Wii bowling knocks over retirement home

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At the Sedgebrook retirement community in Lincolnshire, where the average age is 77, something unexpected has been transpiring since Christmas. The residents, most of whom have never picked up a video game controller in their life, suddenly can't put the things down.

"I've never been into video games," said 72-year-old Flora Dierbach last week as her husband took a twirl with the Nintendo Wii's bowling game. "But this is addictive."

Dierbach said residents love the Wii set up in the clubhouse lounge.

"They come in after dinner and play," she said. "Sometimes, on Saturday afternoons, their grandkids come play with them.

"A lot of grandparents are being taught by their grandkids. But, now, some grandparents are instead teaching their grandkids."

The Wii has become so popular at Sedgebrook that on Sunday afternoon there will be a video game bowling tournament in the lounge. More than 20 residents have signed up to compete.

"We'll even have a fan for people to dry their hands before they bowl," said Dierbach, head of Sedgebrook's entertainment committee.

If the retirees in Lincolnshire are any proof, video games are no longer just kids' play.

And that's the whole idea, said Beth Llewelyn, Nintendo's senior director of corporate communications.

"We certainly appreciate our 'core' gamers and will continue to supply them with games," Llewelyn said.

"But the question is, how do you build a bigger audience?"

With an easy-to-use wireless controller that translates a player's motions onto the screen, Nintendo believes it has found the answer with the Wii.

"People have no fear of picking up a remote control, but they're hesitant to pick up a video game controller," Llewelyn said. "So the idea was to make the controller look like a remote control with just a couple of buttons."

Since the Wii hit stores in November, more than 1 million consoles have been sold in the United States, Llewelyn said. The reaction to the system by seniors has been a pleasant surprise.

On Sunday, Don Hahn, 76, a veteran of numerous real-life bowling competitions, will compete for the first time in a virtual one.

"This is pretty realistic. You can even put English on the ball," Hahn said after connecting on a strike with the Wii. "I used to play Pac-Man a little bit, but with this you're actually moving around and doing something.

"You're not just sitting there pushing buttons and getting carpal tunnel."

dwischnowsky@tribune.com

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