Intergenerational Gameplay

Written by Dennis Kappen



Research has shown that one of the key aspects of overcoming loneliness amongst older adults is the fostering of relationships’ between older persons and grandchildren. Intergenerational activities help to enable conversations on similar interest topics, and activities leading to happiness and a feeling of belongingness. Gaming technologies have helped to bridge gaps across physical and social distances.

Reference Information

Rice, M., Tan, W. P., Ong, J., Yau, L. J., Wan, M., & Ng, J. (2013). The dynamics of younger and older adult’s paired behavior when playing an interactive silhouette game. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems – CHI  ’13, 1081. doi:10.1145/2470654.2466138



The paper investigates the design of a novel gesture-based game and evaluated the behavior of intergenerational gameplay. The authors divided the sample population into (i) Young-Young, (ii) Old-Old, and (iii) Young-Old to evaluate the communicative and cooperative behavior of same-age and mixed-age pairs. The authors took a mixed-methods approach combining direct observations, post-game questionnaires. The authors indicated that their results showed a greater physical cooperation between the group-type, Young-Old, as compared to the same-age groups. The paper indicated that the expectations of the young and old differ a lot and their perceived interaction also differs; hence it is critical to understand the nuances of expectations and interaction requirements allowing for intergenerational gameplay.  The article explores the value of intergenerational games and proposes a few recommendations for future research.


Games have served to be of therapeutic value in maintaining and improving the quality of life of older adults.  These games have served to provide cognitive training, physical rehabilitation, memory training, and have helped with improving the emotional outlook of aged persons. The authors argue that social interaction with grandchildren has been a strong motivator (Vandel Abeele et al., 2010) because of the potential of better communication, improved problem solving skills and building relationships between different age-groups.

The paper describes the design and evaluation of a novel gesture-based game while evaluating the behavior of pairs of younger-older adults, to determine the interaction methodology of mixed–age and same-age players. In this paper the authors argue that digital games can encourage social interaction between generations based on the differences in requirements, values and needs of either user profile. Through prior research, the authors indicate that older adults preferred a cooperative type of game play as opposed to competitive play, and an over competitiveness amongst younger players is a detracting factor for older adults. Younger adults on the other hand indicate the passivity of older alder adults to be detrimental in their engagement in gameplay with older adults.  A summary of the prior research relating the intergenerational challenges between younger and older adult players are shown below.

Challenges Research work Reference
Supporting   intergenerational games Mental   models and digital affordances Vanden   Abeele, V., and De Schutter, B. Designing intergenerational   play via enactive interaction, competition and acceleration. Pers Ubiquit Comput 14, 5 (2010), 425-433.
Customization Modifying   the amount of gameplay challenge between age groups Khoo,   E.T., Merritt, T., and Cheok, A.D. Designing physical and social  intergenerational family entertainment. Interacting with Computers 21,   1-2 (2009), 76-87.
Type   of gameplay Cooperation   vs. competition Al   Mahmud, A., Mubin, O., Shahid, S., and Martens, J-B. Designing   social games for children and older adults: Two related case studies. Entertainment   Computing 1, 3-4 (2010), 147-156.
Co-located   gameplay Older adults   tend to help rather than compete. Lack of social competitiveness Gajadhar,   B.J., Nap, H.H., de Kort, Y.A.W., and IJsselsteijn, W.A.Out of sight, out of   mind: Co-player effects on seniors’ player experience. In Proc. Fun   & Games‘10, ACM Press (2010),   74-83.
Competitiveness   amongst children Perception   of Gameplay advantage Chiong,   C. Can video games promote intergenerational play and literacy learning? The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, 2009.
Over-competitiveness amongst younger players Detracts   older players from engaging in intergenerational gameplay Nap,   H.H., de Kort, Y.A.W., and IJsselsteijn, W.A. Senior gamers:   Preferences, motivations and needs. Gerontechnology 8, 4 (2009), 247-262.
Pro-activeness   amongst younger players Decisions   on types of game to be played due to pro-activeness Voida,   A., and Greenberg, S. Console gaming across generations: Exploring   intergenerational interactions in collocated console gaming.   Universal Access in the Information Society 11, 1 (2012), 45-56.  
Time   taken by older adults vs. younger players in gameplay Passivity in older adult’s interaction Voida,   A., and Greenberg, S. Console gaming across generations: Exploring   intergenerational interactions in collocated console gaming. Universal   Access in the Information Society 11, 1 (2012), 45-56.  
Understanding   digital games Lack   of knowledge on the part of older adults, children become the authority. Chiong,   C. Can video games promote intergenerational play and literacy   learning? The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, 2009.
Relationships   between older and younger players +ve   attitudes between grandchildren and grandparents. Boon,   S.D., and Brussoni, M.J. Popular images of grandparents: Examining young   adults’ views of their closest grandparents. Personal Relationships 5,   1 (1998), 105-119.
Intergenerational   bonding Reduce segregation and prevent ageism Lloyd,   J.  The state of intergenerational   relations today. ILC-UK, 2008.
Dependency   between generations Emotional   support toolder grandchildren Ross,   N., Hill, M., Sweeting H., and Cunningham-Burley, S. Grandparents   and teen grandchildren: Exploring intergenerational   relationships. Report for the ESRC, Centre for Research on Families and   Relationships, 2005.
Rehabilitation   and physical therapy Gesture   movements Gerling,   K.M., Livingston, I.J., Nacke, L.E., and Mandryk, R.L. Full-body motion-based   game interaction for older adults. In Proc.CHI ‘12, ACM Press (2012),   1873-1882.
Physical   coordination Improvement   in physical coordination through games used in stroke therapy Alankus,   G., Lazar, A., May, M., and Kelleher, C. Towards customizable   games for stroke rehabilitation. In Proc. CHI ‘10, ACM   Press (2010), 2113-2122.
Lack   of respect for older adults Reduced   positive perceptions towards older adults Sanders,   G.F., Montgomery, J.E., Pittman, Jr, J.F., and Balkwell, C.   Youth’s attitudes toward the elderly. Journal of Applied Gerontology 3, 1 (1984), 59-70.
Discomfort   and uncertainty by younger adults to deal with older adults Stronger   obligation to be respectful McCann,   R.M., Cargile, A.C., Giles, H., and Bui, C.T. Communication   ambivalence toward elders: Data from North Vietnam,   South Vietnam, and the U.S.A. Journal of CrossCultural Gerontology 19, 4   (2004), 275-297.
Intergenerational exchange Reduction   in familial interaction Thang,   L.L. Promoting intergenerational understanding between the young   and old: The case of Singapore. UN Report of the Expert Group Meeting   in Qatar, March 2011.
Community involved projects generational re-engagement Thang, L.L. Promoting intergenerational understanding   between the young and old: The case of Singapore. UN Report of the Expert   Group Meeting in Qatar, March 2011.

Study Design: Xtreme Gardener Game Design: The authors used digitized shadow to create shadow interactivity using the established method of frame differencing and blob detection.

Personally, I liked the premise of the new game where the player interacts with their silhouette to nurture a small set of plants while controlling various weather elements. Players will rewards in the form of virtual money for the number of plants that they keep alive, which in-turn can be used to customize plant features.  The game levels had 5 levels.

Study   Design Description Comments
Hypothesis Evaluate   the communicative and cooperative behavior of same-age and mixed-age pairs.
Pilot study 2 Pilot studies Balance   of levels,   visual design and gestures that would be suitable for both   age groups in the prototype game
Participants 60   participants ( 20 players in each group)Young-Young   (Y-Y),Young-Old   (Y-O) or Old-Old (O-O) 16 males, 44   females Younger adults   (15-20 years) Older Adults   (55 -74 years) Players did   not know each other.
Method Between-subjects   design; to compare gameplay interactions and general perceptions of   engagement Three groups   of younger and older players
Time interval 90 minutes One pair   played the game.
Materials Xtreme Gardner   game, projector, laptop with camera, large projection screen
Procedure Tutorials   about the game; Play the game for 30 minutes to complete 5 levels; answer a   post game questionnaire; semi-structured interview   conducted by two facilitators (20-25 minutes)
Measures Observations, post-game   questionnaires, post-game interviews:Questionnaire   had 5 constructs: 3 social interaction constructs (Cooperation,   communication, partner preference) and 2 constructs   on the appropriateness and usability of the game (Ease of use and Competence) 5 point Likert   scale for questionnairesVideo   recordings were coded based on Yoder and Symons   methodology for measuring cooperative behavior:   Verbal Cooperative, Physical Cooperative, and Noncompliance -review   participants’ perceptions andpreferences   to the prototype game;-focused   on their interactive experience during the gameplay-suitability   of the game for different age groupsStatistical   measures: Pearsons Correlation, ANOVA. Welch’s F test, Games-Howell,   t-test
Findings Questionnaire   Data:Younger participants reported better communication between same-age   partners.Presence   of younger partners helped facilitate the gameplay for the older participantsObservational   Data: Y-Y pairs needed les communication as their confidence level in the   game increased., unfazed by mistakesO-O   pairs had severe challenges in understanding gamelogic, spent more time in   discussing rules, and low number of completion levelsY-O   pairs support from younger player made older players more assertive, supportive   gameplayInterview   Data: interactions between pairs improved with longer gameplay. The authors   reported questionnaire findings, paired observational analysis and followed   by feedback of post-game interviews

The authors distinctly categorized the questionnaires into specific interaction constructs. From my perspective this was a good development of the measures and helped to cover a wide range of questions from the areas of social interaction to usability issues.  The study was systematic and well structured. The paper helps to make evident, a structured and categorized definition of constructs which enabled the authors to relate social interaction between players of the three age groups of participants.

I believe that the number of questions in each construct could have been further detailed out to define satisfaction, intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, physical well-being and mental well-being. It is important to also determine if the physical and mental well-being of the partners would serve as hindrances or enablers for social interaction between the players.

I need to delve further into the statistical results to look at the correlations between the dependent variables indicated in the five constructs of the study design. I liked the methodical manner in which the authors explained their statistical results. It helped me to understand their fundamental approach towards establishing the relationships between their findings from study measures.

In the postgame interviews, the authors categorized their findings into gameplay satisfaction, gameplay suitability, stereotyped perceptions, cognitive flexibility; intergenerational cooperation and metrics for validation of intergenerational gameplay within game design.


The authors detailed out a structured and methodical study design to evaluate their new game which used digital silhouette as a means to infuse fun in intergenerational gameplay.  From their study the authors identified a number of recommendations which addressed interaction issues for older adults between intergenerational age groups. The authors recommend the explorations of role differentiation and interdependence; gameplay assistance; focal points; physical engagement; and instructional support.

I believe that intergenerational gameplay is also dependent on intrinsic and extrinsic motivational attributes between the age groups. The key is to identify common parameters of interest in activities, common themes of interest, and common goals between the different age groups. It is critical to cater to the needs of both age groups, as opposed to providing a one size fits all solution and expect both the age groups to be motivated to play the game. A matrix of user needs for the different age groups would have helped in isolating key motivational attributes that could help to define game story, game mechanics while superimposing the  “fun” aspect in any intergenerational gaming activity.

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