In Japan’s nursing homes which house a huge number of the country’s increasing number of elderly people, one should now not be surprised if you were to hear arcade video game sounds accompanying the laughter and glee of the aged. There are a number of video game companies who now are intentionally targeting Japan’s elderly population, primarily for health reasons.
One of these nursing homes is run by an offshoot of globally famous video game outfit Namco Bandai, makers of 1980s arcade phenomenon Pac-Man. In this particular home, physical arcade games are part of the house entertainment. You will see octogenarian ladies wallop plastic alligators that appear from little holes or wield foam hammers to crush frogs as they pop up. 88-year-old Saburo Sakamoto uses his fingers across a touch screen game to catch “monsters” that appear. “The ladies here are very agile, so it’s almost impossible for me to beat them,” Sakamoto says as he catches his breath and watches the women gamely outscore him in this particular game.
Japan has one of the fastest-aging populations in the world, if not the fastest. “We offer entertainment so that elderly people spend the whole day playing, having fun, and getting really exhausted before returning to their home,” said Yoshiaki Kawamura, President of Kaikaya Ltd., the wholly-owned unit of Namco Bandai Holdings. This new phenomenon is called “rehact” – a contraction of the English words “rehabilitation” and “action” – and Kaikaya is hoping that it will ultimately help the country’s greying population lower down health bills by promoting physical activity. “The scarcity of people who can provide rehab training to elderly people in smaller cities and the cost of it are challenges for ageing Japan,” says Keizo Sato, a physical therapist who lectures at Tohoku Fukushi University. He also believes that the “exergames” can help in reducing the rising medical costs of Japan.