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Building Intergenerational Connections with Retro Video Games

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Children used to connect and bond with their parents and grandparents over milk and cookies, but in today’s fast paced world that no longer applies. With the advent of modern technology, people living in the same space are finding it more difficult to spend quality time interacting and bonding with each other. Parents are looking for creative ways to overcome this difficulty and create interactive time with their children that will strengthen the parent/child bond and the grandparent/grandchild bond.

Many studies have been conducted to determine the role of intergenerational gaming and how it could help connect families and friends with each other and also the outside world. It was determined that intergenerational digital games can contribute to a greater mutual understanding between generations.

Viewing the attached video demonstrates how this is true. Notice the reluctance of the teen-agers when they are asked to play their parent’s old, retro video games with them. By the end of the video there are high-fives, laughter and hugs, showing that when parents reach out and play with their kids, in the way kids identify with, the bond increases. 

Studies from UTM’s Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology also concluded that gaming is a great way for generations to come together.  Intergenerational games help bond and facilitate play between grandparents and their grandchildren since not all seniors can go outside and kick a soccer ball or throw a softball.  Video games become the bridge between the two generations, promoting socialization and bonding. Even though they are decades apart in age, playing video games together gives them something in common allowing them to stay connected and interact with each other.  The study concluded that playing video games together increased the bond and level of affection between adults and children while increasing cognitive and dexterity skills in all age groups.  Children who struggled to master literacy skills in the primary grades benefitted from playing video games, while adults increased their mental cognitive function and their manual dexterity.

There has been a long tradition of co-viewing and intergenerational interaction with television, pioneered by Sesame Workshop and other high-quality educational programs. These programs were intentionally designed to appeal to multiple generations using humor and culture icons, and these benefits have flowed into video gaming as well.

According to a 2016 AARP study, 38% of Americans over 50 say they like to spend time playing video games and that they use these games as a way to connect with their grandchildren. Gaming helps seniors remain socially connected with others when they play together, whether in person or through the gaming portal itself.

Video games help the elderly feel less isolated and lonely. The fast pace and complex controls give them a mental workout which can help keep them cognitively sharp in a world that continues to expand into the digital realm. Research has also shown that some forms of cognitive stimulation may delay or slow the onset of degenerative neurological diseases, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. They are finding that if they use it, they don’t lose it.

Being connected with the outside world through gaming helps in other ways as well. During a life-threatening situation, a person’s gaming community becomes an uplifting support system helping in the recovery of the fellow gamer.

Seniors living in nursing homes or alone find themselves isolated and removed from their family. Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%. Lacking social connections is as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and increases the risk of dementia about 50%.  While the internet is a big help in connecting seniors with loved ones through video chats and social media updates, another way they can stay positive is playing video games. Playing video games not only helps pass the time during the day, but it can also help a senior stay active. Xbox and Wii games, such as Just Dance and Your Shape Fitness Evolved allow older adults to follow along to dance or exercise routines, while games such as Wii Sports enables them to play a virtual round of golf, tennis or basketball. Retro games such as Super Mario Run, Candy Crush or Guitar hero help alleviate boredom and loneliness.  

While video games are usually associated with younger people, older gamers are growing in numbers and the positive impact video games have on older people has been noticed and will continue to be studied for some time. So far, the results show that the more frequently family members play video games together, the better family satisfaction and family closeness they have. And after all, isn’t that the goal, bringing family and friends closer together and not leaving anyone out?

Benefits of Gaming

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