April 25, 2008

When I'm 64...

Tech pundits weren't surprised when Nintendo's Wii videogame console became an instant hit with kids last year. But Grandma and Grandpa playing Wii games for hours in retirement homes across the country? A complete shock.

But Nintendo says the Wii's popularity among the over-65 crowd wasn't totally unexpected because the game, which simulates sports like bowling and tennis, is "intuitive ... not intimidating," said Perrin Kaplan, vice president of marketing and corporate affairs at Nintendo of America.

Yep. Make it super-easy to use, and even the most tech-phobic seniors will come. The Wii console is the size of a remote control, and seniors swing it in front of a computerized image of a bowling alley or tennis court.

Erickson Retirement Communities discovered that Wii games were fun and good exercise for seniors in its retirement homes, because swinging the remote simulates motions people use when playing for real. With Wii tennis, "it's so hard for you not to move and simulate your tennis strokes," said Antonio Galvan, a program manager at an Erickson facility in Naperville, Ill.

In addition to Wii, YouTube, that bastion of quirky, homemade videos aimed at hipsters, has become another place for oldsters to hang out. Look for "senior citizen" on YouTube, and more than 1,000 videos pop up.

One video, titled "Senior Citizens Bah Hum Bug!," is a monologue by a senior pontificating about the bad rap he and his peers get for being old. Another video, "Gulfport Senior Citizens Harmonica Club," shows seniors tooting with glee. Erickson also uploaded a video of its residents playing Wii bowling.

"It's fun to watch seniors in competition," Galvan said. "The competitive vibe is very much alive. It's fun to watch the trash talking.”