Digital Games and Older People from a Theoretical and Conceptual Perspective: A Critical Literature Review

  • Sergio SayagoEmail author
  • Andrea Rosales
  • Valeria Righi
  • Susan M. Ferreira
  • Graeme W. Coleman
  • Josep Blat


Prompted by the authors’ reflection of their own Human-Computer Interaction research on games and older people, and analysis of previous and related works, this chapter presents a critical literature review of contemporary research on digital games with older people. This chapter argues that much of the research conducted in this field has been performed in a descriptive fashion, without strong integration of important theories of ageing, such as Socioemotional Selective Theory, Selective Optimization with Compensation Theory, Life-Span Theory of Control, Continuity and Disengagement theories, despite their relevance and potential for developing systematic and cross-disciplinary knowledge. This chapter shows the relationship between these theories and key elements of research on games with older people, such as emotions and motivations. This chapter also shows that older people are often portrayed as either actual or potential players of digital games, which are widely regarded as being a solution to solve or fix most of their problems. This chapter calls for a re-examining of the way in which older people and digital games are constructed by drawing upon the conceptual tools provided by theories of ageing, in an attempt to co-construct games wherein diversity, agency, life experiences, and identity receive further attention.


Older people Digital games Ageing theories Critical literature review Human-computer interaction 


  1. Baltes, P., & Baltes, M. (Eds.). (1990). Successful aging. Perspectives from the behavioral sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bengtson, V., & Settersten, R. (Eds.). (2016). Handbook of theories of aging. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  3. Brown, J. (2012). Let’s play: Understanding the role and meaning of digital games in the lives of older adults. In Foundations of digital games (pp. 10–12). Raleigh, NC: ACM.Google Scholar
  4. Brown, J., & De Schutter, B. (2016). Game design for older adults: Lessons from a life course perspective. International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 8(1), 1–12. Scholar
  5. Carstensen, L. L. (2006). The influence of a sense of time on human development. Science, 312(5782), 1913–1915. Scholar
  6. Carstensen, L. L. (2011). A long bright future. Happiness, health, and financial security in an age of increased longevity. New York: Public Affairs.Google Scholar
  7. Charles, S., & Carstensen, L. (2009). Social and emotional aging. Annual Review Psychology, 61, 383–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Charmaz, K. (2010). Constructing grounded theory. A practice guide through qualitative analysis. London (UK): Sage.Google Scholar
  9. Cole, T., Achenbaum, W., Jakobi, P., & Kastenbaum, R. (1993). Voices and visions of aging. Towards a critical gerontology. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  10. de la Hera, T., Loos, E., Simons, M., & Blom, J. (2017). Benefits and factors influencing the design of intergenerational digital games: A systematic literature review. Societies, 7, 18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. De Schutter, B. (2011). Never too old to play: The appeal of digital games to an older audience. Games and Culture, 6, 155–170. Scholar
  12. De Schutter, B., Brown, J., & Abeele, V. (2014). The domestication of digital games in the lives of older adults. New Media & Society, 1–17. Scholar
  13. De Schutter, B., & Malliet, S. (2014). The older player of digital games: A classification based on perceived need satisfaction. Communications, 39, 67–88.Google Scholar
  14. Diggs, J. (2008). The continuity theory of ageing. In Encyclopedia of aging and public health (pp. 233–234). Boston: Springer.
  15. Durick, J., Brereton, M., Vetere, F., & Nansen, B. (2013). Dispelling ageing myths in technology design. In OzCHI (pp. 467–476). Adelaide, Australia.Google Scholar
  16. George, L., & Ferraro, K. (2016). Ageing and the social sciences: Progress and prospects. In L. George & K. Ferraro (Eds.), Handbook of ageing and the social sciences (pp. 3–22). Oxford: Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Grant, M. J., & Booth, A. (2009). A typology of reviews: An analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Information and Libraries Journal, 26(2), 91–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hakkarainen, P. (2012). No good for shovelling snow and carrying firewood: Social representations of computers and the internet by elderly Finnish non-users. New Media & Society, 14(7), 1198–1215. Scholar
  19. Heckhausen, J., Wrosch, C., & Schulz, R. (2010). A motivational theory of life-span development. Psychological Review, 117(1), 32–60. Scholar
  20. Higgs, P., & Gilleard, C. (2015). Rethinking old age. Theorising the fourth age. London: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Huizinga, J. (1944). Homo ludens. Switzerland: Routledge.Google Scholar
  22. Hummert, M. L. (2011). Age stereotypes and aging. In K. W. Schaie & S. Willis (Eds.), Handbook of psychology of aging (pp. 249–262). Oxford: Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Katz, S. (2001). Growing older without aging? Positive aging, anti-ageism, and anti-ageing. Generations, 27–32.Google Scholar
  24. Marshall, W., & Bengtson, V. (2011). Theoretical perspectives on the sociology of ageing. In R. Settersten & J. Angel (Eds.), Handbook of sociology of aging (pp. 17–35). London (UK): Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Marston, H. (2013). Design recommendations for digital game design within an ageing. Educational Gerontology, 39, 103–118. Scholar
  26. McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world. New York: The Penguin Press.Google Scholar
  27. Mosberg Iversen, S. (2016). Play and productivity. The constitution of ageing adults in research on digital games. Games and Culture, 1–21. Scholar
  28. Nap, H., Kort, Y., & IJsselsteijn, W. (2009). Senior gamers: Preferences, motivations and needs. Gerontechnology Journal, 8, 247–262.Google Scholar
  29. Neven, L. (2010). “But obviously not for me”: Robots, laboratories and the defiant identity of elder test users. Sociology of Health and Illness, 32(2), 335–347. Scholar
  30. Osmanovic, S., & Pecchioni, L. (2016). Beyond entertainment: Motivations and outcomes of video game playing by older adults and their younger family members. Games and Culture, 11(1–2), 130–149. Scholar
  31. Oudshoorn, N., & Pinch, T. (Eds.). (2003). How users matter. The co-construction of users and technologies. London, England: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  32. Parra, C., Silver, P., Kfhaghani, I., Daniel, F., de Bruin, E., Cernuzzi, L., et al. (2013). Information technology for active ageing: A review of theory and practice. Foundations and Trends in Human-Computer Interaction, 7(4), 351–448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Pearce, C. (2008). The truth about baby boomer gamers: A study of over-forty computer game players. Games and Culture, 3, 142–176. Scholar
  34. Righi, V., Sayago, S., & Blat, J. (2017). When we talk about older people in HCI, who are we talking about? Towards a ‘turn to community’ in the design of technologies for a growing ageing population. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 108, 15–31. Scholar
  35. Rogers, Y. (2012). HCI theory. Classical, modern, and contemporary. San Rafael, US: Morgan & Claypool.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rogers, Y., & Marsden, G. (2013). Does he take sugar? Moving beyond the rhetoric of compassion. Interactions, 48–57. Scholar
  37. Sayago, S., & Blat, J. (2010). Telling the story of older people e-mailing: An ethnographical study. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 68, 105–120. Scholar
  38. Sayago, S., Rosales, A., Righi, V., Ferreira, S. M., Coleman, G. W., & Blat, J. (2016). On the conceptualization, design, and evaluation of appealing, meaningful, and playable digital games for older people. Games and Culture, 11(1–2), 53–80. Scholar
  39. Schulz, R., Wahl, H. W., Matthews, J. T., De Vito Dabbs, A., Beach, S. R., & Czaja, S. J. (2015). Advancing the aging and technology agenda in gerontology. Gerontologist, 55(5), 724–734. Scholar
  40. Silverstone, R. (2005). Domesticating domestication. Reflections on the life of a concept. In T. Berker, M. Hartmann, Y. Punie, et al. (Eds.), Domestication of media and technology (pp. 229–248). Maidenhead: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Twigg, J., & Martin, W. (2015). The challenge of cultural gerontology. Gerontologist, 55(3), 353–359. Scholar
  42. Vines, J., Pritchard, G., Wright, P., & Olivier, P. (2015). An age-old problem: Examining the discourses of ageing in HCI and strategies for future research. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, 22(1), 1–27. Scholar
  43. Voida, A., & Greenberg, S. (2012). Console gaming across generations: Exploring intergenerational interactions in collocated console gaming. Universal Access Information Society, 11, 45–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Wagner, W., Farr, R., Jovchelovitch, S., et al. (1999). Theory and method of social representations. Asian journal of social psychology, 2(1), 95–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Weaver, C. K., Zorn, T., & Richardson, M. (2010). Goods not wanted. Information, Communication & Society, 13(5), 696–721. Scholar
  46. Zhang, F., & Kaufman, D. (2015). Older adults’ social interactions in massively multiplayer online role-playing games. Games and Culture, 1–20. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sergio Sayago
    • 1
    Email author
  • Andrea Rosales
    • 2
  • Valeria Righi
    • 3
  • Susan M. Ferreira
    • 4
  • Graeme W. Coleman
    • 5
  • Josep Blat
    • 6
  1. 1.Universitat de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Universitat Oberta de CatalunyaBarcelonaSpain
  3. 3.Ideas for ChangeBarcelonaSpain
  4. 4.Télé-Université du QuébecQuebec CityCanada
  5. 5.The Paciello Group (UK) LtdLondonUK
  6. 6.Universitat Pompeu FabraBarcelonaSpain

Personalised recommendations