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MMORPG for Seniors and Shut-ins

I was visiting a senior citizen today who rarely leaves her house due to lack of mobility. Like many her age, she is not connected to the net, nor interested in it. Which makes the following idea a challenge.

Could we design a really engaging game/online community for seniors? Especially those who have had to give up much of their old community because of infirmity? They don't want to slay monsters like in Evercrack or Warcraft. They won't build objects like in Second Life.

It must be a killer app -- so compelling that they are willing to learn a bit about computers in order to get it. For some seniors, they killer app has been emails and photos from grandchildren.

The game would have to be aimed at the fantasies that seniors have, and it must also be deliberately aimed at the computer novice with less desire to learn new technology than average. (Not that there aren't seniors with full ability to learn new tech -- many of them are already online.)

Thus it would not necessarily require the hottest new graphics cards or fastest net connection. It might try to avoid typing or require fast reaction times. It might use audio for socializing, and focus on the topics most dear to these players. (I jokingly wonder if avatars should be surrounded by pictures of grandkids.) Obviously research is needed to see what they want to play about, and how to deliver it.

There are also questions of levels of ability. Some people become mentally infirm with age and their skills and desires are limited. But is there nothing in the way of interactive community entertainment we can offer them?


Does she like board games? Scrabble? Backgammon? Chess? Card games? Anything like that? If so, being able to find people to play against at any level, at any hour, without having to be presentable seems like a nice win. No need to get into newfangled games when the old ones can be just as enthralling with less of a learning curve.

(A friend and I wrote , a free backgammon site)

These are popular online but not the "killer app" that makes somebody learn the internet to use them. In some ways, doing board games might be good for a non-computer looking appliance. Bring it in, plug it in, and play bridge etc. with others over the networks.

How about Second Life?

Instant messenging seems like a potential killer app. That and a sort of virtual sightseeing or nice avatar system for walking around and meeting people. It seems like the main problem for the elderly is the sense of isolation, and while email helps, the interactive nature of an IM session feels a lot more like human contact. Video cams and microphones seem like a bad idea, however, because they don't store state, and so require more mental energy and memory. A good IM client (iChat, and GAIM with the appropriate plugins) will show you the previous conversation that you are resuming when you start to chat with someone. That's a great thing for when your attention wanders.

Instant messenging combined with easy to use avatars, perhaps? I dunno. 3D interfaces seem right out, however. Perhaps a nicified version of the original Ultima Online with a different theme, no fighting, and improved usability?

I’ve tried to register with your blog. No joy. Here’s my reply to your post. Let me begin by saying my 72-year old mother is living in a federally subsidized senior citizen home in Oakland. The Oak Center Towers on Market Street in Oakland.

There are three different federally subsidized programs that provide extremely low cost Internet access through the federal programs: E-Rate; ESEA Title II D; and LSTA. The only caveat is that internet access must comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) by using Internet blocking and filtering to screen offensive pornographic content.

The Internet Blocking and Filtering software most used in fulfillment of the CIPA mandate are: Best N2H2; Cyber Patrol 6.1; Cyber Sitter 2003; Cybrary N Solutions; I-Gear; McAfee Parental Controls; Net Nanny; Web Sense; We-Blocker; Surf Control; and Content Barrier.

Plato’s Republic – Book VII, uses an allegory of a cave in which Socrates describes to Plato’s older brother prisoners chained to a bench in such a way as to limit their sight to the wall furthest from the cave's entrance. All these prisoners can see are shadows flickering on the back wall of a cave. This allegory delivers a simple message that our present condition is one of shadowy unreality and that the enlightened life awaits us if we are able to free ourselves from our chains and find our way to the upper world outside the cave into the blinding sunlight. Also, there is a message that the immediate, comfortable, and small world, which we see with our eyes, is a very limited one. Moving one’s eyes from the firelight to darkness one becomes temporarily blinded by the darkness. When moving one’s sight from the shadows into the light, one becomes temporarily blinded by the sudden increase in light. Symbolically, this represents any sudden movement from lightness to darkness or from darkness to lightness naturally involves being temporarily blinded. It is natural to be overwhelmed by changes in light.

What this allegory points out is that education is like sight. You can not make a blind eye see. Nor can you make someone learn just by teaching them. Education is like the quality of sight. It has to pre-exist.

The seniors you passionately plead for are like the prisoners in Plato’s cave. The light and shadows can be blinding.

If you want to come up with a solution for this problem, I will donate two days a week to solve this problem using the Oak Center Tower Senior Housing project in Oakland as a test bed, I will volunteer. I want to be a lawyer/educator.

I will deal with getting the data communication infrastructure in place at no cost (I’ll get everything donated) with the objective of providing community access to email, music, the Internet, on-line games like (non-gambling) black jack and personal banking. Seniors get ripped off and beat up when they go to the ATM machine downtown to see if their social security check posted. My 72-year-old mother has been robbed at an ATM.

I am not worthy to receive you, but only ay the word and I shall serve.

David P. Walker
(925) 376-5119

I want to start a gourmet soup kitchen in Charlotte especially serving the shut in population here. A non profit is currently being set up and maybe we can get some in put from those interested in your blog Brad.

This is a brilliant idea but we have to think about the fact that these are just fantasies and they can't last too long nor can make the user "forget" about it's infirmity. I think challenging online games can make them feel just as good as their opponents and this could bring them personal satisfaction. In my case backgammon works best.

I agree with Peter. I think something that allows face-to-face chat online would be good, something like Skype.

More than the fantasies and use of animations, I personally think that board games like bridge, chess, online backgammon or online chess are far more better and attract the seniors due to their classic status.
And also as Peter said, face to face chat online would be and additional advantage.

Seniors can play MMORPGs and excel in those worlds due to the fact that they are 'time rich'. They can be online and advancing in an MMORPG for many more hours a week than the average student or working person. This is a massive advantage in virtual worlds, where most accumulation of in game resources depends on time spent in the world.

There are hurdles to overcome. The average mindset of the average MMORPG player simply cannot concieve of the level 59 tank on thier team is over 50. The average player there thinks everyone is 18-21, so there is a social chasm that is a challenge to overcome. Most in game guilds, the social glue that holds the worlds together, are fairly egalitarian in who they accept and rarely care what a persons age is.

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