Nintendo found that two things had kept seniors from playing video games. First, the games were too complicated to operate. "The other thing was that there really weren't games for these people," Harrison says. That's where the easy to use Wii comes in, he says.
Twenty-four percent of Americans over age 50 played video games in 2007, up from 9 percent in 1999, according to the Entertainment Software Association. People age 55 and older make up less than 10 percent of Nintendo hardware sales. That's a slight increase from about four years ago when the previous generation of game consoles were at their peak, Mr. Harrison says. Seniors have "opened up the aperture of people who previously would've not considered themselves to be gamers," he says.
Nintendo has been bolstering its senior-friendly image, partnering with retirement communities, including Erickson, which has received 15 free Wiis. At the October conference of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging in Orlando, Fla., Nintendo and Erickson had a booth with four plasma TVs and four lanes for bowling. "We were just showcasing how residents in this type of environment could interact with the Wii," says Flora Dierbach, chairwoman of Sedgebrook's entertainment committee and a resident there. The conference drew more than 7,000 people. "We had everybody there at one point or another. It was the busiest booth," she says.
Several times a week Sedgebrook holds Wii bowling nights, which begin after dinner and usually wrap up three hours later – unless the competition gets fierce. Most centers report that bowling is the hands-down favorite of the Wii game system, which also comes with golf, baseball, tennis, and boxing.
"It's very addictive," Ms. Dierbach says. "Once you get your first 200 game, you've just got to keep going."
How to introduce Wii to the retired
Others don't quite have that problem. The Winona Senior Friendship Center in Winona, Mn., purchased the Wii this year with city money but, Malia Storovich, the center's director, says, "A lot of them come in for tai chi or yoga and then go home." She adds, "We think that we're going to have to market it a little more. We might have to do tournaments."