Designing Digital Games with & for Home-dwelling Older Adults’
Social Interaction under Sheltering Measures
Way Kiat Bong
and Igal Bronshtein
Department of Computer Science, OsloMet, Oslo Metropolitan University, Pilestredet 35, Oslo, Norway
Independent Researcher, Tel Aviv, Israel
Keywords: Gaming, Social Interactions, User-centered Design, Home-dwelling, Sheltering Measures.
Abstract: Social relationships and participation have been considered essential elements in contributing to a higher
quality of life for older adults. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many home-dwelling older adults have been
reported as having less social interaction. Older adults are one of the groups most vulnerable to COVID-19,
and they have been heavily impacted by the sheltering measures. Previous studies have shown the potential
of digital games in enhancing the social interaction of older adults. However, the research within this field is
still at an early stage. Furthermore, games that were designed before the pandemic might no longer be suitable
for them due to sheltering measures. Therefore, taking into consideration sheltering measures, in this study
we attempt to enhance the social interaction of home-dwelling older adults by designing gaming technologies
with and for them. A user-centered design approach was adopted where 10 older adults were involved
remotely throughout the study, from gathering user requirements to evaluating prototypes in iterations. The
outcomes included an application with three favorite games and a proposed list of design guidelines. The
older adults were positive in using the application. Further study is required to evaluate the impacts on social
interaction among older adults.
Social relationships and participation have been
considered essential elements in older adults’ quality
of life (Bowling, 2009; Bowling et al., 2002). Older
adults having an active social life tend to have a
higher quality of life (Antonucci, 2001; Cohen &
Janicki-Deverts, 2009). Due to the COVID-19
pandemic, older adults who are considered to be in a
vulnerable group have had to shelter themselves
(WHO, 2020). Sheltering measures, such as
lockdown, staying most of the time at home, social
distancing, restricted gatherings and visits, etc., have
resulted in many home-dwelling older adults having
fewer social interactions and have thus led to lower
quality of life.
In the United States, higher depression and
increased levels of loneliness were reported among
older adults in a study examining the impacts of
shelter-in-place orders due to COVID-19 (Krendl &
Perry, 2020). Older adults’ social life and interaction
with others reduced despite their efforts in spending
much more time on digital platforms trying to stay
connected with the people they cared about.
Strategies using information and communication
technologies (ICT) to address loneliness among older
adults have been implemented in countries including
Norway, Portugal and Brazil (Monteiro-Junior et al.,
2020). In these three countries, health professionals
have been using available technological facilities to
deliver mental health support to older adults. Some of
these older adults were home-dwelling, while others
were nursing home residents.
We acknowledge that social interaction on digital
platforms cannot replace physical interaction.
However, digital platforms can contribute to the
social interaction of older adults to some extent.
During the difficult time of the pandemic, social
media, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and
instant messaging applications, such as Facebook
Messenger and WhatsApp, have been used
Bong, W. and Bronshtein, I.
Designing Digital Games with for Home-dwelling Older Adults’ Social Interaction under Sheltering Measures.
DOI: 10.5220/0010467900570068
In Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies for Ageing Well and e-Health (ICT4AWE 2021), pages 57-68
ISBN: 978-989-758-506-7
2021 by SCITEPRESS Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved
increasingly by older adults for social interaction
(Krendl & Perry, 2020; Monteiro-Junior et al., 2020).
In Brazil, a psychology team has been providing
mental health support through video calling on
WhatsApp, while populations in Norway have been
encouraged to have more contact with older family
members and friends via telephone or video calls.
Another alternative for digital social interaction is
playing digital games. Playing digital games is a form
of social interaction where two or more older adults,
or one older adult with some other people (children,
grandchildren, other online players, etc.), play a game
on a digital platform together. Doppler et al. (2018)
developed BRELOMATE, a television- and tablet-
based gaming technology that aimed to promote user
engagement and social interaction among older
adults. Although almost half of the participants had
previously used neither a tablet nor an interactive
television, BRELOMATE was perceived as easy and
fun to use. A personal reminder information and
social management (PRISM) computer system was
developed and introduced to older adults with the
primary aim of reducing social isolation (Boot et al.,
2018). The PRISM system consisted of 11 single-
player video games (Chinese Checkers, Crossword,
Droplets, Gem Swap, Memory (matching pairs), My
Jong (a variant of Mahjong), Solitaire, Sudoku,
Tetris, Poker and Word Search). In this study, 150
older adults were assessed in terms of their gaming
behavior over an entire year. A clear favorite in game
preference was identified (i.e., Solitaire), and the
potential for digital games to keep older adults active
was observed.
The research literature has shown that playing
digital games can contribute to improving older
adults’ well-being, but the research is still at an early
stage (Rienzo & Cubillos, 2020). In addition, there is
a clear knowledge gap where digital games that were
designed pre-pandemic may not be suitable in
meeting the special needs of older adults playing
digital games due to the sheltering measures under the
pandemic (e.g., digital games having only a single-
player mode, digital games requiring other players to
be physically together, digital games being difficult
to understand without guidance and assistance given
in person, etc.).
In this study, we attempt to enhance the social
interaction of home-dwelling older adults by
designing gaming technologies with and for them.
The study focuses on home-dwelling older adults
living in Norway, and the game design relates to
measures practiced under the COVID-19 pandemic
restrictions to protect oneself and vulnerable older
We adopt a user-centered design approach (Karat,
1996), which emphasizes involving potential users
throughout an iterative system design and
development process. Several studies have shown
great success by using a user-centered design
approach in designing digital games for older adults
and delivering outcomes that fulfilled their
expectations and needs (Doppler et al., 2018;
Doroudian et al., 2020; Sauvé & Kaufman, 2019). By
involving older adults throughout the whole process,
we intended to gather the user requirements of older
adults in playing digital games and design digital
games that suit their preferences and needs, with a
focus on enhancing their social interaction in a
distance setting.
Participants were recruited using convenience
sampling (i.e., they were selected to participate
because they were easily accessible (Sedgwick,
2013). The inclusion criteria were being aged 70
years or over, being a retiree and being home-
dwelling. All activities were conducted remotely (i.e.,
phone calls and online interviews using Skype, Zoom
and Google Meet). The participants were first briefed
about the project and then presented with the consent
form. Their consent was given prior to participating
in the study.
At the beginning of the study, the participants
were asked about their demographic background. For
ICT skills, they had to rate themselves on a scale from
1 to 10, where 1 is very bad and 10 is very good. In
addition, they were asked about their experiences and
attitudes to games in general (board games, cards,
etc.) and digital games. Examples of questions were:
“What is your experience in terms of playing games?
(from a child, an adult to now as an older adult)?”,
“Who do you usually play these games with?”, “Can
you tell us your positive and/or negative experience
in terms of playing games?” and “Has the pandemic
affected your social and/or gaming activities?”
We conducted a total of four iterations of design,
development and evaluation. During the iterative
process, the first and second iterations’ prototypes
(i.e., wireframes) were created using Figma (a design
tool for designing and prototyping user interfaces).
The code was written in JavaScript. The wireframes
were then further developed into a high-fidelity
prototype and hosted on a domain site for the third
and fourth iterations. For evaluation, semi-structured
interviews together with some testing tasks were
conducted with three to four participants in each
iteration. The prototype that was developed in each
iteration was presented to the participants, and they
ICT4AWE 2021 - 7th International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies for Ageing Well and e-Health
were asked to use it. Participants were requested to
share a screen if necessary.
Questions such as “What do you think about/
understand from this design?”, “What do you think of
the game option here?”, “What do you think of the
option to customize the game?”, etc. were asked to
obtain their feedback. Follow-up questions were
asked to gain more insight from the participants when
necessary. Besides getting clarification from the
participants regarding their feedback about the
prototype, we asked follow-up questions that could
relate their feedback about the prototype to their
experiences and attitudes in playing digital games.
Based on the participants’ feedback, we made
necessary improvements and developed new features
in the next iteration. At the end of each interview
session in the second, third and fourth iterations, we
also asked for the participants’ opinions about playing
digital games to see if their attitudes had changed
after trying out the prototype.
3.1 Participants
Table 1 summarizes the demographic data of the
participants. Some participants were invited to
participate in more than one iteration. When asking
about experiences in playing games in general (digital
and non-digital), seven participants stated that they
had never played any digital games. P6, P7 and P8
had experience in playing digital games but in
different ways. P6 used to play games on her
daughter’s computer but stopped playing when her
daughter moved out to study in another city. Due to
her interest in ICT, P7 had been playing digital games
with her grandchildren. As one of the youngest
participants, P8 had been active on social media and
had been playing games on Facebook for some time.
One interesting finding is that P1 misunderstood
the term “digital games.” P1 claimed that he never
really learned ICT as he did not use it in his work
before retirement. However, as the interview
progressed, we found out that he had been playing
Solitaire on his mobile phone. We clarified with him
at the end of the interview regarding this. When asked
about experiences in playing digital games, he was
thinking about computer games and video games that
younger adults were playing, such as World of
Warcraft, Counter-Strike and Dota.
The scoring system in Solitaire was one of the
motivating factors for P1 in playing it. He played
Solitaire very often: I play whenever I can, as long
as I am not eating, making food, doing housework or
watching something on television! Another reason
he loved playing Solitaire was because it was a game
that he played a lot during his childhood. He
continued playing it on a computer 12 years ago when
he was introduced to it. He then switched from
playing it on his computer to playing it on his mobile
Similar to P1, many other participants had also
played Solitaire when they were children; however,
they stopped playing card games as they grew up. P2
claimed that he never really had an interest in any
games (both digital and non-digital) due to not having
any children and living alone all the time. P3 and P9
used to play board games and cards with their
grandchildren when they visited; however, both
families had to put this tradition on hold due to the
pandemic sheltering measures. P4, on the other hand,
did not have this problem as one of her sons and her
son’s children were living next door. In Norway,
children, grandchildren and grandparents were
allowed to visit each other during the pandemic, as
long as they established a “close contact” relationship
(i.e., these are the people they spent most of their time
with physically and/or lived in the same household).
P1 enjoyed playing board games ever since he
was young. He even took pictures of his board game
collection and showed them to us during the
interview. Before the pandemic, he had friends
visiting and playing these board games with him from
time to time. However, this was out of the question
considering his health condition and other sheltering
measures. His all-time favorite board game was
Chinese Checkers, because he could play it with
several players. Besides Chinese Checkers, he also
enjoyed playing billiards, Ludo and other board
games. These were the same games most of the
participants grew up playing. In addition to the games
mentioned above, Sudoku was reported as another
popular game as it could be easily found in
newspapers and magazines.
When the idea of playing board games online was
presented, P1, P3 and P9 were excited about the idea.
P1 had always played Solitaire alone and played
board games with other friends physically together.
Therefore, he had never considered the possibility of
playing games online with other people. The children
of P3 had been trying to encourage her to use ICT
more, but she was never really interested. They
bought her an iPad as a present and wanted her to
have more social interaction using ICT. Considering
the sheltering measures now, she thought the idea of
playing games online could be ideal.
Designing Digital Games with for Home-dwelling Older Adults’ Social Interaction under Sheltering Measures
Similarly, P9 has been having less contact with
her grandchildren due to the sheltering measures and,
therefore, she felt that playing digital games with her
grandchildren could be a good solution. Other
participants, such as P2 and P10, did not show any
excitement, but they commented that it would be
great for older adults who liked playing games and/or
had grandchildren. P7 and P8, who had been playing
digital games for a while, were not particularly
excited. However, they were interested in the type of
game that would be introduced to them.
Table 1: Demographic information of all participants.
Age Gender ICT
(1 to 10)
Marital status Number of
children and
in iteration
Ever played
digital games
P1 74 M 2 11 Photographer Married 2 children, no
1, 2, 3 No**
P2 76 M 6 13 Ship broker Single None 1 No
P3 82 F 5 11 Housewife Widowed 2 children, 5
1 No
P4 71 F 2 11 Flower shop
Widowed 2 children, 6
1 No
P5 70 M 8 13 Worked with
ICT and
Single None 2 No
P6 79 F 4 10 Housewife Widowed 2 children, 1
2 Yes
P7 78 F 7 14 Healthcare Widowed 3 children, 5
3 Yes
P8 70 M 7 12 Road worker In a
None 3, 4 Yes
P9 79 F 6 10 Housewife Widowed 4 children, 10
4 No
P10 79 M 6 12 Truck driver In a
3 children, 7
4 No
*All participants were retirees.
**P1 answered “no” when asked. However, later in the interview, it was discovered that he had been playing digital
ICT4AWE 2021 - 7th International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies for Ageing Well and e-Health
3.2 First Iteration
The prototype produced in this iteration contained a
wireframe with a jigsaw puzzle game with options to
customize the picture of the puzzle, the background
color and the number of pieces in the puzzle (Figure
1). The first page was designed to invite the
participant to create their own puzzle, and the
remaining pages included features to customize the
puzzle game. This prototype was developed prior to
conducting interviews with the participants, and thus
the chosen game did not reflect the older adults’ game
Figure 1: First iteration’s wireframe (A) Introductory page,
(B) Customization page to choose the number of pieces in
the puzzle.
In this iteration, P1, P2, P3 and P4 were invited to
participate. All four of them did not understand that
the wireframe showed a puzzle game. We
acknowledged that the interface itself did not explain
much about the game (Figure 1A), in that it only
stated, “Design digital game on an app (application).”
P2, P3 and P4 managed to figure out that it was a
puzzle game after receiving some hints, while we had
to inform P1 explicitly. P1 expressed that he had only
played puzzle games when he was a child and,
therefore, was not so familiar with them.
In terms of customizing games, none of the
participants had considered this possibility. P1 had
difficulty understanding the customization feature,
while the others managed to complete the
customization using the available tools. When the
wireframe was presented to P1 (from the introductory
page to the customization page to choose the number
of pieces in the puzzle), he immediately commented
that he did not understand without even trying: It
was too complicated. I did not understand a thing
here. P2 commented that customization could be
useful in many ways, such as choosing the preferred
music for a game, while P3 stated that: “It can be
great for new beginner like me, to first start with easy
(game difficulty) level, and so on …”
3.3 Second Iteration
Figure 2: Second iteration’s wireframe (A) Introductory
page, (B) Customization page to choose the background
color of the game.
The wireframe in this iteration started with an
introductory page where players were asked to choose
a game from a selection of three (Figure 2A). Three
favorite games of older adults were identified from
the interviews and incorporated into the application
(Chinese Checkers, Solitaire and Sudoku). After
choosing a game, the users were then able to
customize their own game. In addition, we created
additional wireframes to demonstrate to the
participants and gather their feedback about the
possibilities for other customizations. For instance, to
choose a picture for the background instead of a solid
color, to choose from more than two color choices
and to choose an option for video and/or audio calls.
Solitaire and Sudoku were not developed further at
this stage. We decided to focus only on the design,
development and evaluation of Chinese Checkers,
since it would require too much time and effort to
have the participants involved throughout the
development process with three games remotely.
P1, P5 and P6 participated in this iteration’s
evaluation. Instructions in the wireframe were
perceived as easy to understand by all of them, and
they appreciated the customization feature. Although
they managed to complete customizing their own
game, we observed that the participants were missing
a feature where they could get a preview look of the
selection before confirming their choice: Perhaps an
OK button could help? I want to see what the
selection looks like first, compare the choices, then
move to the next …,” said P5.
Both P5 and P6 commented that the black color
for the background of the game was a bit too
“extreme” (Figures 2B and 3B). P1, who was a
proficient player of Chinese Checkers, pointed out
that the wireframe could be improved by having a
page to ask the number of players, instead of having
two players by default, or limiting the game to having
only two players. As illustrated in Figure 3A, the
Designing Digital Games with for Home-dwelling Older Adults’ Social Interaction under Sheltering Measures
players were asked to choose a set of pieces, which
indicated only a two-player game.
Figure 3: Second iteration’s wireframe (A) Customization
page to choose a set of pieces, (B) Last page indicating
game is ready.
In terms of additional customization, all the
participants had different ideas of choosing a picture
instead of a solid color for the background and being
provided with two, four or more colors to choose
from. One thing that all of them agreed on was to have
the option for video and/or audio calls. P1 preferred
to have a solid color for the background, while P5 and
P6 thought the option of choosing a picture as the
background was good as long as the players were
provided with set options and did not have to find
their own pictures. P5 informed us of his experience
in finding the right pictures from his tablet and mobile
phone to send to friends and family; he always found
it challenging browsing the thumbnails. Options of
choosing a color should be restricted to four,
according to P5, two was good enough for P1 and P6,
while more than four color options appeared to be
overbearing for all of them.
The participants stated they would love the ability
to talk to the other player(s) as it could offer the
possibilities for more active social interaction. If they
felt comfortable showing their video to the other
player(s), then they could also choose to turn on
video. Yes, I would like to talk to the person I am
playing with, either she is my granddaughter or a
friend who I already knew. If she is a new friend, and
after playing the game for a while with her, maybe I
want to know how she looks like …,” expressed P6.
When asked their opinions about playing the
digital games after presenting the prototype, P1 was
particularly excited and wanted to try out the final
version. P5 and P6 appeared more convinced that
playing digital games could be suitable for them.
They would like to play digital games with others if
they were asked to.
3.4 Third Iteration
Figure 4 displays the prototype in this iteration. This
was a high-fidelity prototype, where the Chinese
Checkers game was developed with moveable pieces.
The application was named Spill Sammen,which
means Play Together. There were two symbolic
buttons on the top left corner (a square and a round
button). They represented starting a new game and the
turn of players who shall move their piece,
respectively. The square button usually represents
stop or start a new game, while the round button refers
to the game in progress. The players could move their
pieces by first clicking the piece they wanted to move;
this piece would then be colored yellow in the middle
(refer to the red piece with a yellow dot in Figure 4).
The players could then click on the hole where they
wanted to move and place the “yellow-dotted” piece.
Figure 4: Third iteration’s application.
The participants in this iteration were asked to use
a tablet or mobile phone to evaluate the prototype so
that they could have a more genuine feeling of using
the application on a mobile device. P1 used his
mobile phone, while P7 and P8 used a Samsung
tablet. In order to test if the design was intuitive and
easy to understand, we did not brief the participants
on how to play the game. Instead, we only asked them
to try playing the Chinese Checkers game while they
were performing the testing tasks with us.
All participants managed to move the pieces and
play the game. A few usability issues were identified
during testing. First, by coincidence (since the players
could customize and choose a set of pieces), the
choice of pieces’ colors could be identical to the
colors of the buttons of “Start a new game” and
“Player’s turn.” As shown in Figure 4, both blue and
red colors of buttons and pieces were identical. Such
a situation confused the players. In addition, P1 and
P7 suggested moving the positions of these buttons.
ICT4AWE 2021 - 7th International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies for Ageing Well and e-Health
These two buttons should not be placed too close to
each other, and the “Player’s turn” button should be
placed in between the players.
The symbolic buttons were perceived differently
by the participants. P8 was used to playing digital
games and, therefore, he understood the button “Start
a new game,” while P1 and P7 needed some time to
figure this out. All of them understood what the round
button meant, as they noticed the change of the round
button’s color when they moved their pieces. Despite
being able to play the Chinese Checkers on Spill
Sammen, the participants advised us to add more text
for explanation. For example, the players could be
informed with text instruction when it was their turn
to move a piece.
P1 felt that the Chinese Checkers game was not
suitable to play using his mobile phone. Due to the
screen size, it was challenging to perform the touch
gestures to move the pieces. On the other hand, P7
and P8, who were playing the Chinese Checkers game
on their tablets, did not face this problem.
After their completion in testing the application,
we asked them about their opinions of playing the
digital game. Similar to the second iteration, P1
expressed that he could not wait to use the final
version of the application when it was fully
developed. P7 was more convinced than before, while
P8’s reaction was simply neutral as he was already an
experienced online gamer. He, however, expressed
that this study could help many other older adults who
were new to playing digital games: “Many of my
friends did not even want to hear me talking about
digital games. But this approach (referring to
choosing games that were already familiar to older
adults) and simple design could perhaps make digital
games more attractive to them!
3.5 Fourth Iteration
Figure 5: Fourth iteration’s application.
The Chinese Checkers in this iteration was improved
mostly in instructions and colors. As illustrated in
Figure 5, we added textual instructions, such as
“Player 2, your turn now (Spiller 2, din tur nå),
“Finish movement (Ferdig trekk)and “Start a new
game (Start et nytt spill).The color of the “Start a
new game” button was changed so that it had a
different color from other buttons. However, we kept
the colors of the “Finish movement” button the same
as the colors of the pieces. The colors of this button
reflected whose turn it was to make a move.
P8, P9 and P10 were invited to participate in this
iteration. P8 was testing Spill Sammen on his mobile
phone, while P9 and P10 were using tablets. We
asked them to move their pieces and play the game
with us. All three participants managed to play the
Chinese Checkers game without any problem. After
performing the testing task, all participants mentioned
that they were positive about playing the digital game.
P9 expressed her willingness to use Spill Sammen
with her grandchildren. The second wave of the
pandemic was taking place when this evaluation was
conducted; sheltering measures were even stricter
than before and, therefore, she could neither visit nor
be visited by all of her grandchildren. P8 and P10
were happy to see the design and development of Spill
Sammen. They commented that it would benefit older
adults who had to be sheltered at home during the
pandemic as well as in the winter when it could be
cold and slippery outside for many older adults.
The four iterations of the user-centered design
approach included 10 older adults in the process of
designing, developing and evaluating the prototypes.
Most of the participants were positive about playing
the digital games, especially when their social lives
were restricted due to the COVID-19 sheltering
measures. Through their user involvement, we
received constructive feedback in designing digital
games for home-dwelling older adults. In addition,
we reflected and discussed the research process using
a user-centered design approach where all activities
involving them had to be conducted remotely.
4.1 Design Guidelines
Prior studies have gathered their findings in designing
digital games with and/or for older adults and
presented them as design considerations (Al Mahmud
et al., 2012; Boot et al., 2018; Ijsselsteijn et al., 2007;
Marston, 2013)
.Using the findings from this study,
Designing Digital Games with for Home-dwelling Older Adults’ Social Interaction under Sheltering Measures
we present a list of design guidelines where the game
technologies were targeted to enhance older adults’
social interaction under sheltering measures. The
guidelines are presented in Box 1 and discussed
Box 1: Design guidelines.
1. Use text and images that are easy for older adults
to understand.
2. Create an easy introduction to start the game.
3. Provide games that older adults can relate to.
4. Offer more than one game.
5. Propose a gaming mode that requires more than
one player.
6. Include options for text chat, audio and video
7. Allow players to customize the game (speed, color,
difficulty level, etc.).
8. Ensure the players are well-informed.
9. Maximize the playable and touchable area to assist
older adults’ touch gestures.
10. Keep older adults motivated.
1. In this study, the participants indicated their
appreciation regarding simple instructions, both in the
form of text and images. In the third iteration, the
design of Chinese Checkers was based on other
existing digital games: a square symbolic button to
stop and start a new game and a round symbolic
button for the game in progress. However, there was
room for improvement. Despite being able to play the
game, all participants that evaluated the prototype
expressed their wishes to have more text for clearer
instructions. In the next iteration, we put more text for
instructions as recommended by the participants.
Words such asPlayer 1, you may start,Player 2,
your turn now” and “Start a new game” were added
(Figure 5). These results further support the design of
Foukarakis et al. (2011) in an adaptable card game,
when they used clear, simple text and images to cue
the older players whose turn it was to play or to clarify
what action was required.
2. In the first iteration, when the prototype was
presented to the participants, all participants had
problems understanding the prototype. Although they
had experiences playing puzzle games, the design
appeared unclear to them and therefore they needed
help to figure out what it was. P1 was immediately
skeptical when he was presented with a design that he
found difficult to understand, and he was not
interested in trying further. We therefore suggest
making the design easy to understand, especially on
the very first introductory page of the games. This
kind of approach is more crucial when the games are
introduced to older adults who have little or no
experience in playing digital games, which is
consistent with the findings of Zhang et al. (2017),
who recommended providing clear guidance in
helping older players to better understand the purpose
of the game.
3. Solitaire was reported as the most preferred
game among 150 older adults in Boot et al. (2018)’s
study, and the current study supports their findings.
According to the participants, Solitaire was one of the
common card games played during their childhood.
When P1 found out that Solitaire was available on
desktop computers and mobile phones, he chose to
play it on these devices as well. Boot et al. (2018)
reflected on the popularity of Solitaire being due to
the game’s familiarity, its shallow learning curve and
its inclusion of familiar materials (i.e., cards). These
factors could motivate older adults to play digital
games (Cota & Ishitani, 2015), and we discuss more
about these factors in the last guideline.
4. To ensure that different preferences of diverse
older adults can be met, it is essential to offer them
more than just one game. In this study, our prototype
offered three games (i.e., Chinese Checkers, Solitaire
and Sudoku). They were identified based on the
participants’ experiences in playing games. Most
participants grew up playing the former two, while
Sudoku was commonly provided in newspapers and
magazines. PRISM games offered older players 11
games (Boot et al., 2018). While Solitaire was
reported as the most preferred, other games were
almost equally liked by the players. Zhang et al. (2017)
identified the diverse preferences of older adults
when it came to puzzles; some preferred word puzzles,
while others enjoyed sorting or math puzzles more.
5. In order to foster social interaction among older
adults while playing games, we propose to design
games that require more than one player. Some
participants in this study were excited about the idea
of digital games, as it can be an alternative to physical
board games and/or cards that they used to play with
their grandchildren and visitors before the pandemic.
In addition, instead of simply playing or beating the
game, older players in Doroudian et al. (2020)’s study
were reported to enjoy more the collaborative nature
of a game. This is in accord with our findings, where
most of the participants expressed that they would
appreciate the social interaction aspect in gaming
more than just completing a task or gaining high
scores. P1 and P3 wanted to play digital games so that
they could spend time socializing with others as they
were used to doing before the pandemic.
Games such as Sudoku and Solitaire, which are
usually played in single-player mode, can also be
ICT4AWE 2021 - 7th International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies for Ageing Well and e-Health
modified so that they can be played by more than one
player. This modification can be interpreted as a new
rule or method to play the game, which can appear
exciting to older adults. Mubin et al. (2008) pointed
out the potential of having a new add-on to existing
games for older adults so that they could have a better
player experience.
6. As the games require more than one player, and
the games are targeted to enhance social interaction
among older players, it is recommended to include the
options for text chat, audio and video functionality.
These functionalities can be embedded into the
gaming technologies, both in the game itself and
outside of the game interface, to foster more social
interaction between older players. Doroudian et al.
(2020) reported that the participants had a good time
chatting with each other during and after the game
sessions. While designing a multiplayer online escape
game for older adults, Zhang et al. (2017) observed
that the communications among players were not well
organized and, therefore, recommended providing a
chat and/or video function.
7. Offering customizable fonts or icons can
provide a more satisfying player experience for older
adults, according to previous studies (Al Mahmud et
al., 2012; Doroudian et al., 2020; Mubin et al., 2008)
and a review by Rienzo and Cubillos (2020) in
playability and player experience in digital games for
older adults. Building on this finding, we started the
first iteration with a prototype that incorporated a
customization feature. While the participants in this
study appreciated the customization feature, it should
nonetheless not burden them. In the second iteration,
the participants expressed their concerns when the
customization offered too many options and/or
required them todo a lot. P5 liked the idea of
choosing a picture as the background of the game, but
it should not require him to select his own picture.
8. One of the usability heuristics for the user
interface design by Nielsen (1995) is the visibility of
system status, which emphasizes that the design
should always keep users informed about what is
going on, through appropriate feedback within a
reasonable amount of time.Older adults playing a
multiplayer online escape game were reported as
needing clear instructions and feedback from the
gameplay (Zhang et al., 2017). Similarly, the
participants in the current study appreciated very
much when they were well informed about the game
status when using the application, for instance,
feedback of whose turn it was to move a piece when
playing the game, an introductory page to select a
game between Solitaire, Sudoku and Chinese
Checkers, and so forth. When performing
customization, a preview feature and “OK” button
could help in clarifying to the older adults concerning
the status of the application and their selection, as
pointed out in the second iteration.
9. Due to weaker muscle control, some older
adults struggle with performing touch gestures (Iancu
& Iancu, 2020). We observed that the touch gesture
required to move the pieces in the Chinese Checkers
game was difficult for P1, as he was using his mobile
phone and it was a much smaller screen as compared
to a tablet device. In order to address this issue, we
recommend providing another layout for mobile
phone players. The empty spaces around the
Checkers board (Figure 4) could be removed to make
the playable and clickable area bigger for the mobile
phone version. Another approach is to suggest that
players use a tablet device for this particular kind of
10. All in all, the design of digital games should
keep older adults motivated while playing them.
Several studies have proposed factors in keeping
older players motivated, which include all the above-
mentioned design guidelines. In addition, participants
in Doroudian et al. (2020)’s study expressed that they
would play the game again if they encountered new
things every time they played. A review by Cota and
Ishitani (2015) pointed out other factors such as
familiarity and ease of learning for the games. Older
adults gained familiarity via playing the games when
they were younger. Ease of learning can be related to
the level of complexity; older adults tend to enjoy
easier games that do not require much of their mental
effort. The findings of this study are in line with those
of previous studies, especially when the older adults
were either new or inexperienced in playing digital
Rewards can be a form of motivation as well.
Both Cota and Ishitani (2015) and Zhang et al. (2017)
suggested rewards, such as unlocking stages, offering
players higher and/or further levels and giving more
information. Rewards to help older adults solve
puzzles could make digital games appear more
attractive to them, thus motivating them further in
4.2 Remote User-centered Design
Before the pandemic, research activities using user-
centered design could be conducted face-to-face (Al
Mahmud et al., 2012; Doppler et al., 2018; Doroudian
et al., 2020; Sauvé & Kaufman, 2019). In this study,
all interviews and evaluations had to be conducted via
phone calls or online meeting platforms such as
Skype, Zoom and Google Meet. While performing
Designing Digital Games with for Home-dwelling Older Adults’ Social Interaction under Sheltering Measures
the evaluation, participants were requested to share a
screen if necessary. Challenges occurred when the
participants were not familiar with these platforms.
When the participants had an extra device (such as a
tablet or laptop) at home, they preferred to first talk
over the phone to be guided through the process.
Once they had learned how to use the online meeting
platform, they felt comfortable and confident in using
it for the rest of conversations and performing the
We noticed that some of the participants had low
self-confidence in using ICT tools (e.g., P1 and P4).
Although we did not meet them in person, from our
observations on how they managed to use a mobile
phone, tablet or laptop, we can conclude that they had
rated themselves too low in terms of their ICT skills.
A possible explanation for this might be that they had
rarely used ICT previously in their work. A similar
trend was observed when the other participants
performed the testing tasks. At first, they were
uncertain if they could perform the gaming tasks.
However, with guidance and encouragement, most of
the participants managed to complete the tasks; they
were surprised and excited with this outcome!
This finding suggests that older adults need
encouragement, both when designing ICT for them
and while designing ICT with them. We have
reflected upon this as a design guideline in the
previous section, and providing older adults with
encouragement is even more important when all
research activities involving them had to be
conducted remotely. In addition, we would like to
highlight the importance of giving regular breaks to
older adults while conducting remote research with
them. For some cases, we needed to break the
interview and testing into a few sessions to ensure that
they were not worn out.
All in all, in spite of the challenges in using a user-
centered design approach in this study, the outcomes
yielded positive feedback from the participants. Most
of the participants’ attitudes toward digital games
have changed to more positive after witnessing that
digital games could be easy to learn and understand,
and the design was made to suit their desires. P1, who
had been involved in the most iterations, commented,
I never thought that I could do something like this
(referring to playing the Chinese Checkers game
digitally on his tablet with us). Yes, just let me know
when I can play it with my friends!
4.3 Limitations
The major limitations of this study are its recruitment
method (i.e., convenience sampling) and the small
number of participants. Convenience sampling
cannot constitute probability sampling/random
sampling, which involves some form of random
selection of the population members (Sedgwick,
2013). It should, therefore, be noted that the
participants in this study are not representative of the
older generation in Norway.
We acknowledge that the number of participants
was small, and it was challenging to recruit
participants with greater variation in terms of
demographic characteristics. Older adults are a
diverse user group. As pointed out by Al Mahmud et
al. (2012) in their reflection of designing games with
and for older adults, 65 years old is not equal to 80
years old. In this study, the age of participants ranged
from 70 to 82, with an average age of 75.8. We had
some challenges in recruiting older adults above 80
years old. A few older adults above 80 years old that
we approached appeared skeptical when we briefed
them about the project, or when they were presented
with the consent form where the project was
described in detail.
Another limitation is that we have yet to evaluate
the participants’ social interaction, despite the fact
that the aim of the study was to enhance the social
interaction of home-dwelling older adults. Due to the
sheltering measures and restricted resources, the user-
centered design process took a longer time and more
effort. Time and effort were spent on setting up the
remote backdrop, in addition to actual data collection.
This was also the reason why the participants were
asked to rate their own ICT skills, instead of other
methodologies, such as using a questionnaire.
Therefore, we suggest evaluating the social
interaction aspect as part of future research.
This paper has demonstrated a four-iteration user-
centered design study that aimed to enhance the social
interaction of home-dwelling older adults living in
Norway by designing gaming technologies with and
for them. Both the game design and the research
process reflected the sheltering measures practiced
under the current COVID-19 pandemic in Norway to
protect oneself and vulnerable older adults (i.e.,
staying at home most of the time with restricted home
visits). All research activities involving the 10 older
participants had to be conducted remotely, and the
game technologies were designed for social
interaction at a distance.
ICT4AWE 2021 - 7th International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies for Ageing Well and e-Health
Through the research process, we produced an
application, Spill Sammen, with three favorite games
of older adults (Chinese Checkers, Solitaire and
Sudoku). Only the Chinese Checkers was fully
developed at the time of writing. We reflected on the
findings and proposed a list of design guidelines for
designing digital games for older adults. The older
adults were positive in using the application and
would like to use it to play games with other players.
Further research will include continuing to
develop Spill Sammen and implementing features
such as providing text, audio and/or video
functionality. We would like to improve the prototype
and use it to conduct focus group interviews remotely
(i.e., two or more older adults can be online together
and play a game). In addition, we shall evaluate the
impact of home-dwelling older adults playing digital
games in relation to their social interaction. We have
yet to explore the ways home-dwelling older adults
could use Spill Sammen by themselves and the impact
of this in relation to their social interaction.
In addition, we will explore gaming technologies
focusing on intergenerational play, where the user-
centered design approach is extended to include
children and grandchildren as end users. Previous
studies have demonstrated promising results of
playing intergenerational digital games (De la Hera et
al., 2017; Li et al., 2019; Loos et al., 2019). Some
participants in this study who had grandchildren
expressed their interest in playing Spill Sammen with
their grandchildren. Last but not least, such digital
games need not be limited to home-dwelling older
adults, but they can also benefit older adults living in
nursing homes.
We would like to thank all participants for their
enthusiastic participation despite the sheltering
measures and the fact that all activities had to be
conducted remotely.
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