Community Building Through Gaming
A trip to the virtual casino may provide lonely seniors with a real sense of community.
Although most of us probably think of kids and teens as being the primary users of video games, seniors are finding that gaming can be a fun way to keep their minds and fingers nimble while accessing a worldwide community of folks who share similar interests.
A 2019 study from the Entertainment Software Association found that over 70% of older Americans (aged 55 and above) often play casual computer or video games. And it makes sense – seniors and those in retirement may have more time to devote to playing games online, and the ability to play despite mobility issues can help make many older, less mobile adults feel more engaged.
This idea is backed up by another survey, conducted by AARP in 2016, that found an important reason seniors choose to play video games is to spend time with friends and connect with others in a shared activity inside these virtual worlds.
Improving Social Opportunities for Your Residents
It’s been said many times that loneliness is the new smoking. As science is increasingly understanding all the negative health consequences of being lonely, it’s become a top priority for senior care facilities to help seniors – who are particularly vulnerable to loneliness after the death of a spouse or loss of friends and community – combat this health scourge.
But, the increasing connection many seniors find with virtual worlds could signal an opportunity for your facility to provide additional engagement and social opportunities to your residents.
Derrick Morton, CEO of FlowPlay, a Seattle-based developer of the social casino games Vegas World and Casino World, says that for many seniors, the online friendships they build through gaming can translate into real-world friendships. “People come to us thinking they’re going to play poker or black jacks or slots, but what happens is they discover a whole community of people there, and it’s mostly people of their own age and social status.”
How It Works
Each player sets up an online avatar. “It’s a character who represents you in the game,” Morton explains. Despite the fact that “most of my customers are ladies over 50,” he says, most of the avatars look strikingly younger — think attractive 25-year-olds in slinky cocktail dresses. (Here’s a small benefit to online gaming: being able to match one’s online persona to how you feel or think, rather than how your age might dictate you should look, can be a powerful way for some older adults to feel younger and more active.)
Once you’ve set up your avatar, you’re ready to play. The games are free, and the gambling is simulated, Morton notes, so no actual money is involved in that aspect of the games. The company makes its money through the sale of accessories – players can “gift” items to their online friends or buy new outfits for their avatars. Seniors should be aware of this mix of real and virtual money to avoid confusion and unintended purchases.
As your avatar moves through the virtual world, you can have conversations with anyone else in the game. In this way, the game is just a jumping off point for social interaction, Morton explains. “Most of the people are really looking for someone to talk to, even if they don’t know it yet. They’re bored, so they log on” and eventually find interesting people to chat with. Over time, this often turns into a circle of friends setting appointments to play at a certain time each day.
Suddenly, seniors who live far apart can hang out together as often as they want. Inside the game, you’re not just spinning roulette wheels or playing poker — you can also “go to parties, nightclubs, even get married in the chapel in our Vegas World game,” he says.
Providing Access to Community
If you’re interested in giving seniors in your community access to online gaming communities, Morton says it can be easy to set up that access. Purchasing a couple of iPads or laptop computers and helping residents create their accounts is simple.
“We find that because of eyesight issues, many seniors don’t like playing on a phone. iPads are easy — they’re portable, so you can get a lot of people engaged” if they’re sharing a device, or you could offer a refurbished device to each resident as part of your suite of activity offerings.
“My advice: go on eBay” and purchase an inexpensive used or refurbished iPad, Morton says. “You don’t need a brand new one” to engage with online gaming services. “In just a few minutes you can teach seniors how to download a game and set up their profiles.”
In addition to playing online, there can also be opportunities for taking that connection offline, too. Morton says FlowPlay has offered a few events where ardent gamers can meet up in person and go to Vegas. More such opportunities are expected to be offered in the future, and for those seniors who’ve truly found a community and connection in the virtual world and are able to travel, it can be a nice way to bring a virtual connection to a different plane of reality.
So don’t dismiss video games as child’s play. For seniors who need another way to find community, it just might be the best window into a whole new world of social interaction.
Elaine K. Howley is a freelance journalist for various publications. An award-winning writer specializing in health, fitness, sports and history, her work has appeared in numerous print and online publications, including U.S. News, AARP.org, espnW, SWIMMER magazine and Atlas Obscura. She’s also a world-record holding marathon swimmer with a passion for animals and beer. Contact her via her website: elainekhowley.com.
Topics: Activities , Resident Care , Technology & IT