Gray matter: Seniors thrive as gamers


Perhaps Nintendo is actually on to something with its "Brain Training"  games. According to a new study from casual games developer PopCap Games, a large percentage of casual players are actually over the age of 50 and say that they play the games for mental exercise, stress relief and pain distraction.

The international research was conducted by Information Solutions Group on behalf of PopCap. Using online surveys completed by 2,191 randomly selected respondents (including 1,040 people age 50 or older), the study revealed that of the estimated 150 million consumers that play casual titles, 47% are age 50 or older and 19% are age 60 or older.

With all the talk recently of broadening the audience for video games, publishers would be wise to keep in mind that people over the age of 50 like to be entertained and play games too. There's such a strong focus on the 18-34 demographic that game companies could be missing out on a real opportunity to bring in older players.

Also of interest are the reasons cited for playing. For those 50 or older, 74% said they felt that playing games gave them good cognitive workouts, 62% said playing strengthened their memory, and an even higher 86% cited stress relief as a major factor. In addition, almost a third (32 percent) noted that playing helped to distract them from chronic pain or fatigue and almost a tenth even believed that playing actually contributed to pain relief directly.

"I am in my fifties and I use casual word and puzzle games on the computer as well as recommending them to my patients," said Carl Arinoldo, a Stony Brook, N.Y.-based psychologist of 25 years and an author and expert on stress management. "I find that these types of games are wonderful as a stress management tool, while at the same time providing excellent cognitive exercise.

"While they may not choose 'entertainment' as the primary reason for playing, it seems reasonable to assume that older players of these games are likely to recognize the benefits of cognitive exercise more readily than younger consumers," he added. "When you're 65 or 70 and you play a game of 'Bookworm' or 'Bejeweled,' you're more likely to identify improvements in your mental acuity that might go unnoticed by younger people."

The rest of the survey delves into differences between older and younger players with regard to gaming habits and game preferences. Interestingly, players age 50 or older actually said that they play casual titles more frequently and for longer periods. 65% of players age 50 and up said they play casual games daily, compared to less than half of younger players.

Furthermore, 31% of older gamers said they play for 10 or more hours per week, compared with 25% of younger players. As for genre preferences, younger players not surprisingly were more drawn to simple action titles than players over age 50 (50% vs. 18%). The most popular genre choices for players age 50 and up were puzzle (84%), word (66%) and card games (57%).