‘Gamer Grandma’ Connects Across Multiple Generations

February 4, 2020

Shirley Curry never planned on becoming an internet celebrity, especially in the video game world. And she certainly didn’t plan on becoming the friend and de facto grandmother to a generation. But she now says she can’t imagine giving it up.

It all started by accident. Her son set her up with a copy of Civilization II and she soon found herself playing every day. Then he gave her a copy of Skyrim. And fate began to take over.

She watched and commented on a few YouTube videos and was encouraged to record her own gameplay. She gathered a few followers initially, then one night she posted a video and went to bed. The next morning, she had thousands of emails waiting for her and even more followers.

While the flood of attention was intimidating at first, Curry, 83, has come to embrace it, finding that games have been a bridge that connect her with people of multiple generations, often in ways she couldn’t have expected.

“Sometimes [subscribers] talk about their problems with me—and it’s because they’re not getting any love at home,” she says. “Some say things like ‘I’m glad you’re my grandma here, because my real grandma hates me. Many parents aren’t raising their kids anymore, so this is why I try to talk to them on my channel as a grandma would. … It makes me feel useful. It makes me feel happy.”

One 35-year old follower confessed that he cried when she posted a video of herself reading The Night Before Christmas, because no one had ever read that to him before.

The interactions are hardly one-way. Curry says she’s become friends with a woman in Germany and they talk almost daily (“I love to hear about the things she does.”) and she interacts regularly with a Swedish man who posts short videos of walks he takes around his city in the spring, winter, and other seasons. It’s a global circle of friends she would never have met, if not for games.

“I’m by myself,” she says. “I don’t have a car. It’s hard for me to be out and about. And I have never been one to make friends with neighbors. … This is a connection between an older generation playing games and a younger one. … It’s a way to have people to talk to and interact with and discuss things with.”

Beyond their social benefits, video games are also a creative outlet for Curry. She prefers open world titles like Skyrim, where players are encouraged to explore. For her, that offers the opportunity to create and play her own stories.

“I used to want to be a writer, but I don’t have the desire to sit and sit and write and write,” she says. “This is an outlet for me. … [The stories] are things that just come to me creatively. I lie in bed at night and just make up the entire story. I play games differently than most players. And my viewers like that I tell a story. Some tell me they will watch at night and it’s like a bedtime story for them.”