Engaging Fading Minds

(An approach to serious games based on Mihai Nadin’s ‘Play’s the thing’ http://www.nadin.ws/archives/1732 )

Old age is inevitable. Time flies and we all age. It all lies in making the years count and holding it close to our heart for us to come to terms with our life. “Play’s the thing” by Mihai Nadin brings up the possibility of living the later segment of our lives in a manner that holistically informs us of the value of our experience in society. Nowadays the trend has shifted towards societies dismissing old aged people and boasting about their nation as a “young” nation when in fact the seeds of inspiration are these very beings who have navigated their years into an experiential wisdom.

Our brain can do a lot of wonderful things and as the generation evolves the cognitive possibilities evolve significantly. The reward system in our mind is eccentric as well as responsive at times. We feel happy at things that may seem normal or “out of the blue” to someone else. Games were invented with the whole idea of teasing these rewards systems and making our minds work. The busy subway or train is filled with people solving crossword puzzles or Su-do-ku and this keeps them involved with the social zoo in different ways. By engineering the brain to create and recreate situations we make the “juices” in our minds flow. But do we lead our brains into mindless action at times? It becomes a matter of perspective. Young children and adults cannot afford to be lost into a virtual world of gaming for most part of their lives, simply because it is virtual. The right application of the gaming concept would apply to temporal entertainment which shouldn’t be binged upon. It is invigorating to be involved into the narrative of a game and to solve problems in it. Hence we can cleverly tap into the use of games in the engagement of the mind through motoric, sensational and emotional activity. Serious games can be defined as a form of mental exercise leading to an improvement in physiological, physical, emotional and cognitive performance, and ultimately the total well-being of an ailing or aging living being. It will be primarily applied to the aging population as we all know that anticipatory capabilities decrease with age. However, as we have seen in all kinds of sports like tennis, football or even carom, the anticipation is the key element to success leading to a rewarding experience. As this response or the “ability to receive a pass from a footballer” dies down with age, our brain naturally feels sad that it is not able to keep up with the social intuitive connect between the various players within the game. The aesthetics of the serious game being made for the older beings varies with the normal everyday game in the very aspect that there is a huge change in intuitive, adaptive and physical capabilities. The reward system also differs in the fact that the reward now becomes being able to understand what the brain was supposed to be doing and subconsciously coming to terms with our physical being. It is almost like a reversal of the whole process of conception. When we were born we learnt seeing things, smelling things, feeling things with our fingers and tasting a variety of flavours triggering brain responses. As we progressed with our lives, we developed new memories, thought processes and unique behavioral patterns based on numerous situations or experiences. As we start getting into the later years, we start to get more interested into the existence of our cognitive ability and so our brain starts to question itself and the information exchange reverses partially. Senescence happens when the anticipation degrades considerably with age.  We need to provide the brain with some sensational, motoric or physiological activities for it to understand who it really is.

The visual aesthetics of a video game in the commercial market revolve around richness, depth and details of the virtual environment. However, the aesthetics that play the most important role in serious games for aging are primarily cognitive and physical in nature. With aging, the lens in our eye hardens and leads to disorders such as presbyopia, cataract or glaucoma. So the percentage of old aged people having a totally perfect eyesight is considerably less. The only way to reward the brain is to be as simplistic as possible in the visual medium. Hearing also depletes, but not to an extent that you grow deaf. Sound cues in music are emotionally glued to our minds. With experience, the engrossment increases and there’s a sonic taste that we prefer. The rewarding department of our brain disposes away more genres of music or sound as this taste develops. Catering to this taste is the key.

Primary games that engage the age group between 60-70 are mostly tangible games like pool, poker, playing cards, carom, chess or other indoor games. This is because there is no rigorous physical effort involved. It involves strategy, continuous thought and the affordability of larger reward experiences in shorter time periods. As the phrase goes: “No one is getting any younger”, Time is a factor to be put into consideration! Serious games need to be engaging and concise like a thriller book by James Hadley Chase.

As Mihai Nadin rightly puts it, “many resources are bring used in fighting aging and its effects… but few for attenuating the consequences of the basic aging process”. This brings us into the aspect of room for improvement in anticipation and adaptability. As clearly shown by Ryuto Kawashima in the game- BRAIN AGE, he engaged a large portion of the aging population of the world through simple mathematics, memorizing and counting syllables. It is almost like a study to initiate brain activity and keep the exercise alive. A routine based event adds to the rewards and people are motivated to delay the effects of aging.

Mihai Nadin worked closely with students, medical researchers and neural experts and came up with the “Seneludens” project. The objective was to engage the old people through gaming so as to increase their anticipatory characteristics in both physical and mental aspects. With the help of the AnticipationScope individual movement characteristics could be measured and recorded. This will lead to further development and research into serious games.

Serious games need to be simple approaches to induce the primary functions in the human body and/or mind. An ideal serious game would make the mise-en-scène engaging through the use of primary shapes, fundamental concepts and a specific taste of music in the background.


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