Digital Game Enjoyment in Later Life

Health benefits, having fun and personal interests are the three key things to #digitalgame #enjoyment among #olderadults

Bob De Schutter and Julie A. Brown have been researching enjoyment of older adults who play digital games actively. They set two qualitative studies which included interviews and observations in Belgium (ages 49-73, 35 individuals) and in America (ages 44-77, 40 individuals) to find differences between European and American way of enjoying games. They used Grounded Theory as a framework for the study. In the research article “Digital Games as a Source of Enjoyment in Later Life” (Games and Culture, 2016) researchers describe the enjoyment and what kind of models there are to measure it. They merged a three-factor model for digital game enjoyment in later life. Enjoyment can be divided in three factors: hedonic, eudaimonic and telic enjoyment which differ but still overlap each other.  Eudaimonic includes personal growth by playing a game. Hedonic enjoyment is the joy of experiencing positive emotions while playing. In eudaimonic enjoyment there’s always a portion of hedonic pleasure. Telic enjoyment is the joy of improving current performance.

In the results of the two studies, hedonic enjoyment occurred when participants described how they enjoyed challenges such as overcoming brain teasers and solving puzzles. Aesthetic context, audiovisual and narrative presentation, humor and sense of agency were mentioned to be important in digital games. Older participants (60+) had more concerns about consumption of time and their own performance – eudaimonic and telic enjoyment were more fitting for them. Regardless of the age, participants found games which suited their larger interests like language skills and history. The eudaimonic enjoyment brought by these kinds of games is seen as a big part of their lives and a form of happiness. Positive memories of play from years ago or childhood show how relevant the historical context of play (parents and own experiences) is to enjoyment. Playing with the persons important to the player is also much more engaging than playing with strangers. For older people, play can nurture relationships with far-away relatives. Digital gameplay makes older adults more comfortable with the use of technology. In telic enjoyment puzzle games were found useful because of their many health benefits such as the improvement of dexterity and reaction time. Even though health benefits were found important it wasn’t the first reason to play the game. Older players respect the challenges and the fun itself.

For older male participants digital gameplay is a form of relaxation but for women it is more like an earned right after years of being a full-time in-home mother. They have more time to play as they wish. Emotional self-regulation (for example dealing with loneliness) was more prominent among the older participants, especially women aged 60+. Male participants told they play because it consumes time and reduces boredom. U.S. participants worried about Alzheimer’s disease found it important that games are a tool to maintain cognitive health. EU participants rooted physical health and therapeutic benefits and were generally worried about cognitive decline.

Most important factors to play were pleasurable emotional outcomes, contribution to personal growth and perceived improvements in one’s performance. Enjoyment is a subject to change during lifetime but the personal experiences shape it. Results showed that learning is important for older adults and that the assistance of children and siblings is essential. The study asks designers to take notions about the different categories to improve games for seniors: telic play is about specific outcomes, hedonic play aims to provide strong positive emotional experiences and eudaimonic emphasizes meaningfulness.

Source: Bob De Schutter and Julie A. Brown. Digital Games as a Source of Enjoyment in Later Life. Games and Culture, January-March 2016 vol. 11 no. 1-2, 28-52.


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