[games_access] Article: Video Games Conquer Retirees
richard at audiogames.net
Fri Mar 30 17:56:31 EDT 2007
I found this on a list and it was posted there by Dmitri Williams, Assistant Professor, Department of Speech Communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Familiar of yours, Michelle??
Anyway, here it is and please note the remark about Sister Jean-Marie Smith, who has ADHD...
March 30, 2007
Video Games Conquer Retirees
By SETH SCHIESEL
CHATAWA, Miss. - For 133 years the School Sisters of Notre Dame have lived here in a thick forest just up the hill from the Tangipahoa River. In a modest but stately compound called St. Mary of the Pines, 52 retired members of this Roman Catholic order spend much of their time as the order's members have since the 19th century. They read and garden, fish and sew. They pray five times a day.
But many also have a new hobby, one they credit for keeping their hands steady and minds sharp. They play video games. Every day residents go to the seven-terminal "Computer Cove" to click furiously on colorful, nonviolent, relatively simple games like Bejeweled, Bookworm and Chuzzle.
Though they live in a remote grove, the women of St. Mary are actually part of a vast and growing community of video-game-playing baby boomers and their parents, especially women.
Anxious about the mental cost of aging, older people are turning to games that rely on quick thinking to stimulate brain activity. A step slower than in their youth, they are using digital recreations of bowling, tennis and golf.
Spurred by the popularity of the Nintendo Wii game system among older players, Erickson Retirement Communities, based in Baltimore, which manages 18 campuses around the country with 19,000 total residents, is installing the consoles at each location.
[On Thursday Norwegian Cruise Line announced that it was installing Wii systems on all its ships.]
PopCap Games in Seattle, the maker of the diversions so popular at St. Mary, says its games have been downloaded more than 200 million times since the company was founded in 2000. A spokesman said that the company was stunned by results of a customer survey last year: 71 percent of its players were older than 40, 47 percent were older than 50, and 76 percent of PopCap players were women.
It turns out that older users not only play video games more often than their younger counterparts but also spend more time playing per session. Pogo.com is a Web site that offers "casual" games, easy to play and generally less complicated than the war, sports and strategy games favored by hard-core gamers. According to Electronic Arts, the game publisher that runs the site, people 50 and older were 28 percent of the visitors in February but accounted for more than 40 percent of total time spent on the site. On average women spent 35 percent longer on the site each day than men.
"Baby boomers and up are definitely our fastest-growing demographic, and it is because the fear factor is diminishing," said Beatrice Spaine, the Pogo.com marketing director. "Women come for the games, but they stay for the community. Women like to chat, and these games online are a way to do that. It's kind of a MySpace for seniors."
A couple of hours before heading to a harmonica concert recently, Sister Jean-Marie Smith, 61 and a retired teacher, paused her round of Bookworm (a digital take on the classic Scrabble word game) at the prodigious score of 34,765,180 to explain how she joined the gamer generation after moving to St. Mary last summer.
She has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, "and I just could not focus on anything," she said. "I constantly have to find things to keep my attention. But the first time I played Bookworm, and that red tile hit the bottom and I lost, I stood up and said, 'Me and this computer are going to have a talk.' The fact that it's interactive and also competitive really draws me in and helps me focus."
Sister Marie Richard Eckerle, 72, who introduced the games at St. Mary, smiled and said: "I hear all the time from sisters when they first see the computer, 'I can't do it, I can't do it, I can't do it.' And then they can do it. And they actually like it."
The game industry has been pleasantly surprised to discover this growing audience that is more familiar with Little Richard than Ludacris, and some companies, particularly Nintendo and makers of easy-to-play casual games, have begun to cater specifically to older players. (Microsoft and Sony, two other big game companies, still focus mostly on young men.)
"We actually use something called the 'Mom Test,' " said John Vechey, 28, a founder of PopCap. "When we were first making games like Bejeweled, we would sit our moms in front of the computers and just let them play, and that's a big way how we would see what works in an accessible, casual game. The problem is that our moms have gotten a little too savvy, so we're always looking for new moms to test on."
Aside from casual PC games the other big spur to increased gaming by older players has been the recent introduction of two new game systems by Nintendo of Japan. The hand-held DS and the home Wii console (pronounced "we") are specifically meant to buck the industry trend toward increasing complexity and instead provide a simple yet captivating experience for players of all ages and degrees of coordination. In many games, players need only swing and twist the Wii controller rather than have to master complicated combinations of buttons and triggers.
Dick Norwood, 61, a semi-retired businessman who lives in a community for residents 55 and older in Crest Hill, Ill., spotted the Wii in a mall in December. After playing Wii bowling with two other couples at home, he persuaded Giovan's, a local Italian restaurant, to begin a "seniors only" Wii bowling league, where nine couples now show up every Thursday.
"When I started calling people about it, they had no idea what I was talking about, and they were laughing at me saying, 'You want to start a bowling league on a video game in a bar?' " he said. "Well, we got there the first time, and we were there for six solid hours. In the past, I probably would have agreed that video games are just for kids. But I'll tell you, at our age when you bowl for real, you wake up with aches and pains. Those balls aren't light. But with this you're getting good exercise, but you're not aching the next day."
There is no good evidence that video game playing can alter the course of dementia or cause lasting improvements in memory, but research is sparse. Most neuroscientists doubt that gaming can hurt, and some small studies are under way.
Jim Karle, a graduate student in the department of psychology, neuroscience and behavior at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, reported last year that preliminary experiments indicated that playing video games could have a beneficial effect on short-term memory. Mr. Karle has not applied his research directly to older subjects, he said, but he may not have to. He has witnessed the increased popularity of gaming among older players first-hand.
"The baby boom generation is definitely playing more video games," Mr. Karle, 29, said. "My mom never played video games, and then I would try to call her last year and could never get through. It wasn't that the line was busy. She just wasn't answering. It turned out it was because she had gotten engrossed with a game called Zuma. She's 60 years old, and suddenly she was totally into it."
Assistant Professor, Department of Speech Communication
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
dcwill + at + uiuc + dot + edu
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