole social pecking order has quickly evolved online where using the foulest of insults against fellow teammates was considered good fun and quite legimate. It’s like all the worst aspects of middle school bullying rolled into one experience.

Just how bad the situation is in gaming was glaringly revealed several years ago in the Gamergate controversy. This was a widespread harassment campaign first launched against several prominent female gamers, including developers Zoë Quinn and Brianna Wu as well as feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesia. As in so many other aspects of culture, this was a pronounced vicious reaction against the perceived threat of minorities – in this case, women and gays – to the boys’ precious guys-only clubhouse. (Much like the moronic reactionary anti-diversity Sad Puppies attack on science fiction’s renowned Hugo awards at about the same time.)

Gamergate was vile, nasty, and repulsive, including doxing and death threats. Many self-appointed “guardians” targeted other prominent players, often causing them and their supporters to be ultimately driven off the net due to the threats. While the FBI ultimately investigated, no charges were ever filed, and the industry response has been equally lame and ineffective. There’s been a lot of sober head-shaking and muttering of “tsk, tsk”, but the social scene has not changed much. Some of the most toxic gaming communities are listed here.

But one need not look farther than the New York Times for proof. It recently published an editorial by a 15-year-old boy, Tony Xiao, who described the on-going social problem, as new gamers get schooled by the experts:

A new gamer, let’s call him “Joe,” joins a game of Minecraft, a pixelated world-building game with 100 million active players. Joe tells his teammates he’s new to the game. When he drags his team down, his teammates begin to trash-talk him, firing racist, sexist and homophobic insults his way. After this bout of shaming, Joe builds his skill level. Months later, Joe queues up for a game, and sees a novice assigned to his team. After finally losing because of his teammate’s poor skills, he insults the player using the same script he had been abused by months earlier. Joe is now a part of the toxic cycle.

For older folks, who might have not tried gaming for decades due to having been shamed by jocks when young, one such incident would likely result in tossing the game controller out the window.

Tony would like to see something done beyond just hitting the “mute button” to cut that torrent of crude language, even if other technological solutions haven’t worked. In the meantime, even the most experienced gamers that I know say that the very first thing they do when joining a game is to instantly mute both the general chat and voice chat options.

But this might not a good option for a newbie who needs advice. Although those same games should have plenty of tutorials, learning and applying the lessons may not be as easy for seniors as for kids gone hyper on sugary sodas. And there can be few things as cruel as youth can be to the elderly when they can get away with it.

However, the good news is that there are plenty of online gaming groups out there. Fortunately, some are devoted specifically to senior gamers. There are even seniors into esports, though they do admittedly get killed a lot.

In any case, playing with friends makes things easier as well as much more enjoyable. The good side of game play on the mental and psychological for old folks has been well-documented. Just be careful who you do it with. For anyone starting out, it pays to try to ensure that gaming stays fun and beneficial. Boon companions make for better quests.