by Thom Gillespie
I originally meet Mihai Nadin years ago when I was curious about what a new
literacy for a new media might look like. I asked all sorts of folks until
finally George Landow suggested I try to track down either Mihai Nadin or his
book Civilization of Illiteracies. I did find Mihai and did
A short while ago Mihai sent me mail and said he was back in the states at
University of Texas at Dallas at the Institute for Research in Anticipatory
Systems. Mihai started to explain his new research agenda which he calls 'Seneludens.
The following is my interview with Mihai about growing older and play. The
interview is follwed by a description of the research project itself.
Thom: What do you mean by the word 'Seneludens?'
Mihai: It is derived from the Latin senescere, "to grow
old," which is derived from senex, "old;" and ludus,
"play." (Knowing that a word can take on a life of its own, I added
�Copyright 2004 ant� Institute. All rights reserved).
Thom: What do you think is the predisposition to play in a
Mihai: Playing is a form of expression. Playing is driven by
the reward, and whether one is young or old, playing has its rewards. In
addition, play has a learning component. We human beings constantly learn,
sometimes because we have to, many times because the drive to learn is part of
our evolutionary endowment. If what we learn is exciting, we learn with pleasure.
To enjoy is factor in delaying aging effect.
Thom: Do you think you can teach an old dog to play a new
Mihai: Old media (chess, cards, dice, hide-and-go-seek, you
name it) used to be young once upon a time. To play or not to play has to do
with the attractiveness of what the playing, that is, the game, is about, what
it involves, the reward. This reward can be emotional (seeing your grandchildren
or remembering aspects of one's life), or physical: a good feeling after a
workout. Sure, if seniors, I mean those not exposed to the computer through
their professional life, will have to learn how to use the computer in order to
play, forget it. The computer has to disappear as a machine in itself; it has to
evolve, or be integrated into new media. This is one of the dimensions of this
�Old dogs� are driven by some feelings and desires that can be
effectively translated into the �wager,� or the challenge and reward, that
new games present (family feelings, interest in maintaining relations with
friends, curiosity, or just challenging oneself).
Thom: Are there any historical examples of this ever
Mihai: Many. Some of the games we play were invented by
people past their biological peak. Moreover, even in our days, many
octogenarians play games. The Geri-Hatricks (located in Maryland) accept players
50 and older. They play hockey! One of their players is 82.
I read an article that says:
Living to 100 may well represent the ultimate game of "Survivor."
An estimated 70,000 Americans have reached the century mark. These "oldest
old" now represent the fastest-growing segment of our population, growing
by 35 percent between 1990 and 2000. Dr. Thomas Perls states:� Profiling
centenarians helps dispel� the idea that, 'The older you get, the sicker you
get.'" In fact, the reality is, for those in their 100s, "The older
you get, the healthier you've been." Many of them are enjoying computer
games. Roy Dotti, a cartoonist at 74 started designing games!
At the Sturgis Rally and Races (South Dakota) the oldest of the bikers was
83. He is also active on multiplayer online computer games (e.g. Baseball
Manager). Others prefer adventure games, fantasy role playing games,
interstellar trading, combat simulators.
You do read more and more about people who start new lives at a time when
society thinks they should be retiring...
Thom: What areas of research do you think will be needed to
Mihai: First: our understanding of the human being's
anticipatory characteristics will have to be improved. Until now, such
characteristics have been effectively researched under laboratory conditions (MRI
is not possible outside a clinical environment). We will have to deal with life
as life is, not as it is convenient for our measurements. This is a challenge.
Second: we need to focus on the relation between cognition and action.
Perception, in particular, is most of the time described as independent from the
respective action. Once we understand what it takes for a human to execute an
action (this pertains not just to humans), we will realize what we want to
�train� through games in order to maintain motoric and cognitive
characteristics past the age when these usually deteriorate.
Third: brain research
Fourth: user interfaces will have to be created so that people play, and not
end up servicing the machines
Fifth: virtual environments within which the game stimulates physical
capabilities, but within the parameters of the possibilities left to the aging
player. For instance, a 70-year old woman might want to play tennis but her arm
muscles are weaker, she has to keep osteoporosis in mind, her return will no
longer be so powerful. Her perception of the oncoming ball will be less precise.
In the virtual environment, these factors can be taken into account and adjusted
(such as accounting for overall skill improvement, or a day when one feels less
animated or is recovering from a cold, of a time when performance is affected by
bad or good news).
Sixth: the story aspect. What kind of stories can be at the core of games
addressing people who tell stories but not necessarily listen to stories? For
this aspect, a Story Lab is in preparation, involving multicultural experiences.
Thom: Do you think that games and play in general can
�turn back the clock?�
Mihai: Yes. Anticipation is about having a clock that is
faster than the one that controls the action. We turn back the clock on a
regular basis. At this moment the question is: How will maintenance of
anticipatory characteristics through behavioral therapy affect the individual's
physical substratum? People going to gyms are actively pursuing goals which, if
they do not necessarily turn the clock back, at least keep it ticking longer at
the rhythm and intensity they can handle.
Thom: How do you think culture will interact with 'Seneludens?'
Mihai: My wish is that culture will integrate Seneludens as
part and parcel of the culture. My realistic side tells me that this will take
effort. My optimism reminds me that only practicing it will make the difference.
Every additional quality day in the life of a human being is worth not only the
money we would otherwise spend on care and compensation of handicaps�just
think of the amount Medicare spends on scooters used by seniors with trouble
walking�but the reward of meaningful integration of the persons who, at the
most critical moment of their lives, end up painfully alone.
Thom: Who will fund this work?
Mihai: Well, society can, and it can do so through research
money, because we need to know more in general about how anticipation defines
the living, because we need to learn how to augment anticipation. Every type of
training program will benefit from this knowledge. And because human computer
interaction is still in a primitive stage, and we will all benefit from making
Then there are the aging themselves, the ones who will be directly affected.
The paradox is that there are more resources available for maintaining life.
That's not good enough. Many of the aging, who have the financial wherewithal,
will find in this program sufficient motivation for supporting the effort.
Communities should be interested, because they pay for a lot of what it costs
to operate facilities for the aging. If this project works as intended, many of
the aging will be happy to use their mental and physical abilities to contribute
to society in many ways.
Last but not least, investors. The aging are a big market! And it is growing
as we speak. And it has buying power. We are all egotistic and greedy, looking
for ways to make money�just kidding. Because there is also a return in terms
of moral, economic, scientific, technological, individual, as well as financial
After all, except for some who for some reason will not experience old age,
we are all in for it. How do you want to have it: like the aged in ancient Greek,
or among the Eskimos, when the aged were deposited out of the home, to die away
from the family and community? Or do we rather prefer to do our best to keep
active and in shape in order to contribute to our own well being for as long as
we are able to do so?
Seneludens� - A Research Project
Addressing the various limitations and costs that aging entails has become a
major challenge. Many resources are utilized for fighting the limitations of
aging as they progressively occur, but few for attenuating the consequences of
aging before these become a medical problem.
Seneludens takes a proactive approach. It seeks methods for combining the
will of the aging to enjoy quality of life with means other than medicine for
maintaining characteristics that make life worth living. Seneludens focuses on
maintaining anticipatory characteristics during the aging process. Senescence is
the stage at which anticipation degrades to such an extent that the body is
practically reduced to its physical-chemical reality. Based on the findings of
physicians, gerontologists, experts in brain research, cognitive science, and
the social sciences, this project attempts to encourage an active lifestyle. In
particular, Seneludens will stimulate the human being's predisposition to play.
A broad variety of games will be designed, based on the specific findings of
professionals who study aging. Together with virtual environments designed to
appropriately address physical capabilities, such games will entice the aging to
remain fit and mentally active, to connect with others, and to remain
competitive. Game-supported maintenance of skills and learning will contribute
to keeping the elderly independent and capable of further contribution to
The project relies on the expertise of many disciplines. It will challenge
computer experts to provide interfaces behind which the computer will disappear
for the elderly, but will provide rich possibilities to network and interact. It
will challenge game developers and designers to address an important segment of
society that they have ignored. Seneludens is expected to take 5 to 8 years, in
which time results will also be tested and deployed. The knowledge accumulated
and the creativity it stimulates in conceiving of games that �turn back the
clock� of aging through maintenance and possible enhancement of anticipatory
characteristics will add a new field of broad social and commercial significance
to the economy.