Video Games Are Good For Grandpa

Who doesn't harbor negative stereotypes for vidiots who prefer gaming to human contact? Bloodless slobs shun sunlight, competition against alpha males, and sniffy dismissal from dominant females. On Friday nights, eggheads jack in to PCs and consoles to gun down Nazis, vaporize Hellspawn, or snuggle up to Laura Croft. Pathetically, nerdy journeys to strange new worlds often climax with an empty bag of Doritos or autoerotic shame, fighting droopy eyelids, hypnotized by turbocharged overtones from Robot Unicorn Attack.

We pity the fools who fit this broken mold, but we’re running out of places where this stereotype actually sticks. Nowadays video games attract a wide demographic who burn at least an hour every week at fun and games across multiple platforms, including PCs, Wiis, Kinects, tablets, pads, PSPs, and smartphones. The Entertainment Software Association's 2012 report indicates that gamers aged 36 years and older make up 37% of all digital adventurers. Gamers between 18 and 35 comprise another 31%, while video junkies under 18 make up the remaining 32% of all video players.

"In fact, women aged 30 and older now represent a significantly larger portion of the total population of U.S. gamers than boys 17 and younger." Of course violent video games earn bad marks for scarring young minds. However, their kinder cousins, exergames, continually win positive press as physical and mental motivators that benefit the elderly. Video games now occupy our culture as welcome distractions that boost the cognitive and kinetic health of seniors.

Moms and dads of the late 70’s probably preferred to watch "Happy Days" or to read their copy of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) before grabbing hold of anything with a joystick. Anyone recalling Atari Pong long before beer pong deserves forgiveness for not taking to Super Mario Bros. like ants on candy.

These same analog folk now inhabit retirement communities, and avoid pushing daisies by pushing limits on motion games through Nintendo's Wii or Xbox's Kinect Sports. Simulated skiing, soccer, golf, and especially digital bowling teams, have taken over nursing homes.

Exergames have become the fastest-growing and most popular activity at senior centers, goosing grannies and grandpas to form leagues, throw rocks and blast pins in organized tournaments. Even without the beef to roll a 15 pounder, interactive bowling teams build social well-being, while maintaining brain and brawn by slowing loss of memory and muscle function.

Clunky consoles of yesteryear glorified daunting controllers, whose empty promise of instant gratification came to pass only after countless hours mashing toggles, buttons and pads. Sony’s DualShock controller demanded fast reflexes over twin analog thumbsticks and a dozen buttons before a gamer might rip the 2-D spinal cord from a vanquished street fighter.

In contrast, controllers for modern motion games create intuitive interface through infrared sensors that track arms and legs, freeing players to react instinctively with 3-dimensional landscapes. Obviously, interactive games win kudos for jump-starting hustle. Meanwhile studies also link video games sparking physical activity with numerous psychological benefits. Old folks drag baggage and rust into golden years and frequently battle regrets that may spiral into clinical depression and inactivity.

Elderly participants in a Wii study who gamed with an undergrad for one hour per week, reported decreased loneliness, and improved moods, while feeling more connected to others. Seniors who outgrow stamina for sports like tennis, golf, or bowling may return vicariously to favorite activities through exergames, reliving the very real positive vibes associated with rousing recreation of younger days.

Another study conducted through UC San Diego School of Medicine subjected seniors to 3 sessions of Wii-hab every week through exergames that lasted 35 minutes. Conclusions cited better physical health, and increased cognitive stimulation marked by reductions in depressive symptoms exceeding 50% or better.

When we rest we rust. Grandpas and grandmas, who opt for autopilot on a La-Z-Boy, quickly coast downhill to rest in peace. Depression, loneliness, and dementia, line up for a laundry list of medical ailments, which readily crumble elderly whose get-up-and-go got up and split during do-nothing golden years. Folks who face retirement on their feet stand a fighting chance of slowing ailments that afflict mind and body as life’s winter approaches. Science can’t cure old age, but it can prove that physical fun and games contribute to happier, healthier retirement.