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Designing Therapeutic Games for Seniors: Case Study of “Le
Village aux Oiseaux”
*S. Mader, *J. Dupire, *S.Natkin, *E. Guardiola
*Centre d'Étude et de Recherche en Informatique et Communications
Conservatoire national des Arts et Métiers
Paris, France ({stephanie.mader, dupire, natkin, emmanuel.guardiola}
In this paper, we describe the method we used to design the therapeutic game called Le
Village aux Oiseaux, a first person shooter aiming to stimulate the attention network of seniors
suffering from the Alzheimer's disease. One of the main issues we had to deal with was how to
adapt games designed for adolescents and young adults, to seniors. A lack of studies and game
design guidelines, as well as a lack of data on what seniors enjoy while playing made this design
more complicated and, thus, interesting to analyse.
Therapeutic game, games design, usability, evaluation, methods, serious game, elderly
1. Introduction
In this paper, we describe the methods used to design Le Village aux Oiseaux, a
therapeutic game targeting seniors suffering from the Alzheimer's disease. Our purpose was to
design a game entertaining and motivating seniors while stimulating at the same time their
attention network – creating a two-fold objective to the design of Le Village aux Oiseaux. Thus,
the usual purpose of a video game (i.e. entertaining the player) had to be adapted to take into
account these therapeutic objectives. However, the lack of data on what seniors enjoy in video
games complicated the design process. We had to build the game according to several
hypotheses relying on our insights and experience and this naturally puts the validity of our
hypotheses into questions. More generally speaking, every therapeutic game designer may be
concerned by this issue, and hopefully our analysis of the methods we used to design Le Village
aux Oiseaux will contribute to the research in this field.
After a short background, we study how the game designers propose their design
hypothesis to create a gameplay being motivating and accessible to seniors while being
stimulating for their attentional network. Then, we present the result of a study we conducted on
18 healthy seniors to validate theses hypothesis. Eventually, we discuss these results and the
transferability of our method.
2. Background
Rehabilitation games, or therapeutic games, belong to Games4Health. They are called
“serious games” and target the health market (Sawyer and Smith, 2008, and Alvarez and Djaouti,
2008). There are several definitions of serious games, but most of them agree that a serious game
is a game with a purpose beyond entertainment (Sawyer and Smith, 2008, Alvarez and Djaouti,
2008, Zyda, 2005, and Djaouti et al, 2007). The two aspects of serious games (i.e. games and
serious purpose) must be balanced to maximise their efficiency.
The game mechanics of therapeutic games are crucial because they create and maintain
the patient's motivation (Benveniste 2010, Kato et al, 2008, Burke et al, 2010, Howell, 2004,
Shultheis and Rizzo, 2001, and Gamberini et al, 2008). Indeed, the most important issue in
therapy is the patient's adherence to the treatment - some patients do not follow it regularly while
others completely drop it (Benveniste 2010, Kato et al, 2008, and Burke et al, 2009). In chemical
treatment (i.e. taking drugs), the issue mainly comes from unpleasant adverse effects of the main
treatment. On the contrary, non-chemical therapies ask patients to do efficient, but boring and
repetitive tasks, causing the patient's motivation to quickly diminish (Burke et al, 2010).
Therapeutic games, by fostering the patient's motivation through game mechanisms, are seen as a
promising solution.
According to different studies on play demographic statistics, many seniors are game
players (e.g. 20% of the 18 millions players of social games in the US) (International Solutions
Group, 2011, and ESA, 2011). Despite being identified as a potential gaming audience, seniors'
interests and expectations about video games are not well-studied, leading to a lack of objective
data and guidelines to design games specifically for them. As stated by Ijsselsteinjn et al, this is
mainly due to the fact that the video game industry does not target seniors, and so does not collect
precise data on them (Ijsselsteinjn et al, 2007). For instance, most analyses of gameplay data
propose numerous age categories for young people while seniors are all in the 50+ category.
Ijsselsteinjn et al state that the existing usability recommendations for this audience are not in
sufficient numbers to design a game. Whitcomb, in his review of studies made on video games
for seniors, found out as well that most of the authors had to develop specific games to conduct
their studies, because existing games were too fast or complex for seniors (Whitcomb, 1990).
3. Designing Le Village aux Oiseaux
Le Village aux Oiseaux is a cognitive rehabilitation game for patients suffering from the
Alzheimer's disease. The therapeutic hypothesis on which the project was founded is that
stimulating the attentional network of the patient may slow down the cognitive decline due to the
disease's progression. In le Village aux Oiseaux, the player takes the role of a photograph on
assignment arriving in a little Provencal town about to be destroyed by a real estate project. The
player will take pictures of birds to prepare a report proving that the village is a nature reserve
and should be protected, leading to the interruption of the real estate project.
The first design decisions were based on a study of Green and Bavelier, who found out
that players of first person shooter games were better at different visual attentional tasks because
the game trained their attention network (Green and Bavelier, 2003). In a later study, Dye, Green,
and Bavelier discovered that players of action games, to which first person shooter games belong,
had improved their attention network, making them faster and more efficient than non-players
(Dye et al, 2009).
Therefore, the gameplay chosen for Le Village aux Oiseaux is the gameplay of first person
shooter game. This implies (i) that the main mechanics of the game is to aim at target on the
Fig. 1: Le Village aux Oiseaux
screen and validating it by pressing on a button at the right time (i.e. while the crosshair is aligned
with the target), and (ii) that the game world is a 3-dimensionals (3D) environment seen through
the eyes of the avatar (i.e. first person perspective). However, first person shooter games are
generally conceived for young male adults or adolescents, which is why this gameplay must be
adapted to be accessible to and engaging for seniors (Ijsselsteinjn et al, 2007).
We formulated different proposals, according to our insights, experience and an analysis
of our purpose. First, we had to simplify the gameplay and the game controls. Indeed, moving
and orienting the avatar in a 3D environment is a difficult task that requires some training. Thus,
we decided to automatize this part of the gameplay, the avatar following a predefined rail,
making the player's experience similar to the one of a roller coaster. It means that the level
designer prepares a rail for the avatar to follow. The rail defines the path of the avatar in the 3D
game world and where it looks. It also defines at which speed the avatar moves, when it stops and
for how long. Therefore, Le Village aux Oiseaux belongs to a sub-category of first person shooter
games called rail shooter.
Our main argument for this adaptation is that moving and orienting the avatar in a 3D
environment is a complex task. It requires strong abilities in spatial orientation and
representation, as well as learning complex control schemes. For example, in most games, the
orientation is made with the left analog stick of a game controller, while the right one is used to
move the character. As seniors are not used to such interaction, their first hours of play would be
a tedious learning of this task. Such situation has to be avoided as it increases the probability of
the player rejecting the game. By having a gameplay focused on the aim mechanic, the game is
accessible to seniors while keeping a 3D environment. Indeed, aiming is mainly a 2D task, the
player's challenge is to position his cursor upon the target's x and y positions (relative to the
Fig. 2: Doom: a first person shooter game
Moreover, rail shooters are primarily played with game controllers like Light Gun, Sony
PSMove, or Nintendo WiiMote, simplifying the control scheme and make the aim more efficient
and intuitive, so quickly enjoyable for the player (Johnson, 2002).
Finally, having a camera on rail gives us a stronger control on the player experience.
Having a complete control over where the player's character is and looks in the game world gives
the possibility of regulating the rhythm of the game to help the player keep his attention focused
on it. It is then possible to prepare more or less difficult game situations, and to include a more
supervised storytelling within the game level. Finally, game parameters such as the character's
speed or the duration of game situations can be changed by an adaptive difficulty system taking
into account the player’s profile (i.e. how well the player is performing).
To sum up, these design decisions have been based on four hypotheses:
Seniors like games in which they have to aim a target and validate it.
Seniors are able to use a game controller similar to a Nintendo Wiimote, because it is
similar to a TV controller (buttons, shaping, action of pointing in the direction of the
Seniors adapt themselves to the use of such controller to point to targets on the screen
Seniors have difficulties to move and orient a character in a 3D environment.
The objective of the experimentation described in the next section is to study the validity of these
four hypotheses.
4. Experimentation
This experimentation is inspired by methods used in the video game industry. Indeed,
while Game Design is not a standard process of defined steps, playtest is a widely used method
(Djaouti et al, 2010). A playtests is a controlled play session of a video game under development,
whose objectives are (i) to obtain data on how players perceive and enjoy the current game
Fig. 3: Ghost Squad
version, (ii) to decide whether or not modifications are necessary, and if so (iii) which
modifications have to be done and in which order of priority. Data are gathered through
questionnaires, interviews, and observations of the player while he is playing. Such a playtest was
realized before we started developing a playable prototype of Le Village aux Oiseaux. Therefore,
we used games having strong similarities to the game we intended to develop (i.e. corresponding
to the design we described above), and conducing this experimentation allowed us to confront our
hypotheses to our targeted audience as soon as possible.
The playtests have been done during summer 2010 in two privately-held retirement homes
with 18 autonomous and healthy seniors. All games used for the experimentation were video
games developed for the Nintendo Wii and have been played using the Wiimote Controller. In
every game, the main interaction was to aim a target on screen and to validate it by pressing a
button. Depending on the game, the validation produce different results: firing, selecting or taking
a picture. Initially, we had 19 participants, but one of them had to give up because he was one-
eyed since his birth and the lack of contrast between the color of the cursor and the environment
of the game made him unable to play. Thus, we excluded this participant from our data. Only one
of the participants had already played on Wii and three had used a PC. Some participants were
curious and came by themselves while the others have been encouraged to participate as they had
no spontaneous desire to play. Each testers played one of the four selected games. Before playing,
each player had time to navigate the menu of the Wii in order to get used to the Wiimote. The
instructions on the game's objectives and controls were provided orally. In the next sections, we
provide for each game a qualitative analysis based on observations of the player's movement and
verbalization, as well as on the post-play interviews. At the end, we also provide a quantitative
analysis based on the post-play interview's questionnaire.
WiiPlay – Shooting Range
WiiPlay – Shooting Range is one of the mini-games included in the game Wii Play
(Nintendo, 2006). In this game, the screen is fixed and the player has to shoot as much targets as
possible in a limited amount of time. The session is composed of five different challenges. First,
the player has to shoot at balloons flying bottom-up, then at fixed targets of different values (see
Fig. 4). In the third challenge, the targets are clay pigeons that are thrown like in hunt standard
shooting exercises. For the fourth challenge, players have to shoot on cans, and in the last
challenge on UFO to protect characters from being kidnapped by aliens. This game provides an
interesting scoring system. For instance, combo mechanisms (i.e. when the player shoots a target,
a timer starts, giving him some time to shoot the next target for more points. If the player
continues the streak, he is awarded more points for each targets) and bonus targets (i.e. ducks
flying through the screen). WiiPlay – Shooting Range has been selected because it was simple
while providing subtle scoring rules.
uring the
d they
had to
shoot the
targets to
win, but
understood the more subtle scoring rules. They did not see the score displayed on screen, during
or at the end of the session. Thus, they had no opportunity to understand how scoring was
calculated. Finally, they all found the game was difficult because its pace was too high. However,
they had the time to play a second session and everyone improved their scores. They all reported
that they enjoyed playing this game.
WiiPlay – Find Mii
WiiPlay – Find Mii is another mini-game of the game WiiPlay. Players have to found one
or more characters in a crowd in a limited amount of time. The screen is fixed and the objective is
written before the challenge starts (but players can display it again by pressing a button). For
instance, objectives can be to find the quicker character, or to find twins. When the player
achieves the objective, he obtains more time and goes to the next level with a new objective and
another game environment (e.g. streets, pool). We selected this game because we wanted to know
if seniors enjoyed picking out a target from a crowd.
Fig. 4: Wii Play - Shooting Range
We observed during the playtest that the written objectives were too quickly displayed, to
be entirely read by the seniors. They were also too confusing. However, each participant stated
that he had enjoyed playing this game. However, some of them warned us that, in their opinion,
this game would quickly become boring. Also, one of our participants interrupted his session
because the time pressure of the game along with the possibility to fail and to be judged by the
game was overwhelming and made him too anxious.
Rayman Raving Rabbids 2
Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 (Ubisoft, 2007) is a game composed of several mini-games,
one of them being a rail-shooter game. Thus, the game character (i.e. Rayman) moves on a
predefined path through a 3D environment while being attacked by Raving Rabbids (i.e. a kind of
virtual rabbit that is very stupid). Rayman is armed with a plunger launcher. The player has to
shoot on the targets before being hit by their plungers. Before shooting, rabbids have a visible
behavior that announces they will shoot, thus the player can anticipate the attack and decide
which rabbids has to be shot in priority. When the player fails to hit a rabbid before shooting, the
rabbid's plunger gets stuck on the screen (as if it was stuck to the character's head), obstructing
the player’s view for a while. With this game, we wanted to observe how seniors react to the on-
rail movement, i.e. if it disturbs them. We also wanted to see if seniors would quickly understand
the interaction with the rabbids.
Fig. 5: Find Mii
One of our participants pointed out that the movements were too fast, in particular
because several elements appear and move during these sequences. The three others were not
disturbed by this aspect. One of them even states it was better to have the character moving
through the game environment. All participants understood the rabbids' behaviour when they hit
them, but none of them noticed that the rabbids were attacking them. They also noticed that the
rabbids were taunting them but did not understood why. Two of them noticed the presence of a
score, but none understood how it was calculated. They also did not understood game subtleties
such as how to deal with UFO providing a cover screen to the rabbids. Finally, the seniors were
not able to understand why the rabbids became invulnerable to their shot and that they had to first
destroy the UFO to reach the rabbid. All of them report they enjoyed playing this game.
Wild Earth: African Safari
Wild Earth: African Safari (Majesco, 2008) is a photo safari game. In this game, the
player can freely move his character through the game environment and can orient the character's
view. He has to explore the environment to complete assigned objectives such as taking a picture
of a giraffe. For our experimentation, we chose a special level. The character is in a copter and
the player can only orient the character's view. To do so, the player has to point the screen's edge,
thus starting the view displacement in the indicated direction (i.e. if the player points the left
border of the screen, the view is moved to the left). When the player points away from the border,
the movement stops and the view stays fixed until the player points again an edge. We selected
this game to validate that orienting the character's view is a difficult task for seniors. This game
was also interesting because its theme was similar to Le Village aux Oiseaux and we wanted to
see if seniors were interested.
Fig. 6: Rayman Raving Rabbids 2
As we thought, controlling the view was really tedious for seniors. However, they all
enjoyed the game, and stated they wanted to play again to improve themselves.
Quantitative analyses
Almost every participant (89%) reported they were entertained or very entertained by the game
they played. None of them stated that they had not been entertained at all. Regarding the Wiimote
controller, 78% of them have reported that they could do what they wanted (easily or perfectly),
and 72% stated they got quickly used to the controller. On the score, 81% assured that beating
their own score was important to very important. Finally, on their performance self-evaluation,
one third had a feeling of failure, while two thirds had a feeling of success.
5. Discussion & Conclusion
First, our study highlights that even if we based our design hypotheses mainly on our
insights and experience, we were able to propose valid hypotheses despite the lack of data on our
targeted audience. However, we insist on the fact that such design hypotheses should be
challenged as soon as possible - for instance, and if possible, through a similar method than the
one we described above. Indeed, it would allow us to continue the design and development of the
project on more solid foundations.
In this case, our experimentation allowed us to validate our 4 hypotheses. First, seniors
can enjoy video games in which they have to aim and validate a target since 89% of our
participants have reported they were entertained by the game they played. Then, seniors can
manipulate a Wiimote (78% of them made what they wanted with the controller), and they can
quickly get used to it (72% reported that they were able to use it quickly or in a short amount of
time). Finally, seniors stated they had difficulties to orient the character's view.
Fig. 7: Wild Earth: African Safari
Otherwise, it is interesting to highlight that seniors were attracted by competition and
wished to improve their score. Thus, proposing a score based on their performance at the end of
the challenge, along with a score based on their effort may be an interesting combination to
please competitive and non-competitive seniors. We also observed that the subtleties (e.g. combo
mechanisms) that were not understood by seniors are part of the standard video game culture.
Indeed, combo mechanisms, bonus targets, behavior to announce an imminent attack, or sequence
that have to be completed in a specific order (i.e. the UFO-rabbid situation) are classical systems
in video games. Players are used to them, they expect to be confronted to them and quickly detect
them, because they understand the visual clues on screen and test different strategies until they
find a winning one. Therefore, video games do not explain these mechanisms in details anymore.
Video game culture is less present in seniors and they tend to get stuck to past winning strategies.
Indeed, seniors do not try another strategy when they have found one that works, even if the
strategy does not work anymore. In the manner of WiiPlay- Shooting Range, Le Village aux
Oiseaux will propose a rich and deep gameplay. However, the game subtleties have to be
understandable for a senior audience and have to be non-obtrusive to the player progression, thus
being a bonus like in WiiPlay – Shooting Range. Lastly, while the theme we choose for Le
Village aux Oiseaux, the little town and the shooting pictures of birds activity seems relevant to
our audience, we think it require more discussion. Indeed, there is a disagreement among game
designers on the relevance of violent video games for serious or entertainment game. In our
knowledge, there is still no study establishing if seniors enjoy violent video games or not. As a
consequence, we intend to do such studies, because we believe that seniors may enjoy violent
video games, and that we need such facts to build a deeper knowledge on seniors' interest in
video games, to be able to design better games for them.
In conclusion, the design method we used for Le Village aux Oiseaux, consisting of letting
game designers formulate their design hypotheses, and then studying the validity of their
hypotheses through experimentation, was efficient. It helped us to overcome the issue due to the
lack of data on our targeted audience and to gather some knowledge on their player profile. For
instance, seniors enjoy video games in which they have to aim and validate a target. Finally, the
Wiimote was a valid controller, seniors have been able to use it quickly and were efficient with it.
Still, it is important to keep the control scheme simple to avoid too complex interactions.
Stéphanie Mader gratefully thanks the SNSF (Swiss National Found for Scientific
Research) for their financial support. Le Village aux Oiseaux has been funded by the DGCIS
from 2009-2011. The project is carried by a consortium of four industrials: Tekneo, Seaside
Agency, SpirOps, Neofactory, and of two research laboratories: French National Institute of
Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and the French National Conservatory of Arts and
Crafts (CNAM). The authors also gratefully thank Maud Sacquet for her help.
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... Shooter en primera persona es una de las variantes de este género en el cual todo el ambiente tridimensional se presenta en pantalla como si fuera la propia visión de la persona. Inspirado en esta variante Mader et al. (32) diseñaron Le Village aux Oiseaux, el cual pertenece a un subgénero llamado rail shooter donde el movimiento de la cámara esta predefinido por el juego. ...
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