Designing Intergenerational Gameplay

Written by Dennis Kappen



Relationships between can be fostered between older persons and grandchildren through intergenerational gameplay. The key challenges are to set out methodologies for designing these interactions to stimulate intergenerational gameplay. Design methodologies to define these interactions are open for critical discussion because the domain of defining a design process for intergenerational gameplay remains open for future research.

Reference Information

Vanden Abeele, V., & Schutter, B. (2010). Designing intergenerational play via enactive interaction, competition and acceleration. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 14(5), 425–433. doi:10.1007/s00779-009-0262-3



This paper investigated the relationship between the need for a design process; a defined methodology; an identification of specific interaction goals; and designing games to meet specific design criteria. The paper focused on the development of design constructs for intergenerational play and validating these constructs through empirical studies and methodical measures.  While the earlier paper that I reviewed discussed: the relevance of “behavioral characteristics” in intergenerational gameplay; this paper discussed the value of a structured “needs based design process” for defining design decisions in the design of intergenerational game experiences. The authors identified the advantages of “enactive interaction”; proposed the correlation between “competition” and “social interaction” using Schultz’s (1958) fundamental interpersonal relationship orientation (FIRO) theory; defined three design rationales (DRs) for intergenerational gameplay; and presented a study to validate their mini-game in relation to the DRs.


While the population of the elderly is a growing reality, the authors indicate that prior research exposes the lack of suitable games specifically designed for this population. The advancement in medical sciences leading to longevity in humans does not result in a corresponding decline in the level of activity of older adults. The authors indicated that the games that focused on intergenerational games were few in number. Curball, Age Invaders, Distributed Hide-and-Seek were a few games that catered to the mix of intergenerational gaming. Additionally, the paper identified that the e-Treasure Research project focused developing the digital game Blast from the Past, by means of a player-centered design

Based on ethnographic research and participatory design process of the e-Treasure project, the authors developed three design rationales for intergenerational play. Physical skills, exposure to digital technology and experience limitations with digital appliances were three attributes that were looked at from the point of balancing these attributes. The authors indicated that intergenerational physical mini-games needed to consider the sensory, motor and cognitive challenges of the older demographic.

Interestingly, the theory of “enactive knowledge” ie. Knowledge stored in the form of motor responses and acquired and by the act of doing (Brunner S., 1966), using previous experience of motor actions or gestures, was used by the authors to define their first design rationale (DR1). According to the authors instead of having the older players memorize complex sequence of steps to playing a game; certain motor action from past experiences if mapped onto a game would help reduce the cognitive load on the older players.

Design Rationales as design objectives

Item Rationale Explanation Example
Design Rationale1 Design for Enactive InteractionIn   order to stimulate physical play between   generations, the game should offer enactive   interaction. To   offer enactive interaction, the game should rely on existing mental models of   everyday life experiences, addressing well-known physical actions and provide   clear digital affordances. Rowing   a boat, hammering a nail etc
Design Rational 2 Design for competition:To   foster Social interactionbetween   generations, the game should stimulatecompetitionEase of useEquality ease of use

Visibility of player   action

to   stimulate competition, the game should offera   goal that can only be achieved by one player, to the exclusion of other   competitors; offer non parallel play where players directly influence the   actions of others Distinction   between parallel play and non-parallel play (Mueller et al., 2008)
Design Rationale 3 Design for Acceleration:To   stimulate intergenerational play, the game should rely on the acceleration sensor   system. to   design for the acceleration sensor system, games should avoid complex,   multistep actions and rather choose simple but fierce movements that result in   straightforward actions Fierce   motor actions

I was intrigued by the way the authors connected social interaction to Shultz’s (1958) FIRO theory which states that human behavior is influenced by three interpersonal needs: inclusion (being part of a group), affection (closeness within the group) and control (influence the actions of others in a group). This paper informed me about the complex relationships’ based on interpersonal needs that influence the behaviour of people indulging in a group activity. The way in which the authors inferred that competitive play facilitated by non-parallel activities affording social interaction was remarkable.

Study   Design Description Comments
Hypothesis Evaluate   the DR1, DR2 and DR3 in context of intergenerational gameplay Paired adults   and younger children to play 4 commercial mini-games (Mario Party- Breakneck Building- Surf’s Way Up- Lob to Rob- Frozen   Assets)
Pilot study No pilot study   was indicated in the paper.
Participants 5 seniors, 5   youngsters. Age group of the younger players was not specified 3   grandparent-grandchild relationship; 2 were acquaintances.
Method Each game that   was selected had varying levels of enactive interaction, competition and influence   of sensor systems Qualitative pseudo-experiment
Time interval Time interval   of game activity was not indicated. 60 min was for   the second study
Materials Mario Party- Breakneck Building- Surf’s Way Up- Lob to Rob- Frozen   Assets; Questionnaires, video recorders
Procedure Introduction;   play all 4 games twice, followed by ratings
Measures User Observations   and Ranking exercise, short questionnaire
Findings Games   high in enactive interaction were the favorites of the younger and older   players

It was also interesting to note that the authors identified the challenges faced by the older adults in achieving precision through game actions such as pointing, focusing, selecting, button presses and precise steps. The above games were selected with a focus on minimizing the minimizing the need to remember steps, minimizing the reliance on the accuracy of selection of steps, and minimizing the need of focused accurate actions. Hence this selection was geared towards balancing the skills of the older adults with the younger players.

The authors designed their own gamed called Automium adhering to the DRs; they evaluated the experiences, perceptions, and feelings about the game, especially with relation to the refined design rationales. In the four trials played, competitive play was observed between two pairs of players comprising of a senior and a younger player.


The key contribution of this paper is identifying the needs of the players (younger and older players), defining design rationales based on the needs of the player and designing games to suit the needs of the players.  The games selection was based on a specific design criteria, and the game designed by the authors were also designed to the design rationales (DRs).  Hence, this paper informs us that trying to map a game for a specific demographic, let alone an intergenerational group demands the definition of design objectives that meet the needs of the users/stakeholders involved.  Enactive interaction extended to gameplay as opposed to repetitive physical actions, was also one of the most useful constructs in this paper.  The reliance on enactive interactions diverted the need of precision, competency of actions and cognitive efficiency from the older players. This made the gameplay more fun and engaging. Hence, designing games for acceleration, competition and enactive interaction helps to focus on designing games to the skills of the player.

Image Credit: Chess :