In the 1980s, 1990s, and even most of the 2000s, video games were a hobby enjoyed mostly by men under 30. Of course, the traditional hardcore gamers with super-powerful hardware, RGB lights, specialist peripherals, and gaming headsets still exist, but fast forward to the 2020s and the gaming landscape has been completely transformed. Not only are the games we play and the devices we use for playing them very differently, but the medium has become an inclusive one that sees millions of people from every imaginable demographic take part.

There isn’t one single reason for this change, but rather a mix of different factors that have led to a tectonic shift in both society’s attitude towards gaming and the gaming industry’s attitude towards society. Here are the main drivers of this change.

Gaming is a Good Mental Workout

In the past, many people developed a false perception that gaming was an activity that offered no benefits and, instead, was just a drain on your time. Of course, anyone who has ever played just about any game imaginable will know that this couldn’t be further from reality. 

Games of all kinds give your grey matter an opportunity to shake off the cobwebs by providing strategic challenges and the chance to find creative ways to solve problems. For example, in most variants of poker, the fact that your position changes with each round mean that you have to take a different approach each time. When you’re playing one of the first blinds, you have fewer options available to you, but when you’re in a late position, you can steal the button, defend the big blind, or re-steal. The different strategic options will get your noggin working overtime. 

Even games like Call of Duty present you with a challenge. The findings of a 2016 study by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences reveal that these shooting games test your hand-eye coordination, boost your reaction time, and even promote your memory.

With more recognition that games can be beneficial to your brain, more people have shown an interest in having a go. 

A More Diverse Range of Options

In the past, games were mostly targeted at young men. This was reflected in the fact that the majority of titles were released in this era, most of which were either in the shooting, racing, or fighting genres. Ads for video games seldom featured women, and when they did, they weren’t cast in overly respectful roles. 

Even when gaming companies tried to produce games that were more inclusive, many early attempts failed as they completely misunderstood what would appeal to women and created bright pink monstrosities. However, in more recent years, the tide has changed. Nintendo were an early pioneer of this with their Mario universe and they went further with the DS and Wii consoles that were designed to appeal to older players as well as their traditional younger demographics. 

On top of that, casual titles Farmville and Candy Crush have also made it easier for people to play games for short periods of time rather than having to commit a few hours at a time. 

Workmates playing video games with controller on console

Free-to-Play Has Taken Away the Risk of Not Liking a Game

Video games have always been quite an expensive affair. If you buy a AAA title for the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series S/X today, you could easily fork out $50-70. That isn’t a new phenomenon either; they’ve cost around this price for at least a decade. So imagine the pain you’d feel if you spent $70 on a new game, got it home, started playing, and found out you didn’t like it. You’d be pretty upset. Sure, you could try and return it or sell it to someone else, but that’s still going to take up more of your time. Today, however, there are many new games that you can enjoy without the risk of not liking them. If you find that they’re not for you, you can just delete them from your device and find something new instead. 

Free-to-play games have made gaming more accessible, too, since people without a spare $50 aren’t excluded from trying new titles.