Golden Gamers: How video game play can help older adults “level up” their health
By Jessica Francis | Sep 26, 2018 | d.health column, The Gerontechnologist

Reports indicate that about a quarter of all gamers are now over the age of 50, and these Golden Gamers in particular receive several benefits beyond enjoyment, as video games can have various positive impacts on physical, psychological, and social functioning.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Jessica Francis is a gerontechnologist and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Rochester’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute and the Center for Health + Technology in Rochester, NY. She is also a co-founder of Trilogy Think Tank, an interdisciplinary, multi-site research collaborative effort focusing on the impact of digital games on healthy aging. Jessica’s work focuses on the intersection of aging, technology, and social isolation. Jessica has presented her work at conferences and scientific meetings across the U.S. and abroad and her research has been funded by the NIA/NIH and NSF. In 2018 she received the Pearl J. Aldrich Award for research to advance the field of gerontology and geriatrics. E-mail Jessica

Golden Gamers: How video game play can help older adults “level up” their health

As the Atari approaches its golden anniversary, the first generation of video gamers, who spent their formative years in local arcades, has entered into middle and/or old age. Over the past half-century, the gaming landscape has evolved in lockstep with player demographics. We are now witnessing the rise to prominence of the “Golden Gamer,” a term I coined along with my colleagues Dr. Tim Huang at Ball State University and Christopher Ball, a doctoral candidate at Michigan State University, to identify video gamers who are 65 years and older. Reports indicate that about a quarter of all gamers are now over the age of 50. Golden Gamers in particular can derive several benefits from gaming beyond enjoyment, as video game play can have various positive impacts on physical, psychological, and social functioning. As research has shown that social isolation and physical inactivity are two potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia in older adults, there is increasing interest and excitement for exercise-based video games, such as those that can be played on Nintendo’s Wii console, and social online games.

The growing elderly population is at a considerably higher risk for developing age-related neurological disorders such as cognitive decline. One potential solution is the use of exergames (exercise + gaming), which combine physical activity with the entertainment of video games. Recently, researchers found that exergames are an effective tool for cognitive improvement in mid-life and older adults. Exergames are believed to impact parts of the brain leading to improvements in functions such as visual processing speed and inhibitory control. Furthermore, video games such as NeuroRacer, designed by scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, was developed specifically to improve the aging brain. Older players of NeroRacer have shown sustained improvement in ability to multi-task, attentiveness, and working memory.

Beyond cognitive and physical health benefits, video game play also has the potential to be socially beneficial for older adults. The idea that playing video games is a lonely, solitary activity is rapidly changing as video games continue to evolve. Increasingly, we are no longer playing video games alone, but with others. Dr. Bob De Schutter, professor and game designer at Miami University and founder of the Gerontoludic Society, and his colleagues have been producing pioneering research, video games, and game design framework targeted towards successful aging for over a decade. Many of his projects aim to promote intergenerational video game play for older adults and their younger family members. The Entertainment Software Association reports that over half of frequent gamers are playing multiplayer games, such as Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs), and most of them are playing with friends and family. Social video games allow us to stay connected with important people in our lives and they also have the potential to unlock entirely new networks of friends and social support systems, which are vital for the emotional and cognitive health of older adults.

Games are an important part of all our lives and video games may help people across generations play, grow, and age successfully, together. Play on, Golden Gamers!

 


Sources:

Tim Huang, PhD
Assistant Professor of the Center for Emerging Media Design and Development
Ball State University
Co-Founder at T2 Think Tank
Khuang2@bsu.edu

Christopher Ball, MA
Doctoral Candidate in Media and Information Studies
Michigan State University
Co-Founder at T2 Think Tank
Ballchr3@msu.edu

Allaire, J. C., et al. (2013). “Successful aging through digital games: Socioemotional differences between older adult gamers and non-gamers.” Computers in Human Behavior 29(4): 1302-1306.

Entertainment Software Association (2018). Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry. http://www.theesa.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/EF2018_FINAL.pdf.

Huang, K. (2018). Moving with presence: A pilot study of an exergame intervention for executive functions among people over 50 years old. Paper presented at the ICA 2018 Game Studies Preconference, Prague, Czech, May 24.

Livingston, G., Sommerlad, A., Orgeta, V., Costafreda, S. G., Huntley, J., Ames, D., … & Cooper, C. (2017). Dementia prevention, intervention, and care. The Lancet, 390(10113), 2673-2734.

Francis, J., Ball, C., Huang, KT., & Brown, J. (2016). The Mattering Circle: How Social Gaming Can Promote Mattering among Golden Gamers. Presented at Meaningful Play 2016, East Lansing, MI, October 20-22.

Francis, J., Ball, C., Huang, KT. (2016). The Mattering Circle: Designing Games to Promote Mattering Among Older Adults. Paper presented at the DiGRA/FDG 2016 Digital Games for Older Adults Workshop, Dundee, Scotland, August 1-6.

Boot, W. R., Champion, M., Blakely, D. P., Wright, T., Souders, D., & Charness, N. (2013). Video games as a means to reduce age-related cognitive decline: attitudes, compliance, and effectiveness. Frontiers in psychology, 4, 31.

Brown, J. A. (2012, May). Let’s play: understanding the role and meaning of digital games in the lives of older adults. In Proceedings of the International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games (pp. 273-275). ACM.

De Schutter, B., Brown, J. A., & Vanden Abeele, V. (2015). The domestication of digital games in the lives of older adults. new media & society, 17(7), 1170-1186.

De Schutter, B. (2011). Never too old to play: The appeal of digital games to an older audience. Games and Culture, 6(2), 155-170.

Anguera, J. A., Boccanfuso, J., Rintoul, J. L., Al-Hashimi, O., Faraji, F., Janowich, J., … & Gazzaley, A. (2013). Video game training enhances cognitive control in older adults. Nature, 501(7465), 97.

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