Online battles keep elderly ahead of the game

Online battles keep elderly ahead of the game

Yang Xiurong and her daughter Wu Sijia livestream as they play the video game. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Multiplayer challenges are not just for the young as older generations join the action, Wang Qian reports.

Communicating over a headset with her fingers flying across the keyboard, Yang Xiurong, 53, is a formidable participant in the popular multiplayer online battle arena Honor of Kings, also known as Arena of Valor.

Teamed with her daughter Wu Sijia, 29, Yang made a name for herself in a suitably combative tournament held in Chengdu, Southwest China's Sichuan province, in 2022.She was awarded the title of the most valuable player in a match for her outstanding performance operating the support hero Yaria during the event.

"Just like square dancing, mobile games are a way of entertainment, which should not be limited by age. For people who are getting old, like me, we can still feel young," Yang says.

She has gone viral on microblogging platform Sina Weibo after her passion for the video game made national headlines. The story was viewed more than 35.6 million times. A netizen named Chenxi comments that it is "the ideal life after retirement".

Early last year, sponsored by food delivery platform Meituan Waimai, Qin Yuliang, 53, Ge Xiaoxiang, 56, Zou Xiaodong, 60, Fang Weihua, 56, and Yang as the captain, set up their team called Xiyanghong (Sunset Red) to play against young gamers across the country. Receiving a month's training from coach Zhou Haoqi, they were invited to compete against a professional team — the Hero Jiujing E-sports Club in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, in April last year.

Although they lost the game, Xiyanghong's performance on the online battlefield still challenged the competitive gaming stereotypes of esports seen as a young man's game, with professional players considered "over the hill" in their 20s.

For Yang, "what matters is not winning or losing, but the happiness that the team enjoyed together in the game".

With gaming selected as an official medal event at the 19th Hangzhou Asian Games, the country's video game player population grew to a record 668 million by the end of June last year, according to statistics from industry association China Game Industry Group Committee.

There have been long-standing arguments about whether or not children and adolescents should be allowed to play video games. While many Chinese parents strictly control their children's screen time in the internet age, Yang's case provides a different perspective on how parents and children can bond through video games.

A certificate Yang Xiurong and her daughter Wu Sijia won at the sixth national tournament of the Honor of Kings in 2022. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Family night

When Yang started playing Honor of Kings, she just wanted to stay connected with her daughter, who took a night shift in a State-owned company in Chengdu in 2016.

"My mom has always been my best friend, with whom I share everything, good or bad, in life," Wu says, adding that, a week after she played the game, she recommended it to her mother.

It was not easy at first for Yang to get to know and understand the basics of the game, which has a vast range of heroes and complex game-play mechanics. Before Honor of Kings, Yang had puzzle games, like Collapse, and card games downloaded to her smartphone, which she found funny but not challenging enough to spend her leisure time.

"It is definitely a challenging game for beginners, like me. To understand the skills, equipment and play styles of Zhou Yu (a hero in the game), I practiced more than 4,000 times," Yang says, adding that compared to young players, with quicker reactions and better techniques, she has her own advantages — emotional stability and patience, helping her make wise decisions in the arena.

Having played the game for eight years, Yang has developed her own strategy — to make up for her slow reaction speed, she prefers heroes with faster mobility speed and those able to withstand blows from enemies.

Always aiding her daughter in the game, Yang has enjoyed the nights she spent in the Hero's Gorge defending their base, like what she does in life.

"No matter in the game or in life, I have always accompanied and supported my daughter," Yang says, adding that they also have quarrels and disputes, but they will always find a way to solve disagreements and move forward.

When Wu decided to quit her stable job and become a game streamer in early 2021, Yang didn't doubt her daughter's choice, because she trusted that Wu "knew what her specialty was", and she knew that being young means to give anything a go, the mother says.

At the beginning, there were only several viewers for Wu's livestreaming, and to help warm up the audience, Yang joined Wu in the broadcast to help viewer numbers from home and abroad reach more than 300,000 at peak hours.

"I can play better than many young gamers, which makes me feel great," Yang says.

With King Pro League commentator Li Jiu (left), Yang (middle) and Wu livestream playing a game online. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Silver-haired fans

According to a report released at the 2023 Global Esports Summit and the Tencent Esports Annual Conference, there were about 11 percent of gamers aged 45 and over in China last year, while the ratio was 9 percent in 2020.

Just like Xiyanghong, an increasing number of senior citizens are participating in video games with proven benefits that competitive gaming can offer.

A clinical research report published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research in 2020 found that video games showed potential in improving key aspects of memory in older adults. Researchers supported by the National Institute on Aging in the United States discovered that individuals aged between 60 and 80 who played 30 to 45 minutes video games per day for four weeks displayed improved recognition memory.

Although video games may not be an ideal substitute for real-world experience, they may serve as an additional and entertaining method to improve cognitive health, according to the research.

Qin from Xiyanghong says that the game keeps his mind active and helps exercise his hand-eye coordination. Ge, a nasopharyngeal cancer survivor, says that playing Honor of Kings has helped him get through the tough times during his fight with the disease.

Yang Binglin, affectionately known as "Gamer Grandpa" on short-video platform Bilibili, has achieved a Guinness World Record title at the age of 88 by becoming the oldest male gaming livestreamer early this year. His channel — "Hardcore gamer old man Yang" — has more than 303,000 subscribers.

It's not only happening in China. There's a growing global appetite for esports, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, as gaming offered an entertaining and safe alternative to socializing and recreation during the lockdown.

In September 2021, Matagi Snipers was established as Japan's first senior esports professional team with its members required to be above 65. Boasting an average member age of 67, it aims to become a team "respected by grandchildren", according to its official website.

Sponsored by tech giant Lenovo, Silver Snipers is a senior Counter Strike team from Sweden, which was assembled with the explicit goal of broadening the audience of esports to the generation with ample disposable income and leisure time.

For Yang, video games are just a new pastime to enrich her life and she hopes as more senior players like her participate in the gaming community, they can make the sector appealing to a broader demographic.