The Art of Play for Seniors

Rev. Fred I. Williams | 10/20/2010, 11:48 a.m.

In my family, Playing has been part of growing up and growing together. At family reunions there are softball games, horseshoes, Tonk and Bid Whist, even checkers. From board games such as Life, Mouse Trap and Scrabble, I have watched as arguments flared over whether or not a word was actually a word. From slang, to the type of dictionary used, one thing was ever present, we were having fun at play.

From the first time I played Mattel's Intellivision in 1980, I was hooked on video games. Repetitive motion, hand eye coordination and the element of surprise make gaming exciting.

So, what actually is play? Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, says: "Play refers to a range of voluntary, intrinsically motivated activities that are normally associated with pleasure and enjoyment." The rites of play are evident throughout nature and are perceived in people and animals, particularly in the cognitive development and socialization of those engaged in developmental processes and the young. But, what about the young at heart?

Several Christmases ago I purchased a Nintendo's Wii for my wife, Rochelle, who promptly proclaimed it as "hers." I am an Xbox 360 fan. As one can imagine, gifts soon followed including the Wii Fit, EA Sport Active and nights of bowling with our granddaughter and family.

I began to wonder if my parents would enjoy having a gaming system, too. From speaking with my friends, I discovered that their parents were getting into the art of gaming. With the ability to extend mobility, enhance cognitive brain function, along with the challenge of winning, it sounded like a plan to me.

I began to see television commercials for the Wii showing seniors engaged in play and enjoying themselves. Did you know that "Twenty-four percent of Americans over age 50 played video games in 2007, up from 9 percent in 1999, according to the Entertainment Software Association. People age 55 and older account for less than 10 percent of Nintendo hardware sales.

" The Wii gaming console costs about $250.00, and has multiple features such as video conferencing, Internet accessibility, and "Netflix", which allows you to watch movies via your console.

"Our Make it Plain Moment": "There's a growing body of evidence that suggests playing video games can actually improve older adults' reflexes, processing speed, memory, attention skills and spatial abilities," said Jason Allaire, an associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State University and co-director of its Gains Through Gaming Lab.

Senior centers around the country are installing computer labs and gaming systems to enhance the quality of life of their occupants. While my article speaks generally about the Wii gaming system, there are many other choices in the marketplace. The Sony Play Station, the Microsoft Xbox 360, and other hand-held and PC-based gaming alternatives.

The key is this: investing in a gaming system gives us the opportunity to play together, strengthen family ties, and support and nurture healthy lifestyles for our youth and our elders. In the words of the Wii, "Let's Play!"

Rev. Fred I. Williams is a telecommunications policy advocate, Baptist Minister and Social Entrepreneur.