Challenging Students’ perspectives with Game Design for Older Adults

Keywords: game design, user-centered design, older adults, digital game, student experience


Older adults are a group that is often overlooked by the game industry, even though they make up a reasonable portion of gamers. It is important for game designers to be able to consider different users and the needs involved. In this study, game design students were challenged with the task of making a video game for older adults that had some level of learning and social interaction. A total of sixty students, 13 older adults, an instructor, and the researchers were involved in the study. Seven games were created over two semesters. Older adults participated in the design by providing feedback. The students initially were disappointed with this assignment and resistant to the task, but as the project continued, they were able to embrace the challenge and see the benefits of designing for older adults. It challenged them to think from a different perspective and consider game design that is accessible to a wider audience. What they thought was intuitive (e.g. easy for the player to understand and use) did not always turn out to be so for the older cohort. This required the students adjust their design to suit a wider audience. User-centered design with a cohort different from their own was a beneficial approach to getting students to think of a broader audience.


Download data is not yet available.


Akrich, M. (1995). User representations: practices, methods and sociology. In A. Rip, T. Misa, J. Schot, (Eds.), Managing technology in society. The approach of constructive technology assessment (pp. 167-184). London: Pinter Publishers.

Astell, A. (2013). Technology and fun for a happy old age. In A. Sixsmith & G. Gutman (Eds.), Technologies for active aging (pp. 169-187). International Perspectives on Aging, vol 9. Springer, Boston, MA.

Boulton-Lewis, G. M., Buys, L., & Lovie-Kitchin, J. (2006). Learning and active aging. Educational gerontology, 32(4), 271-282.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative research in psychology, 3(2), 77-101.

De Schutter, B. (2011). Never too old to play: The appeal of digital games to an older audience. Games and Culture, 6(2), 155-170.

Doroudian, A., Hausknecht, S., & Kaufman, D. (2018, July). Creating an online escape room game for older adults: Needs assessment, design process, and usability testing. In International Conference on Human Aspects of IT for the Aged Population (pp. 516-525). Springer, Cham.

Entertainment Software Association (2016). Press Release. Retrieved on Novemeber 25, 2016 from

Entertainment Software Association (2021). 2021 Essential Facts About the Video Game Industry -Sales, demographic and, usage data. Retrieved on December 29, 2021 from

Findsen, B., & Formosa, M. (2011). Lifelong learning in later life: A handbook on older adult learning. Rotterdam, NL: Sense Publishers

Gerling, K. M., Schulte, F. P., & Masuch, M. (2011). Designing and evaluating digital games for frail elderly persons. In T. Romão et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Advances in Computer Entertainment Technology. New York, NY: ACM Press.

Grammenos, D., Savidis, A., & Stephanidis, C. (2009). Designing universally accessible games. Computers in Entertainment (CIE), 7(1), 1-29.

Gulliksen, J., Göransson, B., Boivie, I., Blomkvist, S., Persson, J., & Cajander, Å. (2003). Key principles for user-centred systems design. Behaviour and Information Technology, 22(6), 397-409.

Hagestad, G. O., and Uhlenberg, P. (2005). The social separation of old and young: A root of ageism. Journal of Social Issues, 61(2), 343-360.

Hausknecht, S. N. (2013). Older adult gamers: patterns of use and opinions on the benefits of digital gameplay [Masters dissertation, Education: Faculty of Education].Retrieved December 30,2021 from Simon Fraser University Summit Repository

Hausknecht, S., Schell, R., Zhang, F., & Kaufman, D. (2015, May). Older adults digital gameplay: a follow-up study of social benefits. In International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies for Ageing Well and E-Health (pp. 198-216). Springer, Cham.

IJsselsteijn, W., Nap, H. H., de Kort, Y., & Poels, K. (2007). Digital game design for elderly users. In B. Kapralos, M. Katchabaw, & J. Rajnovich (Eds.), Proceedings of the 2007 Conference on Future Play (pp. 17-22). New York, NY: ACM.

International Game Developers Association (2016). Developer Satisfaction Survey: 2014 & 2015: Survey Background and Sample Overview[Diversity in the Game Industry Report] Retrieved Dec 30, 2021 from

Jenkins, A. and Mostafa, T. (2015). The effects of learning on wellbeing for older adults in England. Ageing and Society, 35 (10), pp 2053-2070.

Jeremic, J. (2020). Older adults, old age, and ageism in game education curricula. In H. B. Viana, D. C. D. B. Neri de Souza, & F. Neri de Souza (Eds.), Novas tecnologias e novas práticas educacionais [New technologies and new educational practices] (pp. 187-212). Sao Paulo, Brazil: UNASPRESS.

Kim, A., and Merriam, S. B.: Motivations for learning among older adults in a learning in retirement institute. Educational Gerontology, 30(6), 441-455. (2004).

Loos, E. (2014). Designing Meaningful Intergenerational Digital Games. In International Conference on Communication, Media, Technology and Design (pp. 46–51), 24 - 26 April 2014, Istanbul, Turkey.

Merriam, S. B., & Kee, Y. (2014). Promoting community wellbeing: The case for lifelong learning for older adults. Adult Education Quarterly, 64(2), 128-144.

Narushima, M., Liu, J., & Diestelkamp, N. (2018). I learn, therefore I am: A phenomenological analysis of meanings of lifelong learning for vulnerable older adults. The gerontologist, 58(4), 696-705.

Palmore, E. (2001). The ageism survey: First findings. The Gerontologist, 41, 572–575.

Perry, D., Aragon, C., Cruz, S., Peters, M. a., & Chowning, J. T. (2013, July). Human centered game design for bioinformatics and cyberinfrastructure learning. In Proceedings of the Conference on Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment Gateway to Discovery - XSEDE ’13 (pp.1-8). San Diego, CA, USA.

Romero, M., & Ouellet, H. (2016, July). Scaffolding Digital Game Design Activities Grouping Older Adults, Younger Adults and Teens. In J. Zhou, G. Salvendy (Eds.), Human Aspects of IT for the Aged Population. Design for Aging. ITAP 2016. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 9754. Springer, Cham, 74-84.

Sanders, E. B. N. (2002). From user-centered to participatory design approaches. In J. Frascara (Eds.), Design and the social sciences: Making connections, London, UK: CRC Press, 1-8.

Sanders, E. B. N., Brandt, E., & Binder, T. (2010, November). A framework for organizing the tools and techniques of participatory design. In Proceedings of the 11th biennial participatory design conference (pp. 195-198). ACM.

Sauvé L., Kaufman D., Plante P. (2019) Designing a User-Friendly Educational Game for Older Adults. In: Herzog M., Kubincová Z., Han P., TemperiniM. (eds) Advances in Web-Based Learning –ICWL 2019. ICWL 2019. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 11841. Springer, Cham.

Schell, R., Hausknecht, S., & Kaufman, D. (2015, May). Barriers and Adaptations of a Digital Game for Older Adults. In Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies for Ageing Well and e-Health ICT4AgeingWell (pp. 269-275).

Schell, R., Hausknecht, S., Zhang, F., & Kaufman, D. (2016). Social benefits of playing Wii Bowling for older adults. Games and Culture, 11(1-2), 81-103.

United Nations (2008). Implementation of the International Plan of Action for the United Nations Literacy Decade : note. Retrieved December 30, 2021 from

Vanden Abeele, V. A., & Van Rompaey, V. (2006, April). Introducing human-centered research to game design: designing game concepts for and with senior citizens. In CHI'06 extended abstracts on Human factors in computing systems,1469-1474.

World Health Organization. (2015). World report on ageing and health. Geneva, SW:World Health Organization.

Dossier no.12 - Emotion and Cognition in Engagement