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‘Gaming Grandma’ Takes on Internet Ageism

‘Of course older people are online,’ says the 80-year-old YouTube star


(This article appeared previously on HuffPost50.com.)

Shirley Curry is known to the online universe as the Gaming Grandma. She is an 80-year-old widow from Virginia who spends hours every day in front of her computer, much of the time playing the video game Skyrim. She has what’s been described as a huge cult following on YouTube, where people tune in in droves to watch her play and hear her running commentary. YouTube gaming channels bring in more than 3.5 billion views each month.

In addition to being a YouTube star at age 80, Grandma Shirley tweetsInstagrams, Facebooks, emails, and is actually pretty much adored by the fine folks at Reddit, who are generally not known for their adoring ways.

I think it is really weird. There are a lot of older gamers on YouTube, but I just happened to use my real picture and was open about telling my age.

— Shirley Curry

No two ways about it: Grandma Shirley is a rock star. But even she has a problem with that. By making such a big deal about an older person just because they know their way around the digital world, it underscores the stereotype that most don’t. And that’s not true, says Grandma Shirley.

Lots of Older Gamers

“I think it is really weird,” is how she described her fame to The Huffington Post, adding, “There are a lot of older gamers on YouTube, but I just happened to use my real picture and was open about telling my age. Most others ― not all ― are scared of getting nasty comments.”

And as for those nasty commenters, Grandma Shirley wants you to know that “[Older people] are active online, and because we’re here proves we can understand and use today’s technology.  If an older person is healthy and is interested in playing games, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t, or can’t.”

Further, she scolds, “The younger people tend to ridicule older people on YouTube [and act] as though it’s their private territory … I’ll bet they won’t look back and remember how disrespectful they were to us! LOL.”

“Older YouTubers should use their own pictures and put their age in their profile,” she told Vice. “Then everybody would know there are lots of older people and it wouldn’t be such a big deal.” She says that refusing to hide and pretend that older gamers don’t exist is essential to fixing the online culture.

Fame Has Its Price

Playing video games is actually a triple crown winner for retirees: It’s inexpensive; with its global audiences you can find someone awake 24/7; and it doesn’t require that you drive at night along icy roads to play. Video games have also been linked to better brain health and dexterity.

Not without some irony, Shirley’s YouTube fame has actually restricted the amount of time she has to play the game. “I wish I had time to play for hours like I used to, just for myself,” she said. Now her time is claimed by working on her videos, answering comments and engaging with her fans.

Speaking of comments, Grandma Shirley seems to be spared the wrath of anonymous trolls. More often than not, it’s one of her “grandkids” ― her pet name for her fans ― posting things like “You’re so sweet and nice that I can’t stand it, Please never change Shirley.”

We couldn’t agree more.

By Ann Brenoff
Ann Brenoff is a writer and columnist for the Huffington Post.

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