Motion-Based Video Games Reach a New Audience: The Elderly

December 1, 2011

4:30 pm

A couple days ago, a friend of mine was telling me about a retirement house in Montreal that has a Nintendo Wii for recreational purposes. I was pleasantly surprised to hear this news. It seems that video games are not just for kids anymore – they have crossed generational barriers.

This information got me thinking: Maybe motion-based technologies have the potential to be used for purposes other than entertainment, especially for the elderly. I decided to do some research.

As a quick background, when talking about motion-based video games, I am referring to those video games in which players interact primarily through physical movements and gestures in a three-dimensional space.  Think Microsoft’s Kinect for the Xbox 360, Nintendo’s Wii and PlayStation Move.

I found some interesting research on this:

In a recent experiment at La Trobe University in Australia, researchers explored how motion-based technologies are also used as therapeutic intervention for the elderly. In this experiment, 11 adult women participated by playing different mini-games included in Wii Sports Resort, among others. Results showed that Wii-play did not have substantial physical effects; however, participants perceived an improved sense of physical, social and psychological well-being. Overall the experience was empowering and motivating for them.

In another study conducted at McMaster University in Canada, Alison Fenney and Timothy D. Lee probed the capacity of people with dementia to learn motor tasks when using bowling from Wii Sports as a recreational activity. Participants were 68-, 79-, and 90-year old males. Results present evidence that Wii environments are engaging; participants improved and maintained performance for 5 months and completed motor tasks regardless of their conditions.

Similarly, I found other studies that explore different ways of using motion-based gaming technologies for healthcare, surgical training and other purposes. Most of this research focuses on Nintendo’s Wii and other in-lab technologies. However, there is a growing number of studies that explore the Kinect and Playstation Move. That makes sense, as these technologies just came out last year. In few more months we will begin to see the results.

The commercialization of motion-based video game technologies is beginning to reach new audiences, and it is opening up a number of opportunities for using video games for purposes beyond entertainment. There is still a lot of research to do, studies to explore, and results to share. We just have to wait few more years to uncover all the potential of the new advances in video game technologies.

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Salvador Garcia Martinez is currently collaborating as a researcher at the Technoculture, Art, and Games research centre; he is also a doctoral student in Educational Technology at Concordia University in Montreal. He has professional experience as a software developer, web designer, and instructional designer. You can connect with him on linkedIn or his personal website or follow him on Twitter @salgarciam.

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