The central theme of our research project is to bolster older people’s confidence in engaging with digital technologies through a meaningful integration into their lives. We are working with a local London, UK running club whose members regularly visit isolated older people in their neighborhoods: checking on their well-being, encouraging social interaction, delivering newspapers and doing other helpful jobs. Our research work supports the relationship between the runners and the older people (coaches).

The relationship between the running group’s member and the older people (coaches) provides a platform for building a gaming experience within the community. The challenge is that the coaches in general do not use digital technology (internet, smartphones,). This limitation provides an opportunity for developing a gameful system that both supports the runner/coach relationship and assists integrating digital technology in an older person’s lifestyle in a meaningful way.

GoodGym is a 3-year-old, non-profit organization that fosters the mutually beneficial pairing of runners, who need be motivated to exercise, with older people (coaches), who would benefit from a weekly visit.

In the GoodGym community the lower hanging fruit is developing gameplay among the runners. They typically have smartphones and engaged in social networks. As runners, they have an interest in improving their running times and desire to compare their progress with the other GoodGym runners.

The coach (older person) and runner relationship is where we have opportunities for exploring integrating gameplay in older person’s everyday life. The coaches typically do not use Internet and consider mobile phones as a device for emergences only. We are starting with a game system that is tested through paper prototypes where the coaches can award badges and express their encouragement to their runner.

Our next iteration is to experiment with developing digital interventions that the coaches can use to communication with their runners, provide encouragement and the runners can share their progress. We hope that by working with the coaches, we will develop a simple, meaningful tools and a playful experience that supports an existing activity will encourage further adoption of digital technology.

CHI 2013 Workshop Papers:


Pollie Barden is a PhD Researcher QMUL's Cognitive Science research group. She is an artist, technologist, and game designer. She has run her games in festivals and presented her art in galleries and museums all over the globe. For nine years, Pollie has been engaging people with disabilities, teens and older people with technology with an aim to increase the opportunities to be involved in the open source community building. She has taught at various universities in US and UK. She co-founded and co-designed snagu, photo scavenger hunt game, that was a 2006 mtvU Digital Incubator Award winner. In 2011, she was one of the six co-founders of G.Hack, a women's technology club, that supports QMUL women in learning and sharing technology skills. With Furtherfield, a technology arts organization in London, UK and Culture Lab at Newcastle University, Newcastle, UK she ran a research project on Telematic Dinner Parties which explored the intersection of distance, food, dinning and games as influences on social presence in technology mediated social events. Her current research is in how gameplay and technology can ease to adoption of digital technology usage for older people.

Current research topic: Connecting Isolated Older People across Distance through Gameplay and Technology

Games have been used as a tool to introduce older people to digital technology. Here we are developing a gameful system to facilitate the social interactions between older people and young adults in an intergeneration community run club. We aim to ease the integration of digital tools through gameplay for older generations. Our research is about both the meaningful integration older people in the digital age and laying the groundwork for our future selves as older people. We hope to be able to learn and share strategizes for game designer, researchers and participants in the development of our emerging gameplay based society. We are designing for our future selves.