Our society is aging. The United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division [1
] has estimated that the number of older people (aged 60 or over) will grow to more than 2 billion in 2050. Population aging brings many challenges for society, as well as a need for interventions that can improve the mental and physical health, and the social wellbeing of older people.
In recent decades digital devices have become a central part of everyday life [2
], for information retrieval, health and fun. Digital games are a good example of how such devices can be used to enhance the mental and physical health, and the social well-being of all generations [4
]. We know that nowadays older persons make use of the possibility to play digital games (e.g., 26% of all players in the USA is 50+) [6
]. Studies have also shown that intergenerational contact can contribute significantly to realizing the above-mentioned improvements [7
]. Such social interaction, however, must be stimulated, as not only do the generations hold negative age stereotypes about each other, age differences also contribute to a lack of mutual understanding, which may serve to inhibit interactions between the generations [9
]. In line with this, digital games seem promising to foster intergenerational play [10
In this paper, we present the results of a systematic literature review conducted with the aim of obtaining an overview of the knowledge already gained in relation to the benefits of intergenerational digital game-playing practices, i.e., playful digital interaction between participants of different generations (e.g., grandparents and grandchildren), and the factors that need to be taken into consideration when designing games that target players of different generations. Although two literature reviews were recently published by other authors in this relatively young field, both of these addressed different aspects of this practice. Costa and Veloso [11
] performed a review of empirical studies focusing on the potential of intergenerational digital game-playing to enhance intergenerational interactions, while a literature review conducted by Zhang and Kaufman [12
] focused on the ways in which intergenerational digital play can facilitate interactions and learning.
We structured the results of the review into three different sections. In the first section, we provide an overview of the empirical studies included in this review to gain insight into the purposes, methodologies and focus of the most important observations. In the second section, we present a list of the benefits of intergenerational digital games, identified in these studies. Finally, in the third section, we provide a summary of the main factors that need to be taken into consideration when designing intergenerational digital games, according to the results of the empirical studies we reviewed in this paper.
4. Discussion and Conclusions
The main goal of this paper was to identify the benefits of intergenerational digital game-playing practices and the factors that need to be taken into consideration when designing games that target mixed-aged players. To that end, we conducted a systematic literature review that helped us to structure and gain insight into the results of previous studies in relation to this topic, resulting in a theoretical framework that can be useful for the analysis and design of intergenerational digital games.
The results of this systematic literature review were presented in this paper in three different sections. First, we provided an overview of previously conducted empirical studies in the field of intergenerational digital games. The analysis showed that most of the studies conducted in this area were qualitative exploratory studies, involving a limited number of participants. These studies tended to be focused on exploring a specific benefit or effect of intergenerational digital game-playing practices, usually related to their capacity to foster positive intergenerational interaction. The most common methodologies used to achieve this purpose were questionnaires, gameplay observations and interviews. The analysis yielded the interesting insight that studies in which the selected game was specifically designed for scientific purposes focused on a single collaborative game, whereas studies comparing the effects of the use commercial games were generally focused on multiple competitive games. Future empirical studies should consider the possibility of exploring the differences between collaborative and competitive forms of play and their effects on intergenerational interactions.
The included studies showed that the benefits of intergenerational digital games are linked to their capacity to serve as a backdrop for social interaction and to enhance positive interdependence that facilitates social interaction [13
]. According to the results of the analysis, we have identified that playing these games is associated to four benefits associated to this capacity of digital games to facilitate social interaction: (1) reinforcing the family bond and communication, (2) creating opportunities for reciprocal learning, (3) facilitating an understanding of the other generation and (3) reducing social anxiety.
Regarding their capacity to reinforcing family bond, the included studies showed that intergenerational games can generate new conversational topics, promote positive interaction and communication among family member from different generations [24
]. Games can create a shared virtual space, where family members can be updated about the daily life of their relatives through in-game actions that are associated with their real-life activities, which can help to strengthen the family ties [19
Besides this, by creating opportunities for reciprocal learning, is not only a good way to engage players in intergenerational playing sessions by increasing their interest [28
], but it is also an opportunity for players to discover the skills and knowledge of their family members and to learn to value them in a different way [8
Furthermore, by mutual understanding between generations, intergenerational digital games can help to overcome the interference of negative stereotypes when members of two generations try to interact, which usually result in asymmetrical interactions in which older individuals need to put extra effort to ensure interactions [8
]. Mutual understanding can result in positive changes in intergenerational perceptions [15
]. Finally, intergenerational gaming practices can also serve to reduce social anxiousness, especially among older generations, increasing sociability of players that live in situations of social isolation, and experience difficulties when need to initiate social interactions [16
In the last section of this paper we presented the factors that, according to the studies analyzed in the systematic literature review, need to be taken into consideration when designing intergenerational digital games. We saw that these factors could be divided into two different categories: player-centric factors and game-centric factors.
The nature of the interactions between older and younger players, their motivations to play digital games and the differences in abilities were identified as the main player-centric factors to be taken into consideration. The included studies showed that digital games can facilitate a natural intergenerational interaction. This is in line with what previous studies focused on seniors and in children have shown. A study in seniors, for example, showed that enact in a teaching role is a motivational factor for seniors to play digital games, as they can lead to an increase in social connectedness and interaction [32
]. A study in children also showed that collaborative digital games are an interesting tool to foster social interaction [34
Another point to consider is the fact that the type of interaction between individuals of different generations might become an obstacle in achieving the purposes of the game. Negative stereotypes and/or lack of mutual understanding because of the age difference are common problems associated with young-old interactions [27
]. As previously stated, intergenerational digital games can contribute to overcoming these issues by facilitating positive interaction between mixed-age players. However, in this sense, it is important to introduce mechanisms into the game that encourage a mutual exchange of information and/or ideas [3
As far as game-centric factors were concerned, goal-related and space-related forms of interaction seemed to be the most relevant to take into consideration when designing intergenerational digital games. The decision to engage players in collaborative, competitive or cooperative competitive games has relevant implications on the effects of these practices. In addition, virtual or co-locative forms of interaction both seem to be able to foster the benefits of mixed-age individuals playing together. To this end, the study of Loos [35
] is of interest as it identified three possible patterns of motivation shared by younger and older adults and leading them to play digital games: fun and relaxation, escaping reality, and social interaction and connectedness. Older adults who play games for fun, enjoyment and relaxation tend to enjoy strategy games with simple game rules that can be played in short sessions [32
]. This is closely related to the young players’ motivation for playing games, namely diversity and enjoyment [36
]. Furthermore, older adults seem to play games to escape from the reality of, for example, daily life chores or sorrow about the loss of a loved one [32
]. Games that seem to accommodate this kind of motivation best are those with a story and strong imaginative visuals. This escapist gameplay is related to the fantasy and imaginative immersion that motivates younger players to play games [35
Besides this, older players tend to be less competitive and inclined to assume more passive and supportive roles than younger players and they also avoid action and violent games [13
]. Instead, studies among older adults showed that older players especially seem to like communication [36
] and intellectual challenges [32
], In addition, older individuals usually play games because of the social aspects. In particular, when playing with family members, the social aspect is more important than the game itself, prompting older adults to play a game, only because, for example, their children or grandchildren play it, instead of being interested in the game itself [23
]. This, in turn, is associated with the younger players’ interest in playing in the presence of other people [35
Next, the literature review also showed that differences in ability should be taken into account. In line with this, from the perspective of older adults, Loos [35
] identified a series of interface-related limitations for older players, such as difficulties in reading texts in screens and detecting items in the periphery of the screen; problems with using mouse and keyboard controls, selecting and scrolling pages on the screen; and difficulties with speed-related behavior in-game and with hearing. These are important factors to take into account when developing intergenerational games.
Limitations and Suggestions for Further Research
In the current review we focused on digital games because of the increasing interest in the use of these types of games to engage and motivate both generations in intergenerational interactions. We decided to leave outside of this review other game types such as alternate reality games, as they differ from digital games in many aspects. Although alternate reality games also seem promising game types for intergenerational interactions [38
], this was out of the scope of the current review.
A main limitation of the current review is the broad approach of the literature review and the few amount of studies included in it. As intergenerational interactions through digital games is a new field of research, there only a few studies yet on this topic. We therefore decided to keep our focus wide and include all digital game platforms, behaviors and age ranges. This strategy allowed us to get a broad view on the state of the art in the research field of intergenerational digital games. For more specific results on platforms or age ranges, however, more research on this topic needs to be conducted.
We also looked at a different type of studies, including quantitative and qualitative studies with different samples of players. This afforded us a broad overview of the types of benefits associated with intergenerational interactions through digital games and the design factors that need to be taken into consideration. However, to gain more insight into how specific benefits of playing digital games are related to type of game, gender or age of the participant (very young, young, old, very old), additional empirical studies (comparative analyses) that take these factors into account are needed.
The studies in the literature review discussed mainly grandparents-grandchildren interactions. Other intergenerational relationships could also be relevant, but the results of the review show that there seems to be a gap on this topic in current literature. We recommend future research should look further than only grandparents-grandchildren interactions.
In addition, future quantitative studies in which not only more participants, but also a larger variety of games are studied, could contribute to a better understanding of intergenerational digital game practices. Furthermore, the factors that we found were relevant for the design of such games serve as a framework for game designers, to ensure younger and older players can fully enjoy the benefits of playing together.