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Wii: the biggest thing since bingo

Nintendo's popular video game console is a hit with retirees who enjoy the "real" feel of it.

By Washington Post
Published December 16, 2007


SILVER SPRING, Md. - When Earl Davis and his wife have friends over to their apartment, they get the party started with some video games to loosen the joints, stir the brain waves and break the ice.

The Davises live at the Riderwood retirement community in Silver Spring, where the Nintendo Wii video game console heats up social hour.

Davis, 73, a retired Marine sergeant major, said he plays for at least a few minutes on a Nintendo Wii video game console every day. He likes that the Wii emulates the motion of real sports: Playing a Wii tennis game involves swinging the controller as if it were an actual racket. If you slice in your real-world golf game, you'll slice on the Wii, he said.

"We had no interest in video games until the Wii came along," Davis said. "Now I think we're addicted."

On the retirement community scene, bingo is looking a little like last year's thing, as video games have recently grabbed a spot as the hot new activity. More specifically, retirees are enthusiastically taking to games on the Wii, which has been undersupplied and overdemanded at retail stores all year, thanks largely to the system's appeal to a range of consumers.

Riderwood has three Wiis available to its residents and may get a fourth, said Daniel Dunne, director of public relations for Riderwood, a community for people age 62 and over. Some residents have enjoyed it enough to acquire one for themselves.

And while bingo still attracts a larger audience at Riderwood, over the past several months, a weekly Wii bowling event has been drawing a growing number of players. Next year, organizers intend to put together a more-formal bowling league. Recently Riderwood kicked off a three-day event called the Wii Holiday Sports Extravaganza, featuring Wii versions of hockey, bowling, shooting, fishing and billiards.

A strong attraction

"Some people haven't done anything since they got here, except sit there and watch television," said one Riderwood resident, Brooks Mahoney, after playing a round of the Wii fishing game. "This really brings people out."

"A lot of people around here would buy one for Christmas," Mahoney added, "if they could find one."

Andrew Carle, an assistant professor at George Mason University, said Riderwood isn't the only retirement home with a Wii affinity. Among retirement communities, he said, the Wii is "the hottest thing out there."

"We've been looking for 20 years for something that goes beyond bingo in terms of activities for seniors," said Carle, an expert in elder care who had an earlier career in the retirement-home industry.

The Entertainment Software Association, the video game industry trade group, has long maintained that video games are a pastime for grown-ups as well as kids. The age of the average gamer has been creeping up, according to ESA research, and now stands at 33. In 2007, 24 percent of Americans older than 50 played video games, an increase from 9 percent in 1999.

Nintendo says the average age of the Wii player is 29, but the company expects to see that number surge upward as the supply of the system starts meeting demand.

A study by the Mayo Clinic released this year showed that playing physical games was beneficial in fighting obesity, at least in children. On the other end of the age spectrum, studies have shown that regular mental activity can stave off conditions such as senile dementia.

[Last modified December 16, 2007, 01:47:35]

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