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Video Games Aren't Just Kids' Stuff Anymore

Playing online can combat loneliness and isolation

Kathleen, 46, plays Pokemon Go along with her son Nicholas in Bryant Park, NYC.

A mother and son play Pokémon Go in New York. — Spencer Heyfron

En español | Most people don't picture folks like us when they think about video gamers. They're more likely to visualize our kids or grandkids sitting in front of a screen: their eyes glazed, working the controller, oblivious to the world around them. If that's your view of "gamers," think again.

The reality is that gamers today encompass people of all genders, races, income levels, personality types and, yes, ages. Gaming is very popular among people 50 and older, and that popularity is growing. Recognizing that the game channel on aarp.org is one of the most popular sections on the website—with about 1 million unique visitors a month—we joined with the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the U.S. association representing companies that publish computer and video games, to gain a better understanding of video gamers 50 and older.

What we discovered is that video games are truly ageless. Of the 41 million Americans age 50-plus who play video games regularly, three-fourths play weekly, and 4 in 10 play daily. Among players 60 and older, 43 percent play video games daily.

Those of us 50 and older play video games for the same reasons everyone else does: Games are fun, they allow us a little break from the real world, they enhance our digital skills and they can be good exercise for the mind. They are accessible to almost everyone, almost everywhere.

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"Video gaming shows promise as a way to connect the generations."

Video games have come a long way since the days of Pong. They have been evolving rapidly as a way of building social connection. At AARP, we're exploring how gaming with other players might help to combat loneliness and social isolation. These can be huge problems for older people with physical limitations, transportation challenges or caregiving responsibilities that keep them homebound. Video gaming also can connect the generations, as children, parents and grandparents play together. In a survey of 50-plus gamers, 1 in 6 said their children or grandchildren influence their choice of games.

Right now, the games we offer on aarp.org are geared toward one player, but we want to evolve our offerings to help players combat isolation and stay connected to family, friends and communities where people share common interests.

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AARP and ESA recently teamed up to sponsor the Social Connection GameJam, which challenged university teams to design game concepts that promote positive and sustainable social connection among users. The winner, Trainwreck Games from the University of California, Santa Cruz, took home a $10,000 check for "Letters of Mystery," an escape-the-room adventure that is played using email.

AARP also recently published the book My Digital Entertainment for Seniors, which devotes an entire chapter to learning about video games, devices, rating systems and more.

Video games show promise in a lot of areas. At AARP, we will continue to explore the role video games and gaming technology can potentially play in helping us all age better.

Jo Ann Jenkins is CEO of AARP.

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