Are you worried about retirement and a potential decline in your health, social life, and mental well-being? Is it Game Over once you retire? Fear not, there could be salvation from an unlikely source … Let’s examine the benefits of video games for retirees.
1. What are the benefits of video games for retirees?
There are a number of benefits of video games for retirees. These include:
- Improved memory
- Social interaction
- Mental well-being
- Cognitive improvement
- Mobility and balance
- Prevention of Alzheimer’s
All of these benefits have been identified by scientific study, not just anecdotal observation.
1.1 Improved memory
Human memory is remarkable.
For example, I can memorise the sequence of a shuffled deck of playing cards in under 4 minutes. World Class memory athletes (yes, there is such a thing!) can do it in under 15 seconds!
One of the keys to such feats is understanding the factors that influence our memory. In particular, our memories work better when using exciting stimuli than when working with boring information.
In fact, research has shown that environments filled with novel stimuli can benefit overall cognition, not just memory.
However, as we age, we often find ourselves going outside less often (especially with global pandemics!) and therefore we experience less of these stimuli.
Enter the video game:
Video games are able to provide stimuli in the form of virtual environments – no need to leave the comfort and safety of your own home.
Researchers asked study participants, all aged between 60 and 80, to play video games, for 30-45 minutes per day for 4 weeks. During and after this period a number of memory tests were undertaken.
The study, Enriching hippocampal memory function in older adults through video games (GD Clemenson et al), found that environmental enrichment in the form of video games can positively impact age-related cognitive decline.
It also found that the more complex 3-D games had a more significant benefit than 2-dimensional games.
The importance of game complexity is also discussed in the study Cognitive benefits of computer games for older adults (EM Zelinski and R Reyes).
It was noted that although playing older, simpler games like Tetris, Pacman, or Donkey Kong did produce some cognitive improvements they were not as great as with the newer, more complex games.
Interestingly, the study also finds that different video game genres have different impacts on cognitive skills (see table below).
|Shooter||Visual attention and rapid response|
|Strategy||Supervisory skills and memory|
|Role-playing (RPG)||Memory, reasoning, supervisory ability|
|Massive multiplayer online||Response speed, reasoning, supervisory skills, memory|
This is potentially very interesting as different games could be prescribed according to the specific need of the person concerned.
The fact that there are benefits of video games for retirees is neatly summed up in this line from the conclusion of the study:
There is great potential for digital action games originally developed for the entertainment of young adults to produce cognitive benefits in older adults.Elizabeth M. Zelinski, PhD and Ricardo Reyes, BA
1.2 Social interaction
We are, generally, social creatures. Spending quality time with other people can help to lift our mood and make us feel better. Conversely, too much time alone can leave you feeling sad and lonely.
How can video games help with social interaction?
The Zelinski study mentioned above also observed that the way in which we interact with video games has changed with some platforms.
The ubiquitous joystick, so familiar to gamers in the 1980s, gave way to gamepad controllers. And for some platforms, these controllers have morphed into other shapes – like the nunchuck for the Nintendo Wii.
These controllers are often easier to use for more elderly gamers. And that means that they are far more likely to want to take part in multi-generational family gaming sessions.
Granny may not want to play tennis at the local park with her grandson … but she may happily wave a nunchuck at the TV!
And it works both ways – grandchildren may not have much interest in playing cards or draughts/checkers with their grandparents, but if they can play video games with them that is often altogether more appealing.
And the social interaction isn’t limited to family members at your home or at their home. The beauty of online gaming is that you can play with anybody in the world (provided they have the appropriate hardware and software!).
You could play with your grandchildren on Monday, an old school friend, who now lives 100 miles away, on Tuesday, and then make friends with somebody from a different continent on Wednesday!
So, a key benefit of video games is their ability to improve social interaction for gamers.
1.3 Mental well-being
Video game play is positively correlated with well-being, a study by N Johannes et al, established that one of the benefits of playing video games is that it improves the mental well-being of those playing the games.
Contrary to many fears that excessive play time will lead to addiction and poor mental health, we found a small positive relation between game play and affective well-being.Niklas Johannes, Matti Vuorre and Andrew K. Przybylski
The study also found that those subjects who derived true enjoyment from their gaming sessions had more positive well-being.
Another study (JC Allaire et al) had similar findings.
It was found that, in a test group of adults with an average age of 77, both regular gamers and occasional gamers performed better than non-gamers for well-being, social functioning, and depression.
1.4 Cognitive improvement
It’s widely recognised that old age can see a decline in cognitive abilities.
Is there a way in which video games can help prevent this decline?
Work by VR Bejjanki et al has shown that playing video games substantially improves performance in a wide range of mental tasks.
- A faster visual search rate
- Reduction in size of the attentional blink (visual attention)
- Better change detection
- Increase in the number of items that can be simultaneously tracked
- Crowding acuity (identifying objects when with surrounding objects)
- Backward masking (where a subsequent image blocks out a prior one)
- Contrast sensitivity
- Mental rotation
Such benefits even seem to carry over to real-world domains, because pilots and laparoscopic surgeons have been shown to outperform their peers after fast-paced, action-packed video game trainingVikranth R. Bejjanki, Ruyuan Zhang, Renjie Li, Alexandre Pouget, C. Shawn Green, Zhong-Lin Lu, and Daphne Bavelier
So, the skills that are developed during video game play help older gamers, and, indeed, all gamers, with the skills needed in the real world.
1.5 Mobility and balance
There is often a stereotyped view of older people that depicts them as doddery on their feet and prone to falls.
Sadly, this is true for many – but playing video games may mitigate this.
Have you heard of exergaming?
Exergaming is playing video games that require bodily movements to play. That is, it is the combination of mental stimulation and physical activity through a video game.
Many health organisations believe that exergaming could play an important role in encouraging physical activity among both children and the elderly.
A recent review demonstrated that exergaming improved both balance and mobility.
Exergaming is a fun, engaging, and interactive form of exercising that may help overcome some of the traditional exercise barriers and help improve adherence on the part of older adults, providing therapeutic applications for balance recovery and functional mobility.TBF Pacheco, CSP de Medeiros, VHB de Oliveira, ER Vieira & FAC de Cavalcanti
The typical platform for exergaming at the moment is that provided by the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo Switch.
However, increasingly, it looks as though Virtual Reality (VR) platforms are becoming more popular. And a study published in The Lancet showed that the use of VR in addition to traditional treatments produced improved results (reduced rate of falls).
1.6 Prevention of Alzheimer’s
OK, first things first, playing video games is not a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
However, we are looking at something that may help to reduce the risk of contracting the disease and that has to be a good thing.
There is an area of the brain known as the hippocampus. The hippocampus plays a major role in both learning and memory.
It is this area of the brain that is the earliest and most severely impacted by disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Lower grey matter in the hippocampus is a significant biomarker for these disorders.
A study by GL West et al found that Playing Super Mario 64 increases hippocampal grey matter in older adults. (Older adults in this context were individuals aged 55 to 75).
The study involved 3 groups:
- Played the video game Super Mario 64
- Took digital piano courses
- Undertook no new activity (control group)
The results of the study showed that there was a significant increase in the grey matter within the hippocampus in the gaming group compared to the other groups.
2. Video game demographics
You probably won’t be surprised to read that a survey of UK adults in December 2021 found that in the age range 16-24 the number of people who played video games was 88%.
What may surprise you is that in the 55-64 range the figure was 47% (up from 28% in 2013) and in the 65-74 range it was 26% (up from 13% in 2013).
Looking at things from a different angle, a 2022 survey in the United States found that of the total gaming population, 27% were aged 45 and over.
3. Video game platforms
OK, we’ve seen the benefits, how do you get started if all of this is new to you?
You need 2 things:
- Hardware (the things that display the video games for you to play)
- Software (the actual video games themselves)
3.1 Video game hardware
The main platforms are:
- Sony Playstation
- Microsoft Xbox
- Nintendo Switch
- Gaming PCs
- Mobile ‘phones
I’ve written a more detailed guide to the best video game platform for retirees but in the meantime here are some quick observations:
- Sony’s Playstation and Microsoft’s Xbox are the Goliaths of the gaming platform world and have been slugging it out with each other for decades.
Both consoles have die-hard fans who would never dream of defecting to the other side but the truth is, both consoles are fantastic and either would make a great choice.
- Nintendo‘s popularity never quite competes with the big two. However, it has carved out a niche for itself by providing a slight left-field approach.
If you fancy nunchucks, steering wheels, or weight-sensitive balance boards instead of controllers then this platform may appeal to you.
- Before the consoles there were PCs. And people happily played games on these devices that were part serious and part fun – spreadsheets in the morning and playing Prince of Persia in the afternoon.
These days there are immensely powerful PCs that are cable of running incredibly complex games and incredible speeds. They are, however, typically considerably more expensive than dedicated game consoles.
- Mobile ‘phones have come a long way from the original versions that required Herculean strength just to carry them around! In fact, the processing power of today’s mobiles is greater than that of PCs from the not-too-distant past.
And this power, combined with larger, crisper displays, means that you can play games on them too.
3.2 Video game software
Gone are the days of floppy disks and cassette tapes. (Yes, I’m that old!)
Video games these days are either:
- BluRay or CD (in thin display boxes, at supermarkets, dedicated games shops and online)
- Download (faster internet speeds mean this is a viable option for many)
Not sure where to start with your choice of games?
Take a look at this selection of video games for seniors as a starting point and take it from there.
Why are video games good for seniors?
The increasing complexity of video games means that a great deal of mental dexterity is required in order to make progress within the games. And the online nature of many such games increases the scope for playing with others.
The consequence of this is that there are many benefits of video games for retirees. These include improved memory, social interaction, mental well-being, cognitive improvement, mobility and balance, and the potential prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
Why is gaming good for mental health?
Studies have shown that playing video games has a beneficial impact on the mental well-being of gamers. An element of this impact may well be that playing video games is an effective distraction from any psychological traumas.
Can video games help with dementia?
Playing video games, especially more complex 3-D games, has been shown to increase grey cell production in the hippocampus – an area of the brain associated with learning and memory. The decrease of grey cells in the hippocampus is often an indicator of the onset of age-related cognitive conditions.
If the first thing that comes to mind when you think of video games is that playing violent games makes the gamer aggressive and violent … you need to update your knowledge in this area.
Many studies, such as the one by AK Przybylski and Netta Weinstein, have now shown that there is no such association.
In fact, far from being a negative factor, what we have seen is that there are many benefits of video games for retirees (and those of any age, for that matter). And playing video games is fun!
Retirement doesn’t mean Game Over. So what are you waiting for? Pick your video game platform, pick your games, and Start Playing!
6 thoughts on “The Awesome Benefits of Video Games for Retirees. Why you Should Embrace Your Inner Child and Start (or Keep!) Playing”
Ok, I know video games can help with a lot but never with mental tasks. This is interesting and it’s worth to keep these in mind. Thank you for sharing!
Hi there, thanks for reading the post. I’m glad that you found it interesting.
Love this! I think the world of video games has evolved so much that there’s definitely something for everyone now. The social and mental benefits of plugging in to a game can be huge. Thanks for sharing!
Hi Matt. Thanks very much for your comment – I completely agree, things have changed substantially in the video games world and it is wide open to all ages.
As a gamer myself, I loved reading this post! Gaming has so many benefits even for retirees and I appreciate that you’ve highlighted various mental and physical benefits. Also, it was interesting seeing the gaming demographics.
Thanks for your comment, Karalee. Always nice to hear from a fellow gamer.