Aging Gamer – Is the game still fun?

“The original Xbox turns 18 this year, the Playstation one turned 25, and the NES turns 36. For many of us gamers out there this may come as a surprise but just like us our consoles are getting old.”

For many gamers, however, there is a growing feeling that we’re being left behind by the industry; or maybe that’s not the right way to put it? As time goes on there is a growing feeling that mainstream games design companies could be doing more to expand the development of their game development to include all gamers as they mature. 

One AAA company that is notorious for this is EA Games (Electronic Arts) . They are famous for producing the Fifa, Madden, NBA, Battlefield and many more triple-A titles. They’re targeted at young audiences and are often under scrutiny for their predatory monetisation strategies. There is, however, a lot of research to suggest that gaming has huge physiological health benefits for elderly people. A recent US National Institutes of Health-funded study involving nearly 3,000 retirees showed that video games could cut the risk for dementia by almost 30 per cent

For the elderly computer games have been shown to have positive effects for:

  • Improved cognitive ability
  • Computer games encourage social interaction
  • Computer games can improve fitness and hand-eye coordination
  • Gaming helps elderly people to remain technologically literate
  • Computer games can be educational
  • Computer games can help reduce pain

Researchers at North Carolina University decided to test the effects of playing computer games on the cognitive ability of elderly people. Participants were to spend time playing a popular game called World of Warcraft for a few hours each day. There were 30 participants between the ages of 60 and 77. At the conclusion of the trial, the majority of those in the test group saw a significant improvement in spatial ability and cognitive focus.

One study from the American Pain Society suggests that playing games can help reduce feelings of pain that an elderly person experiencing. By providing the participants with an effective tool for distracting them the participants reported reduced feelings of pain suggesting to could lead to better clinical outcomes due to an improved outlook. 

One console that had a huge effect on the elderly is the Nintendo Wii. The fun, low impact games that encourage users to get up and get moving. Care homes around America have found that over time, the benefits of having a Nintendo Wii as part of elderly people’s day to day activities were clear. Residents became more social, often calling each other in advance to make sure their friends were going to be there, confidence increased as their skill levels improved, and their tolerance level for activities was increasing as they wanted to play for longer and longer. The Nintendo Wiis are accessible UI, simple controllers, local multi-player games and game mechanics that make users get up and move proved to be a formidable force and improving the lives of many elderly gamers.

All of this great press, however, comes from existing technology that is widely adopted and available. In a poster presentation at the Gerontological Society of America’s Annual Scientific Meeting in New Orleans late last year, Patricia Kahlbaugh, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Southern Connecticut State University presented a study on the effects of playing Wii on loneliness and mood in the elderly. As some adults get older, they may no longer have the physical strength or agility to engage in their chosen pleasures of life. For some, the sense of loss can deepen into depression. By recreating the experience of previously enjoyed activities like tennis, bowling, and golf, Kahlbaugh says the Nintendo Wii may allow elderly individuals to engage in these previously enjoyed activities, allowing them to “regain the psychological benefits such activities once afforded them.”

This is a key feature I think that isn’t fully grasped by many games developers. Games allow users to continue to enjoy activities that bring them joy, long beyond the time with which they would be able to enjoy them. The biggest technology that I think will enable this is VR or virtual reality. The 360° immersive nature of VR coupled with the Wii’s style mechanics that encourage users to stand up and be active could prove a formidable tool for helping elderly gamers. Pairing this with the social aspect of gaming we could see a whole new market of games open up and a previously niche market could become a growing area of development. That is, more realistic games based on things people love to do right now. Let’s go for Live Simulations. That’s right folks, simulations. You may have already seen several hundred simulator games already out there in the market ranging from Euro Truck simulators, to farming simulators, forklift driver simulator, all the way down to some more niche simulators like House Flipper Simulator, where you buy run-down houses, renovate them (manually, that’s right by swinging a hammer blow by blow) and then eventually go on to flip them for a profit. 

My point is that as VR tends towards ultra-realism we’re going to see more and more of these simulator games that allow people to enjoy doing what they love, long after they lose the ability to pursue those hobbies. It is intriguing though as to continue to capture this market not only do the games need to grow and mature with its audience but the games controllers themselves will need to grow and mature as well. For VR this might include a wider focal adjustment range or simply having goggles that can accommodate a pair of spectacles to be worn with the headset. Here at Detekt we’re really excited to see what changes are coming down the line. If you are looking to be a part of the future of gaming and have an innovative idea that you would like to take to market then contact us today to see how we could shape the future of gaming together.