If older people are going to remain – or even become – gamers as they age, video games need to be accessible for aging players. That means games need to provide learning curves that are optimized for older audiences. Unfortunately, even very well-crafted games can be difficult to learn for older players who have limited experience playing games. Older adults who have significant age-related disabilities may need many other accommodations.
Thankfully, the International Game Developers Association has a group focused on accessibility, with a website offering many recommendations for how to ensure games can be played by people with varying age-related conditions, such as hearing, ambulatory, vision and cognitive difficulties. Common customization features such as contrast adjustments, configurable input, color calibration, sound level adjustments and closed captions already make a big difference in increasing games’ accessibility.
Games also need to be interesting – even meaningful – for older gamers. Like younger audiences, older adults play a very broad range of games. They particularly enjoy games that provide an intellectual challenge and a mature story. They tend to dislike games that require fast reaction speeds or that are very violent or overly sexualized.
Second, older adults feel that the mainstream game industry does not pay enough attention to them and that many video games are derivative of preexisting games and put too much emphasis on graphics and not enough on meaningful or innovative content. Marketing of video games toward older players has largely focused on health outcomes, rather than entertaining or meaningful gameplay. Just think about brain games.
Considering all this, there is a lot of untouched potential for video games in later life. Nonetheless, the future looks extremely bright.
I can picture my own retirement already. If I were a healthy person aged 65 or older today, I would exercise my wits by trying to reach a legendary rank in Hearthstone, get an occasional workout in with the HTC Vibe, keep my fingers nimble by casually playing Clash of Clans, with my retired peers, keep an active online social life by leading a guild of older players in The Secret World, and eat up every great new indie game that came out. And I would probably try to make some extra cash by being a streamer like mortal as trending these days.
This is a very different gaming diet than what most people seem to expect when I talk to them about older players. Nonetheless, there is a great big world outside of solitaire, Sudoku and brain games for older players to explore, and it arguably has a lot more to offer them as well.
We should, therefore, make sure that tomorrow’s games are ready to meet the needs of its aging players in both their design and marketing.
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