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Older Gamers Play For Different Reasons Than Youngsters

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Why older people play more and more online games.

game, online, video game, older, BJB, cognitive, brains, social

Scientists say that babies born today will easily reach a hundred years in age. That means they will spend a lot of time enjoying their retirement. How? By playing silly online video games, probably. More and more older adults are doing this, and not just because they are bored.

Various studies have shown that playing games can help improve attention, memory, and speeded performance in older adults. Games offered freely online can be an easy way to achieve these benefits. Is that what makes older people play casual video games? Or is it because they can make friends by playing against other online gamers?

A study of the psychology department of the University of Massachusetts Amherst studied adults playing the popular Bejeweled Blitz (BJB). The game is offered freely on Facebook and challenges players to recognize as many patterns as possible in one minute by clicking on matching gemstones. Why would adults play this? In an online survey over 10.000 respondents (between 18 and 80 years old) answered.

The researchers split them up into different age groups, expecting older adults to play for different reasons than younger ones. The main reasons that were mentioned overall were to seek challenge, to find stress relief and to beat friends and teammates, the latter being the most prominent motivation. Asked about the cognitive effect of the game, 42.2% of the respondents mentioned that it made them feel sharper.

The researchers indeed found differences between age groups. Especially the 60+ age group stood out apart from the rest. This oldest group showed the highest percentage of gamers mentioning ‘challenge’ as a reason to play. ‘Stress relieve’ seemed to increase as a motivation for gaming when gamers got older. Only the 60+ age group was an exception, with the lowest percentage of respondents mentioning stress relieve.

This seems to work the other way around for ‘beating friends and teammates’. The older the gamer, the less important they rated this competitive element. Here again, the 60+ age group was the exception, with the highest percentage of respondents admitting to play to beat friends and teammates.

The self-reported cognitive effects of playing BJB also changed with age. ‘Feeling sharper’ and ‘memory improvement’ were mentioned less when the age of the respondent groups increased, whereas ‘ability to see patterns’ and ‘performing other timed tasks quickly’ were named more often by older age groups.

This study can be seen as an exploratory study, giving insight in, instead of hard prove of, adult’s motivation to play casual video games. Some limitations make it hard to draw general conclusions, such as 83 percent of the participants being female. The researchers unfortunately don’t give an explanation for this remarkable imbalance.


Photo: Flickr,  morganglines

Whitbourne SK, Ellenberg S, & Akimoto K (2013). Reasons for playing casual video games and perceived benefits among adults 18 to 80 years old. Cyberpsychology, behavior and social networking, 16 (12), 892-7 PMID: 23971430

video, games, online, social, skills, adults, old

This post was written by Katja Keuchenius:
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