Seniors Go Wild For Wii

The regulars at the senior center in Painesville, Ohio, had a dilemma. A Nintendo Wii had been purchased, but the novelty of the new game system had worn off after only a week. On most days, the system received little or no use.

Seniors get the hang of Wii video games.

The seniors were familiar with other programs like aerobics, weight training, crafting, bingo, card games and classroom activities, but the Wii presented a new and unfamiliar challenge.

The gaming system also had some stiff competition from a coin-operated arcade bowling machine that had been used for over 30 years. Usually found in a bar or restaurant, this type of machine required participants to bowl a ball — similar to a bocce ball — down a small, wooden lane. The ball rolled over spots on the lane and made the pins elevated above the ball raise in conjunction with how accurately one rolled the ball.

After receiving a call from Denise Powell, the director of the Painesville Area Senior Center, we at the recreation department began planning how to assist with the Wii problem. Powell had been reading articles from all over the country that highlighted seniors going wild for Wii Sports, especially the bowling game. She wanted us to assist in planning a program to increase the seniors’ involvement with the Wii.

I knew from years of working at summer camps that the best way to get kids to play games is to make sure they understand:

1. How to play

2. What it takes to have fun playing.

I thought this would also apply to adult learning, so my co-worker, David Whittaker, and I started planning.

Getting In The Groove

The goal was to reintroduce the Wii to the senior-center members, and to promote use of the system on a regular basis. We already knew the games were fun and the Wii program was working on a national level; we just had to bring that enthusiasm to the local center.

The senior center owned a copy of Wii Sports, which consists of five separate sports games — tennis, baseball, bowling, golf and boxing. It was already determined the most popular game among the seniors was bowling. Tennis and golf had generated little enthusiasm.

Bowling was popular because most of the seniors had had real bowling experiences on real bowling teams. They knew the basic rules of the game as well as bowling etiquette. Using the Wii, seniors could now participate in an enjoyable, low-risk activity without having to pick up and roll a heavy ball.

Whittaker and I stopped by the senior center to try the machine ourselves. We both have video-game experience, but had never used this particular system. We wanted to educate ourselves on the correct way to play so that we could be knowledgeable and helpful when instructing others.

After 30 minutes of play, we felt comfortable showing the seniors how to use all of the Wii’s games — including bowling. People noticed us using the Wii, and a crowd gathered to see what the big attraction was.

We were able to show people how to make an avatar, where to stand, what buttons to push, and how to roll the ball. We answered questions and tried to demystify the Wii experience. This was the first time that many of the seniors had played a video game, and their enjoyment was obvious.

After providing an introduction to the Wii, the next step was to create a bowling challenge.

Stiff Competition

The recreation department announced a Wii bowling tournament, to be held three weeks later. Flyers were posted and people began to practice and create their own avatars. We visited to answer questions, and people were catching on to the concept. Enthusiasm was rising. Seniors began to show other seniors how to play.

We wanted to make the tournament day special by awarding prizes and pizza to the contestants. I printed out certificates for first and second place, and polished up a small bowling trophy for first place that had been donated to the recreation department.

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