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Aging With Attitude: “Gaming Grandma” Shirley Curry

“I wanted to interact with younger people and have a conversation, and you can’t if are hiding behind some stupid little cartoon picture and never admit your age. That’s what everybody does on YouTube and I can’t stand it.”

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Shirley Curry’s YouTube picture

About a year ago Shirley Curry, an avid online gamer, decided to upload a video of herself to YouTube. The video showed her as her character in her favorite game, Skyrim. She used her real picture on YouTube and stated her real age. The next day, Curry was surprised to see that she already had 11,000 followers. The video was nothing special — her honesty was. Curry is 80, and most online gamers who watch other gamers play on YouTube are younger by a few decades, or at least pretend to be.

Skyrim is an action-based role-playing game in which you actually enter a complete world. Players pick roles and chose to go on quests or just to wander around and become immersed in a realm that, prophesy says, is going to be destroyed by the dragon Alduin the World-Eater. The goal in Skyrim is to defeat Alduin and save the world, but Curry, like many players, aren’t too worried about that. This is a highly visual, go-with-your-flow kind of a game.

Curry has opted for the role of nomadic traveling merchant. She’s more interested in exploring the land of Skyrim by herself and going on the occasional looting spree than in joining one of the questing factions. She has three homes in Skyrim, along with her real-world home in Virginia, US.

She spoke with us via Skype from her real-world home computer.

Have you been playing games your whole life?

Just since the mid ’90s when my son gave me a computer and Civilization 2, and showed me how to use them.

Can you tell us what made you start your YouTube channel?

I started my YouTube channel in 2007, but I didn’t do anything with it except watch other gamers play. I played games myself, but I never dreamed of being a gamer on YouTube until others started asking me to record my game play. Then one day last September out of the blue I decided, why not just try it? I uploaded my very first video on September 18 and I didn’t think anybody would watch it. But when I woke up the next day and finally got around to checking my email, oh my goodness, there were over 11,000 emails in there from subscribers. I didn’t know what to do with them. I didn’t know what they were there for. I didn’t know what was happening. I sat here and cried, because I was in so much shock.

Happy almost-anniversary! Are you doing anything to celebrate?

Yes, I’m hoping to start a video blog — fans want me to use a webcam with my games so they can see my reactions as I’m playing. But I don’t know how to get my web camera to work.

How were your tech skills when you started doing this?

I’m not very techno-advanced at all. If I have a problem or need anything. I’ll email my son in Ohio, and I have a screen viewer so he can take control of my mouse. He fixes things for me or he’ll show me something new. If it wasn’t for people helping me, I couldn’t do anything.

There are so many things I wish I knew how to do that I don’t. I record my videos with a program called Fraps that does nothing but record — it doesn’t edit or anything. I wouldn’t know what to do if I did have something that could edit. Someone asked me once if my videos are scripted, and I said good grief, oh no!

It’s the real deal.

Yes, I just sit there and talk. Which is what I like to do.

You have plenty of followers now, but it sounds like YouTubers weren’t always so accepting of you.

Some young people thought I was a kid pretending — that I was using a voice changer. And some young people thought it was outrageous that I was on YouTube playing games. I don’t get much of that now, but they used to tell me to get off, that I don’t belong there. I’m trying to get the idea across to people that gaming on YouTube isn’t just for young boys. It’s for girls and for older men and women, and I am here to stay. Just think all those young people who are gaming now — when they get old it will just be a natural thing for them to be there on YouTube. I wonder if they’ll look back and think, Oh hey, I’m doing the same thing that Grandma Shirley did when I told her to get off here.

You’ve said that there are a lot of older gamers on YouTube, but most don’t admit their age because they’re too scared of getting nasty comments. Have other older gamers come out of hiding to talk to you?

Older gamers leave me comments on my channel saying that they don’t even record because they’re afraid of getting nasty comments. Well, it isn’t anything to be afraid of — either ignore them or delete them! You have the power.

I want to interact with younger people and have a conversation, and you can’t if are hiding behind some stupid little cartoon picture and never admit your age. That’s what everybody does on YouTube, and I can’t stand it. So I just put my picture on there, and if they believe it’s me or if they don’t, I don’t care.

So gaming puts you in touch with young people.

I like all of the young people who leave comments for me on my channel. Some of them are so sweet and funny, and some of them make my heart hurt. They are so in need of love and understanding, and you know, they get their feelings hurt by parents and grandparents who tell them they shouldn’t be there gaming all the time, that it’s not good for them. I think it’s better for them than sitting in front of the TV and vegging out in front of stupid shows. With gaming, they are planning and using strategy and making moves and having to use their brains, so I don’t see anything wrong with it.

What do you love so much about Skyrim? 

But what I love about it is that it’s the kind of game that looks like a movie, and you are actually a character in it — you are controlling what goes on, and I can do anything in it. I can wander around and observe things and and discover things on my own. I can explore caves and bandit hideouts on my own. It’s limitless. I just love it. I wish I could live in it sometimes! I guess the game is supposed to have a point at the end or something, but I am never going to get to the end of it. Even if I get though the game with this character, I could play again as another character and play it differently, so you can never get done with it.

Do you have a favorite location in the game?

I have like three homes in Skyrim, and I have stuff stashed in all of them, but my favorite is my home in Whiterun. I actually just got through putting a mod in there so I can expand on my house and have more rooms and secret places. I love it!

We know you have a lot of fans. Any favorite fan gifs or experiences?

Oh yes, that is why I am wanting to start my video blog. I have so many letters from fans and fan art they’ve given me that I want to show. This one lady named Pamela puts so much work into what she sends, it’s outrageous.

If you could design a videogame, what would it be called and why?

Oh my, I talked about this with a young lady in college — actually, she’s doing her masters in videogame design. There need to be games developed for people who are blind or sight-impaired. One man who commented in my channel said he listens to my videos and one of the reasons he likes listening to them is because I describe a lot of what I see. He said, I wish you could do even more description, because it helps me see visually what is going on in the game. And I thought, that is wonderful. These games need to be out there. I wouldn’t know how to make them, because I  don’t know anything about technology, but they need to have a lot of verbal description.

You’ve been nicknamed “The Gaming Grandma? Does the “Grandma” tag offend you?

I have nine grandchildren and one great grandchild, and I like being called Grandma. When I just had a handful of subscribers, before I started to record videos, that’s what they would call me. So when I started to upload videos, it was only natural for me to say, ”Hi, Grandkids.” Even some of the older people I talk to online in their 30s, 40s and 50s call me Grandma, and that’s fine. I like being everyone’s grandma.

Do any of your actual grandkids play Skyrim?

None of them play! They think it’s cool that I am into Skyrim, but they are just not into it.

What did you do before you were the Gaming Grandma?

I was married and had four kids. They take up a lot of time! I also like to read and quilt. I go out with my quilting friend and belong to a quilting bee and a quilting guild. But I quilted more and read more than I do now. All of my time now, I’m sitting here on the computer!

We saw you were trying to limit your computer time. How did that go?

I did try, but it didn’t work. I spend all of the time at the computer because I try to reply to as many comments as I possibly can. I feel if someone has spent their time watching my video and writing comments to me, the least I can do is try to reply. So this gets me interacting with them. We get great conversations going sometimes. I feel blessed.

Any advice for seniors starting social media channels? How is it best to get a following?

Use your own picture, put your age in the profile. Interact with people as a real person. Be real and play how you like.

What does aging with attitude mean to you?

My husband once told me that I had let him walk all over me like a door mat, and from then on I decided I was not going to be a door mat anymore and I haven’t. So aging with attitude is not letting anything get you down or put you down — especially put you down. Do what you like and keep yourself healthy, and just live life to the fullest, because you are not going to have much more of it. So just get out there and do things.

What’s next?

That blog will be coming up next month hopefully, if I get it all working. Also, several fans who live near me and as far west as Roanoke and even in North Carolina want to meet me. I would like to put together an event at my local favorite café and put out the word, and have a meet-and-greet. I’ve already talked to café lady, and she is so excited that I am a gamer, she said she would make sure I get a big reserved table. It will be embarrassing if no one shows up!

Something tells us they’ll show up!

Watch Shirley Curry on YouTube

Featured photo: Screenshot by Eliot Carson via Flickr (CCO)

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Silverleaf

I really enjoyed reading this article. It’s nice to hear about this kind of diversity in the gaming community and I hope more seniors can enjoy the amazing experiences games are able to offer. After all, the thrill of adventure and exploring new things can be enjoyed at any age. Games empower both the young and the young at heart to experience and do things which we can only dream of in reality. The virtual space is a very liberating environment. :) Personally, I enjoy playing World of Warcraft and often find myself wishing I could find some people who… Read more »

Virginia

Thank you Grandma! If we don’t keep the mind stimulated it will die. I love you for loving what you do.
I’m a 72 year old Grandmother. Bless you.

Momma

Go Grandma! We do not have to sit and rot in a nursing home, anymore. We are a new generation of Seniors that will live to the fullest till we die. I love stories like this one. It really is a positive influence on Baby-boomers who are learning how to be Old without being emotional and physically crippled.

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