University of Saskatchewan computer science PhD student Kathrin Gerling is designing video games specifically for the benefit of senior citizens. Gerling, who loves video games, wants to combine her love for her hobby with her passion for her community by working with seniors in local nursing homes to make accessible games. Gerling was inspired to do this by a number of studies that showed that seniors who play games gain mental and physical benefits from them.
"A lot of senior residences are looking to integrate video games into their leisure programs, but the Nintendo Wii or Xbox Kinect games aren't always suitable for their residents," she says.
"One of the biggest problems in nursing homes is inactivity. People often sit in chairs and watch TV all day rather than participate in the activities offered. There's no physical activity. There's no mental stimulation," she says.
Gerling's own research found that seniors enjoy games with motion-based controls where they can control the game by moving their bodies instead of using a controller. She and her colleagues have been working with a physical therapist to identify the movements that are most accessible for everyone. She is also working on a game for people in wheelchairs where movements such as rolling forwards and backwards are seen by the game's camera and used to control gameplay. Gerling also found that seniors appreciate games that use topics related to their past, such as cooking and hunting.
"Something that repeatedly came up was shooting things and eating them. One of my games was a walk through the forest and there was a little bunny that hopped across the screen. These two ladies were saying 'Now we'll shoot it and cook it!'" she says.
Gerling also teaches computer skills to seniors and volunteers with the Saskatoon Council on Aging. She plans to leave her collection of games in participating nursing homes for the residents to enjoy outside of the testing environment.