More games are being developed, and many believe these games are harming younger generations’ minds, but what if they could benefit them and benefit older adults too? Two applications will be discussed that have the potential to help older adults stay updated with new technology and work on reaction time. The first is called Stick Hero, a game that can be downloaded for free which makes players use visual-spatial thinking to get their character across to different sized platforms. To do so, players hold one finger down, which lengthens the stick the game character walks across, and then release their finger, stopping the stick from ‘growing’, which will drop down onto the next platform. The challenge is making the stick the same length of the distance to the next platform, so it does not go over or under. If this happens, the game character will not walk across, and the game will end. The distance to the next platform changes to create a more challenging environment. As the game continues, the stick will grow at a faster rate, forcing the player to react. One point is gained every time players successfully makes it to the next platform, and an additional point is added if the player lands the stick in a precise area. An added complication is trying to collect cherries, which are placed under the stick. In order to attain the cherries, the player must tap on the screen, moving the stick hero upside down on the stick, and tap again to bring the hero back up before running into the next platform.
The second application is called Cut the Rope, which can be downloaded for free on Android and Apple products. The goal is to collect three stars while feeding a creature a piece of candy. The candy is attached to rope(s) that may swing if cut at an angle, and must be cut in a certain order, at a specific time in some cases, to let the candy drop into the creature’s mouth. This makes players use mental representation to imagine what will happen when ropes are cut at certain times. As players level-up, the difficulty increases and more variables are added. Some added difficulties are bubbles that lift the candy up but may be ‘popped’ to let it drop, and spiked bars that pop bubbles or the candy itself, which ends that game. Players may advance after getting the candy in the creature’s mouth, but collecting stars will unlock later levels.
These products differ in that Stick Hero’s goal is to proceed, and one mistake can send players back to the beginning, while in Cut the Rope each level is its own step, so failing one level will not make players restart. They also differ in that Stick Hero requires players to concentrate on length of the stick, but also when to collect cherries. Cut the Rope emphasizes timing and being careful with finger movements. Some ropes are close to each other, making it easy to cut multiple ropes, causing players to lose the candy. The products are similar in that they require quick reactions, something possibly more challenging for older adults.
Benefit for Older Adults
Although video games may at first be deemed only for the younger generation, there have been studies, like the one following, that show potential benefits for older adults.
One study looked at how older adults interacted with video games and if they benefited (Marston, 2013). Participants were asked to play games on Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation 2 (PS2) for 15 minutes per game. Three games were chosen for each console, tennis, boxing, and golf. Researchers were looking at the flow of each game and if there was a difference between the consoles (Marston, 2013).
Tennis, golf and boxing brought more positive than negative feedback from participants (Marston, 2013). Researchers used a survey scale to measure participants’ level of flow which was higher when participants used the Wii. These results show that the Wii remote was easier to use than the PS2 controller, making their experience with the Wii positive and participants seemed to move more naturally with the Wii remote. With a focus on the sports genre, they found that the content of the game did not affect game playing. More participants had used a Wii prior to the study which may have been why it was easier to use, but also possibly because the Wii remote was easier to use. Being a smaller sample size could have influenced the outcome. The article mentioned a study previously completed that found putting a Wii in a long-term care facility benefitted residents in terms of physical movement as well as their interaction with technology and other players, providing an interactive, social activity (Marston, 2013).
Although this study looked at games played on consoles rather than mobile devices, this positive feedback from older adults could lead future research to look if mobile games could also benefit older adults, possibly slowing the cognitive aging while being stimulated.
Challenges for Older Adults
One challenge could be that some older adults do not own a smartphone or tablet, so they would not be able to download the game or know where to start with playing. If a mobile device is used, adjusting settings can be frustrating. Learning a new game with new rules may cause frustration too. Another challenge is the possibility of becoming addicted or what Festl, Scharkow and Quandt (2012) call, ‘problematic game use,’ from playing too much.
One study in Germany examined differences between problematic gaming and addiction of gamers from ages 14-90 (Festl, Scharkow, & Quandt, 2012). Festl et al. studied four variables, problematic game use, personality traits, life satisfaction and game-related variables and divided participants into three age groups (Festl et al., 2012).
Results showed females spent less time playing than males per day, but that this difference was not significant with the 4382 participants (Festl et al., 2012). The results showed a correlation of the amount of time spent playing games daily and an increase in problematic gaming use, found for all ages. The genre of a game may also influence the problematic gaming as well, but with slight variations for different ages. Adolescents are more likely to be affected by problematic gaming use in their sociability, including support, competence, and integration. Older adults seemed to prefer role playing games over first-person shooter games, the games showing more problematic gaming use in younger participants. Older adults in this study also showed lower life satisfaction than either adolescents or young adults, a result that may have come because their gaming frequency was slightly higher than the other two age groups. The article does state that although there are some similar correlations of young and older adults, the older adults’ correlations were inclined to be weaker (Festl et al., 2012).
Although this study focused on computer games, it is possible that similar results could come from a study of mobile games. Having games on a mobile device makes them more accessible and more readily available when someone has a break from work or school. Many people turn to their phones or tablets to engage in some way, and games are often played. Research could consider how addictive mobile games are, and which games benefit a player’s mental and physical well-being than other games.
Future Adaptations to Accommodate for Age-Related Changes
Because both games, Stick Hero and Cut the Rope, are fast paced and could potentially be frustrating for older adults who cannot react fast enough, the game creators could adjust the speed by age range, making it more accessible to a wider range of players. The game creators could develop faster or slower versions to accommodate for different ages. There could also be an option to change the speed after choosing age range, making the game more individualized for the player. For Stick Hero, this may look like a speed change for how fast the stick grows and how fast the character moves across the stick to the next platform. For Cut the Rope, this may look like a change in how fast the ropes or bubbles move, giving players a chance to react at their own speed, but also having the ability to challenge themselves and increase the speeds.
Festl, R., Scharkow, M., & Quandt, T. (2012). Problematic computer game use among adolescents, younger and older adults. Addiction, 108(3), 592-599. doi:10.1111/add.12016
Marston, H. R. (2013). Digital Gaming Perspectives of Older Adults: Content vs. Interaction. Educational Gerontology, 39(3), 194-208. doi:10.108