Teams of Miami students gathered on campus over the weekend to develop ideas around how older Americans can connect through electronic gaming. One of their professors has also been busy making inroads on the same subject.
Dr. Bob De Schutter, 34, the C. Michael Armstrong assistant professor of Applied Game Design in Miami University’s College of Education, just returned from a video game developers conference in San Francisco, where he discussed designing meaningful games for an older audience.
“An estimated 37 million people over 50 are playing games already in the U.S. That accounts to about 27 to 29 percent of all U.S. gamers,” De Schutter said.
“There is a market for older adults today, and yes, there are games that are very popular among them today, but this is just the beginning. Our population is rapidly aging due to lower birth rates and longer life expectancies, so I expect this market to become a lot bigger soon,” he said.
Exactly what type of video games the AARP crowd enjoys playing is a challenge that developers are researching in order to cater to the market.
“Similar to younger audiences, older adults play a very broad range of games. However, they particularly enjoy games that provide an intellectual challenge (e.g., strategy and simulation games) and a mature story (e.g., role-playing and adventure games),” De Shutter said. “They tend to dislike games that require fast reaction speeds or that are very violent or overly sexualized. Of course, there are always exceptions to these guidelines, but in general, these are the trends that we see in the research.”
Video game developers have identified five player types for gaming: the Time Waster, the Compensator, the Freedom Fighter, the Value Seeker, and the Ludophile.
De Schutter said, “Time Wasters have temporarily nothing to do and look for games that can fill a short amount of time with an intellectual challenge. Compensators differ from them in the sense that they permanently do not have anything to do, often due to age-related disabilities that prevent them from getting out of the house.”
He added that, “Freedom Fighters are older players who play to get away from all life’s pressures. They play games because they decide to do so, not because somebody forces them to.”
Value Seekers play games because they are culturally relevant or fit their interests well, according to De Schutter. This group includes people who play flight simulators, history-based action games and first person shooters.
“Ludophiles are people who just love to play, anything and everything. Digital games are just a logical extension of this desire to play,” he said. “This kind of player will literally play anything and even turn mundane activities such as booking last-minute flights or creating spreadsheets into a playful activity.”
The point of developing games for older players is wrapped around a simple thought that De Schutter made at the gaming conference he attended: the young gamers of today will be the older gamers of tomorrow.
“There is a need for creating games that can be played by a more physically challenged, aging segment of the population,” he said. “I have no doubt that the creative designers will respond in time.”