But the benefits may extend beyond just fun and games -- studies are also showing that these exergames -- video games that encourage physical activity -- are also proving to help with depression, sense of place and relevancy. They may even help bridge generational divides between grandparents and younger adults and children by offering them an equal playing ground.
In a poster presentation at the Gerontological Society of America's Annual Scientific Meeting in New Orleans late last year, Patricia Kahlbaugh, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Southern Connecticut State University presented a study on the effects of playing Wii on loneliness and mood in the elderly.
As some adults get older, they may no longer have the physical strength or agility to engage in their chosen pleasures of life. For some, the sense of loss can deepen into depression. By recreating the experience of previously enjoyed activities like tennis, bowling, and golf, Kahlbaugh says the Nintendo Wii may allow elderly individuals to engage in these previously enjoyed activities, allowing them to "regain the psychological benefits such activities once afforded them."
To test the game's impact on greater life satisfaction, loneliness, greater positive mood, and increased physical activity, Kahlbaugh created a study of 36 individuals -- average age 82.6 years -- from residential facilities in New Haven County. All were in general good health and held high school degrees. The participants were split into two groups -- 16 were assigned to play the Wii for an hour per week with an undergraduate student, while 12 watched an hour of television per week with an undergraduate student, all over a span of ten weeks. Seven students were then assigned as additional controls.
While the quantitative results didn't yield any differences between groups in life satisfaction or weekly physical activity, the Wii participants reported higher positive mood in comparison to the TV group. The Wii group also reported feelings of decreased loneliness and feeling more connected to others, which could be attributed to the social nature of the game and the subculture it created within the residential community of those participating in the Wii study.
The feedback from the seniors themselves was more telling, Kahlbaugh says. Participants made comments about feeling "more a part of things" or feeling "more in" with the younger generation, creating a greater sense of self and purpose. "There was an older gentleman who came to play a session with his old bowling trophies," said Kahlbaugh. "For him, playing the Wii was a way to recapture the fun and sense of achievement he had had in the past." The study was so popular among participants, two of her students stayed on after the study to volunteer with the seniors who wanted to continue their weekly bowling sessions.