Video games have become a mainstream activity among older adults who have found functional utility and pleasure in gaming. With better access and ease of use, older adults are using video games to reduce stress, maintain mental sharpness, connect, and to have fun. According to a survey conducted by the AARP, which included 3737 people aged 50 or older, 47 percent of respondents reported playing video games every day. The average respondent spent five hours every week playing video games on tablets, phones, game consoles, or computers. According to the study, the 50-59 age group is experiencing the most significant spike, which is an interesting fact, as this is the generation that grew up playing Ms. Pac-Man and Atari.
While teenagers and especially boys are still the most avid gamers, the grandparents are emerging as an essential player group. An AARP survey reported that more than 10 million U.S. citizens above the age of video had become video gamers between 2016 and 2019. There were more than 40 million gamers in the target age group in 2016, and this number has grown to more than 50 million in 2019. It has a massive implication for companies such as Nintendo and Electronic Arts (EA) that may now create more products targeted towards the older adult market.
According to Dr. Anne McLaughlin, an engineering psychologist, and professor at North Carolina State University, older adult experiences may be enriched, depending on the type of game played. McLaughlin, who was part of the team that conducted the digital games case study, says that the highest benefits usually come from unfamiliar games. Challenging and new games rather than familiar but challenging are thus the right combination because “completely new tasks form new pathways in your brain.” For persons who are just new to the world of gaming, it is essential to start with much simpler games such as Solitaire, online chess, and scrabble. The case study also found that both occasional and regular video gamers benefited a lot from playing. Older adults reported significantly lower rates of depression, better health, more excellent social functioning, and well-being as compared to non-gamers.
While playing to enhance mental acuity is great, some older adults play video games for the sense of community it provides. As such, it is not surprising to find older adults who enjoy video games, especially multiplayer games such as World of WarCraft or Super Mario. According to Greg Portell, head of global consumer industries and retail price at Kearney consulting firm, video games provide a sense of interaction and virtual community because of the isolation many older adults feel. Loneliness and social isolation in older adults are serious public health risks associated with dementia and other serious medical conditions.
Given the many benefits of gaming for older adults, digital entertainment has turned into some form of clinical therapy. The science is still in the formative stage, but studies show that video gaming can address loneliness and loss of purpose that many older adults experience. According to Dr. Kathrin Gerling, an assistant professor of computer science at KU Leuven, a research university in Belgium, gaming restores a sense of accomplishment and agency for older persons. Her paper titled “Designing Video Games for Older Adults and Caregivers” examined the design of interactive technologies to support caregiving relationships through play. Accessible game design and its impact on older adults is a critical area of focus, which can further improve the demographic’s uptake of video games. It can be a very empowering experience for an older gamer to thrive and feel a sense of belonging in an activity that mostly involves younger adults.
Edited by Global Health Aging