Wireless world

Video games manufacturers are targeting pensioners as potential players

A new front is opening up for computer game manufacturers. Video game giants such as Nintendo and Microsoft are increasingly targeting pensioners as potential players.

As computer games diversify towards those requiring physical agility and mental sharpness, retirees and carers are turning to them as an excellent form of competitive exercise.

This new market is not going unnoticed by the manufacturers.

Signs of the trend emerged first in the United States. Recently, a Baltimore company that oversees 18 "retirement communities" announced it would provide each with Nintendo's wireless controlled Wii. The console has been a hit with older users, who enjoy the exercise from the arm swings needed to mimic bowling or tennis moves on Wii games.

Nintendo, which teamed up with the PR agency Grandparent Marketing to establish the Ageless Awards (the prizes are Nintendo games consoles, of course), is not the only video game producer to be paying attention to this age group: both Microsoft and game designer EA have held a gaming day in a Finnish retirement home.

As well as marketing the potential for physical exercise from such games, manufacturers are also promoting games which exercise the mind. When the hugely popular Brain Training game - designed to "train your brain in minutes a day" - was first released on the Nintendo hand-held DS, the manufacturer saw its potential to keep elderly minds agile. It handed some out at the Wirral care home Astbury Lodge at the request of the home.

The consoles and Brain Training have proved so popular with residents that the company in charge of the home, CLS Care Services, decided to introduce the gadgets to other homes under their management. Tracy Paine, of CLS Care Services, said: "Most of our residents are just as mentally driven as you or I and have been calling for more of the games consoles to be provided."

Robert Saunders, a spokesman for Nintendo UK, says the company has yet to fully embrace this older market, but notes that already "the company's sampling campaigns are specifically told to target old people".

"Whether there is definitive evidence of their benefit for the mind has yet to emerge," says Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society. But, he adds: "The use of video console games in residential homes is certainly a novel approach to care . . . It is important for people to be given a variety of activities to keep their minds active".

This article first appeared in the 18 June 2007 issue of the New Statesman, New Britain - The country Brown inherits