Successful aging through digital games (Allaire et al., 2013)

I don’t know if my interests with videogames will continue until old age, but if I will be a fan of videogames, the first game I will play when I retire is the latest iteration of the X game series, building my mercantile space empire, one station at a time.

Until that happens, what are the benefits of gaming to today’s elderly? This is a question posed by Jason C. Allaire (North Carolina State University) and 6 other colleagues in this paper published in Computers in Human Behavior.


The purpose of this investigation was to examine differences in psychological functioning (e.g., well-being, affect, depression, and social functioning) between older adults who play digital games compared to those older adults that do not play digital games. Analysis was conducted on a sample of 140 independently living older adults with an average age of 77.47 years (SD = 7.31). Participants were divided into three groups (Regular, Occasional Gamers, and Non-gamers) – 60% of the sample was either a Regular or Occasional Gamer. Differences among the groups were found for well-being, negative affect, social functioning, and depression with Regular and Occasional Gamers performing better, on average, than Non-gaming older adults. Findings suggest that playing may serve as a positive activity associated with successful aging.

So I will be going to the National Communication Association 2013 Conference. I will be showing my face on Saturday, but if there is anything going besides Saturday, do tell me.

The authors offered several reasons to examine gaming among older adults. First, the demographics for 65 and older is growing every year. Second, the baby boomer generation has the highest disposable income and leisure time which can be spent playing games. Third, 26% of Americans are over 50 years old and playing videogames. Fourth, over half of the older adults own a desktop computer and have used the internet. Most of the research with older adults focused on how videogames can improve their cognitive abilities, but this is one aspect of how gaming can improve older adults’ lives. The authors wanted to examine whether videogames can improve their well-being.


Participants: 140 older adults, average age is 77.47 years old (SD=7.31). They are living independently, 70% are women, 111 are European-American, 24 as African-American and one as Asian-American. 71% have earned a bachelor’s degree. They were recruited for a memory intervention using a videogame, but for this paper the authors are reporting data from a part of that study, the pre-treatment part.



Well-being: they used the Medical Outcomes Study Short Form-36. A 36-item questionnaire answered on a through Likert-type scale. The questionnaire assesses for social functioning and emotional well-being.

Depression: the ever-popular Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression scale. A 20-item questionnaire answered on a 5-point day-frequency scale.

Affect: the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule. A 20-item questionnaire answered on a 5-point frequency scale. This affect good and bad mood in general.

Videogame experience: Participants were asked to list videogames they played over the past 6 months and how often they play. They are mostly card games (e.g., solitaire), Wii games (e.g., Wii bowling) , and puzzle games (e.g., Sudoku).


A third of participants reported playing videogames at least once a week where the authors categorized them as regular gamers. 17.1% of participants played videogames every day. 26.4% of participants reported playing videogames less than once a month, the authors categorized them as occasional gamers. 39.3% of participants reported as not playing videogames in the past 6 months, they were categorized as non-gamers.

The authors examined whether there are demographic differences between the three gaming groups. There is one peculiar difference in that there are more women who regular gamers as well non-gamers, although I think the sample composition may have a role in this since 70% of their sample is women.

The authors conducted a one-way ANOVA to examine how gaming affected older adults’ well-being, affect and depression. They standardized all measures into a common mean and standard deviation to help compare across all measures. I did not know we can do that, but is it appropriate to do that?

Their initial results found that the three groups significantly differ on well-being and negative affect, other measures were close to significance as well, except for positive affect.

Further inspection through planned comparisons revealed which groups differ from each other. The graph shows the standardized means across the three gaming group.


The planned comparison analyses showed that the regular and occasional gamers have statistically significant higher scores on well-being than the non-gamers. Those two groups reported statistically significant lower negative affect scores than non-gamers. Regular gaming group reported statistically significant lower depression scores than the non-gamer group, but the occasional gaming group did not differ on depression score with the non-gamer group, although it is close to statistical significance. If you ask to compare the regular gaming group and the occasional gaming group, then you are heading to some statistics-related problems. So leave it at that.


The take-home message is that videogames do benefit older adults in terms of well-being, negative affect and depression. A good portion of older adults played videogames at least once in the past 6 months, although mostly videogames typically classified as casual. In the coming future, we will soon have a larger elderly population who played the classical 90s videogames, so hopefully we will have some more interesting results.

The authors explained the differences between the gaming and non-gaming group is that videogames serve as a source of entertainment and previous studies have shown older adults who are more active leisurely pursuits reported better emotional outcomes. Given this reasoning, I must ask whether other forms of entertainment, like playing with actual cards, playing from a Sudoku puzzle book or a board game would have similar benefits.

The authors listed some limitations. The authors recruited participants by telling them that they were participating for a memory intervention using a videogame, so there might be some self-selection bias where participants with prior experiences with gaming are probably more likely to participate. The authors acknowledged the videogames listed by the older adults do not represent videogames in the popular sense. The authors inferred a causal relationship from a correlational data set, therefore it is possible that these differences of well-being, negative affect and depression were preexisting and led to playing videogames. For future studies, an investigation on the causal effects on videogames on adults is warranted. Another future study is whether older adults benefit from playing Facebook games with their friends or relatives, posting their accomplishments or sending gifts from their farm or whatever is popular these days on Facebook.

Allaire, J. C., McLaughlin, A. C., Trujillo, A., Whitlock, L. A., LaPorte, L., & Gandy, M. (2013). Successful aging through digital games: Socioemotional differences between older adult gamers and non-gamers. Computers in Human Behavior, 29 (4), 1302-1306. DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2013.01.014

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