Tuesday, February 7

Meet Marthazon, The 70-Year-Old Gaming Grandma

Don't mess with Marthazon, the 70-year-old Guildmaster of Spartans on Dalaran.

Marthazon is the screen name for Martha Schneck, a 70-year-old grandmother of three and a five-hour-a-day player of  World of Warcraft. Schneck is not alone in her passion for gaming; a study published in 2008 showed that boomers were a "vibrant" part of the online gaming community and projected that as the demographic aged into retirement, its numbers of active players would grow significantly. Guess-timates are that more than 25 percent of all gamers are over 50, so the grandkids better be prepared to wrestle for that laptop.

Schneck describes playing video games as the perfect activity for retirees on a fixed income. "It costs about $15 a month  and it's all the entertainment we need. We don't have to drive ourselves anywhere, spend money on gas, buy equipment or special clothing to wear. We just turn on the computer and enjoy ourselves."

Schneck and her 72-year-old husband Richard have been playing video games since the days of Pong. She likens it to playing with dolls as a child. "You get a doll and your job is to protect it and take care of it. You buy clothes for it to make it stronger," Schneck says, "and this is pretty much the same thing." Yeah, but the fate of the world is at stake, isn't it?

WoW has cartoon-like graphics and Schneck says to play successfully requires a combination of chess-like strategies, remembering what attributes each of 24 spells possess and when to use them. You also need to know which spells work against which characters. There is a money-earning phase of the game, but the basic premise is that you, along with similarly minded players, go out on raids with the goal of saving the world from evil monsters. Think swords, sorcery and fantasy.

Schneck says gaming must run in her blood. Her grandmother lived to be 90 and right until the time of her death she would dress up once a week and go play Canasta. "It's the same thing," says Schneck. "It keeps my mind active and sharp."

Aren't these games addictive? Schneck insists not at her age. "Maybe a little," she qualifies, for younger players who struggle socially, "this becomes a more comfortable place for them." She and her husband have gotten to know many of the other players and attended an in-person gathering last year in Kentucky. Among her new friends are a former military man living in Canada and a research scientist at Purdue.

Schneck's husband is a retired accountant and having some health issues. He isn't as mobile as he once was, "so this [gaming] is perfect," she says, "it's something we can do together and both enjoy."

She was introduced to WoW by her 33-year-old daughter in 2005. Her daughter knew of her attraction to the Medieval genre. "I used to read 'Lord of the Rings' to my kids every night when they were young," said Schneck. Schneck quickly advanced as she stayed with the game and other than saying things in interviews llike "our first venture in Molten Core hooked me on raiding," she sounds like a typical grandma. Just don't call her a knitter, she adds, as one profiler did. "I wouldn't even know where to start with that stuff."

The Schnecks, of course, aren't the only older gamers out there. A centenarian in Scotland credits the Nintendo DS Game she received on her 96th birthday for keeping her brain active (see video below). She plays two hours a night. And Shiro Suzuki, a famed Japanese broadcaster, discovered gaming more than 15 years ago. He recently credited celebrating his 74th birthday to the fact that he plays a game called Resident Evil, adding that he hoped "other elderly people will play video games," because, he added, "It betters you as a human being."

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