Video games have been part of life for decades now. The original designers, as well as the arcade-obsessed teenagers, are all happily in their sixties and above by this point. With this in mind, it's no surprise to see the number of senior gamers has been on the rise in recent years. A 2016 study by the American Association of Retired Persons and the Entertainment Software Association found 38% of Americans aged 50+ played video games; by 2019, another study by the AARP saw that number grow to 44%. The concept that gaming is just for 'young folk' is fast disappearing as the medium has become more sophisticated and accessible.
What's also noteworthy is how the scientific community has shown increased interest in video games' benefits to our physical and mental health. Long seen purely as play or escapism, we now understand the importance of a little gaming to keep our gray matter happy. When Nintendo mascot Mario first appeared, I doubt people would have imagined he could help stave off mild cognitive impairment or even help prevent the likes of Alzheimer's.
Seniors have been long been playing games as a way to keep their minds sharp as well as to socialize with friends. For example, unscramble word games like Scrabble, as well as newspaper puzzles like the word scramble and crossword solver, often target an older demographic. The only difference now is that the digital age is giving both seniors and their carers incredible new ways to stay happy and engaged.
Below we've collected a handy list of video games that are perfect for seniors - and other ages - to enjoy. Let's play!
Puzzle games, both in person and digitally, are the genre most commonly known to be beneficial to seniors, but what also keeps us happy is a sense of community and engagement. Humans are social creatures, after all. With this in mind, say hello to Nintendo's 'Animal Crossing,' a series of social simulation games where the player lives in a village filled with cute anthropomorphic animals.
With the gameplay in real-time and with simple open-ended goals, the player is free to make friends with the locals, plant things, go fishing, or just explore as they see fit. Recent entries also have the ability to connect with family and friends, allowing you to play with one another no matter where you are. With current pandemic worries, the game has seen increased popularity with people of all ages.
With many seniors using smartphones and tablets over consoles to game, what better than the hugely successful 'Angry Birds' franchise to keep them engaged? Colorful, addictive, and reliant on hand-eye coordination, Rovio Entertainment's franchise has been entertaining people worldwide for over a decade.
For new players, the goal is quite simple; you pack a wacky-looking bird into a cartoon slingshot and fire them at some greedy pigs, aiming to knock down the towers they're in and cause all kinds of chaos. Silly, fun, and very easy to pick up for beginners.
The most famous senior-friendly game on this list, Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, a Japanese neuroscientist, has long been the face most associated with video games helping combat the damage aging does to the mind. First released in 2005 for the handheld DS system, the games utilize a variety of puzzles (informed by Dr. Kawashima's work), including Stroop tests, mathematical questions, and Sudoku, to help keep players engaged.
The 'Brain Age' series is now on its fifth installment, the most recent released in 2019, adding memory strengthening and concentration skills to the game set. With millions of units sold worthwhile, this series is well worth exploring.
This may seem a strange addition to the list, but hear us out. When first released in 2016, Pokémon Go was a global phenomenon, the augmented reality smartphone game allowing fans of the long-running franchise to head out into the real world and 'catch' the cute monsters. Like all fads, however, many players lost interest eventually, but not before a core group of loyal gamers appeared - seniors.
Many over 60s have found the game to be a great excuse to go out, explore, socialize, and have fun. It's proven great exercise and has encouraged many to explore areas they might not normally have done. Obviously, with current COVID-related restrictions in place, the game is not ideal for all locales. Still, to remedy this, the makers have made updates allowing fans to play at home - perfect for those less able to move around independently.
There have been whole papers on how beneficial the Wii Fit and its spin-offs have been for keeping elderly gamers healthy. Released in 2007, the Nintendo team helped revolutionize fitness gaming by not only making exercising at home easier for all ages but also making it fun.
Through a mixture of strength training, balance exercises, and even yoga, the Wii Fit soon became a fixture in many physiotherapy rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, and health clubs. Nowadays, it's pretty cheap to pick up a second Wii console and join in on the fun.
Just because you're getting on in years doesn't mean you can't rock out! The Guitar Hero franchise is a series of music rhythm video games that allow players to live out their inner rock star fantasies. Utilizing a guitar-shaped game controller to simulate playing lead, bass guitar, and rhythm guitar, players must hit the right button combinations to match the 'notes' shown on screen.
A fantastic tool for keeping those reflexes sharp, you'll feel like a true six string star as you play along to artists such as Queen, Iron Maiden, David Bowie, and many more. A great physical workout that also helps make you feel young at heart.
Sam Walker-Smart is a British culture journalist currently based in Bristol. His work has appeared in CLASH, The Huffington Post, Vinyl Me Please, Barcelona Metropolitan, Little White Lies, and many other outlets. He enjoys weird folklore, sad songs, and good beer.