Who's the oldest player you know? WoW's player base is so immense today that most of us know someone over age 50 who plays. These older folks most often turn out to be friends-and-family style players, tucked away among other family members -- grown sons and daughters, grandchildren, nieces and nephews -- using World of Warcraft to connect with family members across the generations and the miles. Finding an older player who's come to the game on his own terms can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
When we finally got wind of septuagenarian player Loyal Leitgen, we knew we'd found a player who could give us a fresh perspective on the older player's point of view. He hadn't been introduced to the game by the younger generation -- in fact, he'd been the one to usher his grown sons into the game. The problem was, we couldn't interview him until we could catch up with him. When we fired off our first e-mail, he'd just left the United States and was bound for Switzerland. We finally tracked down the energetic retiree in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he was visiting one of his sons who was working on an international business venture. We chatted with him on Skype to learn why the 76-year-old gamer thinks WoW offers something for everyone.
Leitgen's character, a 52nd-level warrior named Norseman, has been on hiatus for several months now. (We suspect he's the inactive troll warrior listed on US Shadowsong, although Leitgen couldn't confirm the realm name after his time away from the game.) "I've been playing for quite some time now, but I quit during the last few months," he explains. "I think I'm a little over my head in it right now, to be honest about it."
Into the Warcraft universe
A gaming novice, Leitgen dipped into games with WoW's real-time strategy predecessor, Warcraft 2. "It worked for me because it was a strategy game, and I didn't have to move the mouse super-fast, there wasn't someone out-mousing me," he says. "And I liked it. Then when World of Warcraft came out, I thought, 'Well, I'll have a go at that.'"
Diving into an MMO proved enjoyable but almost overwhelming to a relatively computer-illiterate older player. "It took me a while to figure out what was all going on," he admits, "but after a while I managed it. It's a great game, no question in my mind; it's pretty hard to beat. But there are so many things going on that I don't know about that."
Somewhat stymied, he bought copies of the game for his grown sons, who quickly caught the fire. "I got up to 52," he says. "I had a lot of help from my sons and the other guys they played with. They gave me weapons and stuff. I'm a bit over my head right now. I probably would have been better off doing everything on my own."
Leitgen admits that a warrior was probably not the most fortuitous choice for the slower, more analytical approach of an older player. "First of all, I'm not that computer literate, so I can't move the mouse as fast as kids can," he admits. "Then I have a little problem, and I have to stop and interpret what's going on, on the screen. On the other side, my strategies aren't too bad. I can hold my own there. But he gets into a closeup fight and hell, I'm hitting the wrong guy or some crap like that."
The biggest drawback Leitgen sees for older players is the twitch reaction required for quick mouse movement. "I generally avoided playing with strangers, even though they might be of the same level," he admits. "I was nowhere near 'mouse- or screen-able' as they were."
Back for more?
Leitgen's currently on hiatus from WoW. His primary play partners, his sons, have both moved on -- one to Ethiopia (where the time difference throws a monkey wrench into meetups) and the other to higher levels where Leitgen no longer feels comfortable playing. "So I'm a little bit on my own," he notes. "It's a terrific game but currently exceeds my competence on the computer."
Leitgen brightened upon learning about the upcoming Cataclysm expansion and the features designed to streamline and guide play for lower level players. The idea of re-starting and working his way through the tutorials on his own seemed to intrigue the strategist in him. "I think I will try again," he nods. "You might suggest for old buzzards like me some way for a little better tutoring and so on. It's a super-huge game. I'm just an amateur, really. It's a great game for older people, really. It has something for everybody."
"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- neither did we, until we talked with these players. From an Oscar-winning 3-D effects director to a rising pop singer ... from a quadriplegic player to a bunch of guys who get together for dinner and raiding in person every week ... Catch our 2009 year-end retrospective for a year's worth of WoW personalities.