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  • Seniors Gaming: An interview with Mihai Nadin   
    Wednesday, March 16 2005 @ 05:36 PM
    Contributed by: frans

    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 an interview.

    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 senior citizen?

    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 medium?

    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 project.

    �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 happening?

    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 create 'Seneludens?'

    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 it better.

    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 return.

    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 society.

    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.

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