Electronic Design

Grandparents: The Future Of Gaming?

On Sept. 9. 2006, Barbara St. Hilaire was named "coolest grandparent of the year." But it wasn't one of the 70-year-old Mantua, Ohio resident's 13 grandchildren who bestowed the honor on Hilaire.

Hilaire was the first senior citizen to be crowned "Nintendo's coolest grandparent of the year" (see Fig. 1). The ceremony took place at the Nintendo World store in Rockefeller Plaza in New York City where the senior defeated other grandparents in a competition of "Brain Age: Train Your Brain In Minutes A Day."

"Brain Age" is just one of many games that was created with the senior citizen in mind. Inspired by the work of Japanese neuroscientist Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, "Brain Age" (which runs on DS Lite, a new Nintendo creation that looks like a cross between the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) and a PDA: see Fig. 2) features activities designed to help stimulate the brain. Among the challenges are simple math problems, counting people going in and out of a house simultaneously, drawing pictures on the Nintendo DS touch screen, and reading classic literature out loud (see Fig. 3) .

Nintendo is careful to disclaim that "Brain Age" won't make you smarter. But there are a whole host of studies that point to the positive effects of stimulating the brain on lessening the effects of Alzheimer's disease and other neurological ailments. For years doctors have been telling patients with the first signs of memory loss to go home and do a crossword puzzle. Why? Because completing the puzzle requires the use of short-term memory (which row am I looking for again?) and long-term memory (who was that brunette on Gilligan's Island?).

But are seniors actually interested in playing video games? As of Aug. 10, 2006, more than 4 million copies of "Brain Age" had been sold, 600,000 of which on the North American market. And according to a recent survey by Nintendo of Canada and Decima Research, one in four of today's grandparents are interested in playing video games. "Grandparents are more hip and adventurous than they're given credit for," said Ron Bertram, general manager of Nintendo of Canada, which commissioned the survey. "Grandparents are interested in trying activities that aren't associated with seniors or traditionally intended for them. Grandma will probably still carry candy in her purse for the kids, but she's also interested in packing a Nintendo DS, or a little something special to wear for grandpa." The survey also found that Canadian grandparents recognize the value of staying mentally alert and "exercising" their brains as they age. More than 90% said that solving puzzle games, crosswords and Sudoku-like games was "very good" or "good" for keeping them mentally alert and maintaining brain fitness. Grandparents ranked solving puzzles games, like those offered in "Brain Age," just below proper diet, reading/writing and physical activity and exercise as the best ways to keep mentally stimulated.

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