Who comes to mind when you picture an esports athlete? How about when you picture someone gaming in a VR headset? Unfortunately, there are still many stereotypes about who is a gamer and what a gamer looks like, so we don’t fault you if you’re picturing a teenage boy! But the truth is, recent data has shown that gaming transcends age, gender, and background. In a quest to shatter even more gaming stereotypes, we’re specifically going to focus on age in today’s blog. Gaming is something people of all ages can enjoy, and beyond that, it has distinct benefits for those 50 and older! Read on and learn why video games, VR, and older adults are a winning combination.
An antidote to isolation and a bridge between generations
The New York Post reported that “Back in 2019, a study conducted by AARP determined that video games were ‘booming’ in popularity among Americans age 50 and older. The organization found the number of older players grew from 40.2 million in 2016 to 50.6 million in 2019.” In a similar vein, in her article for The Drum, reporter Ellen Ormesher notes that gaming’s fastest-growing demographic is 55- to 64-year-olds. It’s no coincidence that 62% of adults reported playing video games in 2020 – video games can provide the socialization necessary to lessen feelings of loneliness and isolation, and they can bring older generations closer to their younger, technologically-inclined loved ones.
While gaming typically isn’t marketed to older adults, the benefits for this demographic have been well documented by researchers. These benefits include improved hand-eye coordination, reaction time, short-term memory, and emotional well-being. The pandemic provided a distinct opportunity to include older adults in the gaming sphere. For example, Xbox’s “‘Beyond Generations” campaign, which showcases the connectivity and learning potential of gaming.
In her article, Ormesher argues that gaming companies should be advertising to older generations, and not doing so is a missed opportunity. She writes that empowering older individuals to try gaming “could be a game-changer in bridging the divide between relatives forced apart, as well as tackling the crisis in loneliness for older people across the country” and we couldn’t agree more – the physical and mental advantages of gaming are not limited to one specific age group!
Esports for everyone
When it comes to finding community through gaming, some older adults have sought groups beyond their relatives and found joy in competitive gaming leagues. Have you heard of the Silver Snipers? They’re a Swedish senior esports team led by 79-year-old Abbe “DieHardBirdie” Borg. Though Borg and his team have won their fair share of championship titles, Jake Nordland from Esports Insider reports that Borg is most interested in the “benefits competitive gaming offers his generation.”
This interest in esports isn’t unique to older Swedes, either. In Japan, the Matagi Snipers are the country’s esports professional team made up entirely of older adults. The team has eight members, several of which didn’t identify themselves as a “gamer” before joining.
Though the esports industry is predominantly young, with Gen Z making up a majority of the space, the community and skills that older competitors can also take advantage of shouldn’t be overlooked. Stereotypes about older adults could be keeping more people from the unique benefits of competitive gaming.
“Reminiscence therapy,” VR, healthcare, and happiness
As we’ve established, commercial games have a variety of advantages to offer older adults. But there are also medical applications involving gaming for those in residential care or other facilities. “Reminiscence therapy” is “a treatment that uses all the senses — sight, touch, taste, smell and sound — to help individuals with dementia remember events, people and places from their past lives” and has been proven by researchers to increase well-being among participants. According to Matt Fuchs for the New York Times, when combined with virtual reality, this immersive form of therapy has the ability to increase the quality of life, morale, and cognition of older individuals. It can also aid those suffering from other conditions, such as anxiety and chronic pain.
One company leading the VR reminiscence therapy efforts is MyndVR, a company working to improve the lives of older adults through VR engagement. Aaron Tate, a University of Texas – Dallas faculty member who assisted in the development of MyndVR’s software, told Omar Gallaga at Texas Monthly that “Any activity that promotes curiosity, critical thinking, and meaningful social engagement is good for the brain’s health and fitness. Virtual reality’s ability to give users a sense of presence by stimulating the visual, auditory, and vestibular systems allows them to experience new and remembered—or forgotten—experiences like never before.”
VR allows older adults opportunities to participate in fulfilling activities that they may no longer have the ability to do. From activities as adventurous as piloting a plane or going SCUBA diving to relaxing ones, like taking a dog on a walk, VR for older adults can be an enriching way to call back pivotal memories, make new ones, and feel a new sense of community.
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