Thursday, February 2, 2012

Academic Interlude: Attributes of Older Gamers

This time in Academic Interludes I'm summarizing and discussing "Never too old to play: The appeal of digital games to an older audience" by Bob De Schutter. It is available online here and I've uploaded the PDF here.

Interesting background: ESA estimated that about 24% of North America's digital game audience is over 50. We don't know much about this elderly game population (but I can tell you my dad is part of it, though I don't think of him as "elderly"). The article discussed "uses and gratifications theory," a theory that argues that we consciously choose what media to consume.

One study the article cited found that preadolescents prefer games that give them social and physical powers they don't have in real life, adolescents preferred games they could use to interact with their peers, and young adults "are troubled by the social unacceptability of the games among their peers and therefore revert to the less social motives" (I'd be interested to know what those motives are--fantasy?). The authors of the article continued to discuss motives, and generalized that females wanted games that appealed to their desires for inclusion, affection, and control (like The Sims?). They hypothesized that older gamers would have these same needs, would feel that video games weren't "socially accepted", and prefer technologically uncomplicated games. Basically, they predicted that elderly gamers would be more likely to fit the "casual" gamer stereotype and play simple browser-based kind of games.

Not actually a game, but a folk dance.
The Survey: The researchers surveyed Flemish residents over 45 who self-identified as gamers. The survey was online. They found that 80% were casual gamers who played puzzle games and games based on board/card games (specifically, Tetris, Spider Solitaire, and Zuma [Zuma came out of nowhere for me]. Oh and "Mahjong games" were most popular of all). Most participants played games on the PC or cell phone. The older people who played "hardcore" games (ones you have to download with a larger file size) were more likely to be male and in the younger set. They found that female casual players played more hours per week than male casual players. Respondents played for the challenge, excitement, and diversion of video games--not really for fantasy or interacting with others. Challenge was a bigger motive for females to play than for males, which the researchers weren't sure how to explain. Hardcore (yes, they used that term) players were more likely to play for fantasy and arousal motives (arousal as in excitement).

My discussion: As the researchers note, there are big limitations to their survey. I know at least two older people prefer the DS, but I wonder if DS players a less likely to web surf than older PC players (I suspect yes). I love playing on my DS, if someone randomly comes by I can just close it and I don't have to look like a huge nerd, but if I'm playing my PS3 suddenly being a gamer has to be like part of my self-identity (not that that's a bad thing, it's just how I feel about it).

I was initially surprised to find that hardly any of the players played for social interaction, but I often play by myself in games that have online modes--it's easier to play by myself, I can quit whenever I want, and no one will laugh at me when I mess up. However, I rarely regret playing with others, and I wonder if games had a better online matchup system if social gaming would be more popular with the 50+ group. We all have heard about the adolescent cursing and penis jokes of online spaces, and I think that scares a lot of people off, even if it's rarer in some spaces. I don't think I've been offended by any Little Big Planet level!

What would a video game aimed at an elderly population look like? I know older people are under-represented in games, but does it really matter if you're playing a puzzle game? Perhaps more games based on already-familiar games? It's hard for me to feel creative about it, since it feels like design-wise, puzzle games are pretty simple, but I know that coming up with a new puzzle game (that is easy to pick up but difficult to master) is actually difficult. Thoughts?