You might think that online video games are merely for kids and young adults. They might seem like a waste of time and energy. You might think that no senior in his or her right mind would have anything to do with them. But you might be wrong.
According to two researchers in Trinity University's Department of Communication, there may be strong social and mental health benefits for seniors who play Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs). And apparently, many older adults already know this— games offer a way to interact with the larger world, without having to leave your home or assisted living apartment.
The age range of gamers is wider than you might expect.
The study's authors studied subscribers to the game Wizard 101, an online fantasy game that emphasizes social cooperation, collective problem solving and clean, non-violent fun. They found that the ages of users ranged from 5 to 95 years old, and that a significant number of people over the age of 50 were playing the game. Among those over 50, the majority were women.
Some seniors may be leery to try video games because they think that they will not be able to keep up with younger, more competitive players. But the study's authors found that older players tend to play for longer periods at a time than younger players and, for the most part, focus more on cooperative effort than competition.
Games like Wizard 101 were also designed with a wide range of ages in mind; the controls are simple to learn and easy to master. The play doesn't proceed at a breakneck pace. Like board-based Dungeons & Dragons, or the mid-1980s PC favorite Zork trilogy, the action is slower and more thoughtful than most video games. Players chat back and forth with each other, working together to solve puzzles and riddles in order to get to the next level.
Collective cooperation and problem-solving are valuable to older people— especially those with limited mobility or who cannot leave their homes without assistance— in that they keep the mind sharp and provide a sense of value and self-worth.
Seniors who may otherwise feel isolated can find themselves contributing in a meaningful way to a common cause.
Gaming can help grandparents and grandchildren bridge physical distance and generation gaps.
Another benefit to seniors who play MMORPGs is the ability to play in tandem with one's grandchildren over long distances. For grandparents who live far from their younger family members, socializing via a game provides a way to stay in touch and be a part of their grandchildren's lives in real-time, regardless of the physical separation between them.
"This game has given my family a way to play together and communicate more often even though we are thousands of miles apart," one 59-year-old woman reported to the Trinity University researchers. "It has brought us closer together and that means the world to us."
Gaming together also provides a method by which seniors and children can share a mutually enjoyable activity. Many seniors struggle, during visits with younger family members, to catch and hold their grandchildren's attention. Often, grandchildren want to run, play and be active and have trouble sitting still. But video games channel a child's energy, and the lack of any need for physical activity can allow a grandparent with limited mobility to finally keep up with an active grandchild.
Video gaming together can provide a common arena for developing mutual understanding, too. Grandchildren see that their gamer grandparents are "cool" and, thus, still relevant and grandparents can experience the world from their grandchildren's perspective.
"As a 70 year-old grandparent, this game lets me have a glimpse into the world of my grandchildren without the violence of games like [World of Warcraft]," one retired schoolteacher wrote of Wizard 101, which she reported playing, on average, 16 hours per week. "The game lets me try to understand this new world of gaming that has captured the minds of students."
Gaming is easy to get into.
Most MMORPGs are subscription-based services, so there is a monthly fee to play. Some do require a software purchase. But others are based entirely online and can be played straight from your web browser. Some games are free (their costs are paid by in-game advertising). And there are online tutorials for most, to help get you started.
Talk to your grandchildren and see which games they enjoy. Try sitting down and playing together; have your grandchild teach you the controls. This could make for a fun visit and give your grandchild the unexpected joy of finding out his or her grandparent is hip enough to play video games.
There is no need for a senior, even of limited mobility, to feel isolated. The online gaming world offers a unique opportunity to socialize with the outside, from your home, or even from your assisted living apartment. The social and mental health benefits for seniors are clear.
Start exploring the video gaming world today!