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Contributed by Terri Wells

Game On for the Grandparents

Thanks in part to Nintendo’s Wii, there’s a whole new demographic playing video games these days: retirees. It’s time to rethink your stereotypes – and watch your back if you’re playing Halo 2.

Stories about older gamers have been appearing online fairly regularly lately. I don't just mean people in their mid-thirties, though I did recently read a review of Halo 2 by a pair of thirty-something men who seemed to spend half the review unhappy about how bad they were at the game compared to the other players who were teenagers (and younger). No, I'm talking about people who are baby boomers and older, retired or semi-retired, with time on their hands and perhaps a lust for (virtual) killing in their hearts.

Don't believe me? Check out the blog of Barbara St. Hilaire, also known as Old Grandma Hardcore. The blog is actually written by her 22-year-old grandson Timothy. He goes into detail about the exploits of his grandmother as she plays various first person shooter games, often expressing herself in truly colorful metaphors as she gets frustrated. But she finishes an amazing number of games; in fact, she reviews games now for MTV.

Old Grandma Hardcore isn't alone. The demographic for video gamers has been changing, as I noted a few months ago. For example, casual games developer PopCap was surprised by the results of a recent survey of its players: 71 percent were older than 40, 47 percent were older than 50, and 76 percent were female. Numbers from the Entertainment Software Association back this up; they say 25 percent of all gamers are 50 years old or older.

Who are all these older gamers? Where are they coming from? Why are they gaming? What kinds of games are they playing? These aren't academic questions; they're vitally important to the gaming industry if it wants to expand its appeal. In this article I hope to give you some answers to at least a few of these questions.

Look Who's Gaming

The phenomenon of the older gamer is certainly not limited to the U.S. When Electronic Arts recently held a gaming day at the Kalliola pensioners' settlement house in Finland, they received a surprisingly strong response; 70 seniors showed up within the first hour to try out the games. Many were first time gamers. As long as they were given enough information when they were introduced to the games, they had very little trouble. "If you roughly know how a computer mouse works, there should be no problem," said Kaiji Ekstam, 72, while enjoying her first taste of video games.

Then there's Sandra Newton. At 62, this Texas resident spends some of her spare time as Dydia Fayrefire, fighting demons and harpies in the online role-playing game Guild Wars. She cites the game's rich graphics, individualized characters, and interaction with people as reasons she enjoys playing.

Meanwhile, in Mississippi, retired members of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, a Roman Catholic order, have taken to playing non-violent video games every day at their seven-terminal "Computer Cove" in St. Mary of the Pines, their modest home in the woods. Sister Marie Richard Eckerle, 72, introduced the games. She describes the usual progression of sisters when they see the computers as first, they insist that they can't do it. "And then they can do it," she notes. "And they actually like it."

It isn't just older women who are getting into gaming these days. Dick Norwood, who lives in a 55-and-older community in Illinois, picked up a Wii in December. Then he convinced a local Italian restaurant to host a Wii bowling league for seniors only. It might sound crazy, but now nine couples show up every Thursday. "We got there the first time, and we were there for six solid hours," Norwood recalls.

Wiis are proving to be very popular with retirees. Baltimore-based Erickson Retirement Communities is installing Wii consoles at all 19 of their locations around the U.S. The consoles will serve 19,000 residents, to say nothing of their grandchildren when they come to visit.

Senior citizens are also discovering games online on their own. Jim Karle, a graduate student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, found that out recently. "My mom never played video games, and then I would try to call her last year and could never get through," he explained. "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."

What They're Playing

There are certainly older gamers who get into the same kinds of games as their grandchildren. These days, the "little old lady from Pasadena" might be tearing up Gears of War or shutting down players decades younger than she is. But judging from the stories, the violent games aren't quite as popular with the older set. There could be any number of reasons for this. Perhaps they find the realistic gore distasteful. Or maybe their reflexes aren't quite as good as they used to be. Then again, they may not like the longer "stories" and plot lines of many first person shooters these days. And then there are always the grandchildren to consider if you're trying to look dignified; you'd have to hide the Playboys AND the Grand Theft Auto.

Nintendo came out with Brain Age in 2005. It was probably the first video game aimed at senior citizens. It features a variety of puzzles to help keep a player's brain active, and even gives you a "brain age" at the end. It is supposed to encourage players to work to keep their brains "young" and sharp.

Puzzle and casual games seem to be very popular with the older gamer. PopCap was not alone in noticing the demographic for its casual games. Beatrice Spaine, marketing director of the popular casual games website Pogo.com, notes that "Baby boomers and up are definitely our fastest-growing demographic, and it is because the fear factor is diminishing. 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." Electronic Arts, the company that runs the site, said that people 50 and older made up 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.

These numbers mean big business in the gaming industry. And they translate into big money. If you like to play games online in your browser, as many casual gamers do, then you've noticed the pre-roll ads on many games as well as the display banners; you can hardly avoid them. Still, they're a small price for playing a fun and terribly addicting game for free. This small price adds up to big bucks: the casual gaming industry raked in $900 million worldwide in 2006 from advertising and subscription fees, according to DFC Intelligence. And that money will just keep growing; it's projected to reach $2.5 billion by 2011.

Games that duplicate sports and other real-life non-violent activities are also popular with the older gamer. Kaija Ekstam started with a race car game. Dick Norwood has his Wii bowling league. Even Old Grandma Hardcore loves Guitar Hero II, though she freely admits that she is phenomenally horrible at it. On the evidence, one would have to say that Nintendo truly struck gold when it designed the Wii to appeal to a wider range of ages by making it simpler and by including a selection of sports games.

Why They're Playing

The reasons that older gamers are getting into (or in some cases, getting back into) gaming are as varied as the gamers themselves. Like gamers at the other end of the age spectrum, older gamers who have retired often have a lot of time on their hands, and playing video games is a known time sink. Even so-called casual games can eat up a lot of time - as a casual gamer myself, I can tell you that playing them is like eating potato chips, you can't play just one.

Many older gamers also believe that playing video games will help sharpen their wits and reflexes, keeping them young longer. There have been no extensive studies to confirm this, though some preliminary experiments in Canada last year seemed to indicate that playing video games can help with short-term memory. Obviously, more studies are needed; somehow I don't think scientists will lack for volunteers.

And then there's the theory that video games let older people participate, at least virtually, in sports they can no longer enjoy as easily in real life. Says Norwood, "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's the social aspect to gaming, too. It's drawn many players into MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft. And the bonus here, from the social point of view, is that it's something they can share with their grandchildren. Building that social bridge is incentive enough for older gamers to get over that fear of gaming that Spaine mentioned.

One writer for Games.net gave an interesting perspective for the reasons behind that fear when he went over a little video game history. "Think about the original video game craze, when Pong hit, and then Pac-Man took over. Back then, it was cool to play games as an adult." Then, simultaneously, games stopped being cool for adults, and game controllers got more complicated. After that came the video game crash in the early 80s. "Then along came Nintendo, and instead of a joystick with one or no buttons, you've got the cross-pad (huh? What's this new-fangled thing?), and FOUR whole buttons. This is not something easy to jump into if you haven't played games in a few years."

So -- older gamers are fearlessly picking up their controllers, getting online, and cutting loose. You'd better watch yourself the next time you're playing Halo 2 online and talking smack with other players. If you hear someone saying "My GRANDMA could frag your butt!" he might not be kidding.

DISCLAIMER: The content provided in this article is not warranted or guaranteed by Developer Shed, Inc. The content provided is intended for entertainment and/or educational purposes in order to introduce to the reader key ideas, concepts, and/or product reviews. As such it is incumbent upon the reader to employ real-world tactics for security and implementation of best practices. We are not liable for any negative consequences that may result from implementing any information covered in our articles or tutorials. If this is a hardware review, it is not recommended to open and/or modify your hardware.

source :www.devhardware.com

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