Video game makers target Japan’s silver generation

Updated 23 April 2014
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Video game makers target Japan’s silver generation

At a nursing home in suburban Tokyo, 88-year-old Saburo Sakamoto darts his fingers energetically to catch characters that appear on a touch screen in front of him.
Peals of laughter erupt from the other side of the room full of octogenarians as they wallop plastic alligators that appear from little holes or wield foam hammers to crush frogs as they pop up.
“The ladies here are very agile, so it’s almost impossible for me to beat them,” says Sakamoto as he catches his breath and watches several women easily outscore him on the game he is playing.
The nursing home is run by an offshoot of Namco Bandai, the company behind 1980s arcade phenomenon PacMan, whose pill-popping escapades helped bring video games to a mass youth market.
Now the firm is part of a small, but growing band of groups developing video games and home computer entertainment for the so-called “silver generation” — Japan’s burgeoning army of elderly people, who are living longer and healthier lives than ever before.
Japan’s population has been declining since 2007 and the country is greying, with one of the world’s lowest birth rates and highest life expectancies.
“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.
Day visitors, whose average age is 85, have a choice of activities at this government approved center, including assisted bathing, physiotherapy, lunch and a series of arcade and video games.
“The video games are very much extra-curricular, voluntary activities... but clients look very animated when they are playing,” Kawamura said.
Facility staff try to motivate the elderly, tapping into their competitive spirits by posting leader boards on the walls and running competitions to see who is the “most vigorous” every few months.
Among the titles on offer is “Dokidoki Hebi Taiji II” (Thrilling Snakebuster II), a game developed by Namco Bandai in cooperation with Kyushu University Hospital in western Japan.
Like a lifesize version of Whack-a-Mole, a seated player stamps on cartoon-like snakes that pop up at random around him.
Developers say the motion strengthens legs and hip muscles, something doctors say is important to help prevent falls.
It also increases cerebral blood flows especially to the frontal lobe, which may help to slow the progress of cognitive impairment, says Kyushu University doctor Shinichiro Takasugi.
In practice, “it is hard to get scientific proof of a particular game’s positive effect because of factors from other exercises,” said Kaikaya’s musculoskeletal nurse Miyuki Takahashi.
“But the psychological effect is unarguable — people’s faces light up when they play it.”
Takasugi agrees that there are clearly mood-enhancing benefits to be had.
“The game is an effective tool to lighten up the souls of elderly people who tend to stay at home, withdrawing from social life,” he said.
“It can also help keep them engaged with what can be boring rehab exercises.”
Where video games have historically been sedentary and solitary, improving technology means controlling characters on a screen no longer needs to be done just by hitting keys or wobbling a joystick.
The same kit that allows young gamers to kick and punch their way through a beat-em-up is now being used to liven up monotonous rehabilitation.
Using the Kinect motion sensor — developed by Microsoft for its video game console Xbox — Physical therapist Keizo Sato worked with two companies to devise game software specifically to help boost strength and suppleness.
Rehact — a contraction of the English words “rehabilitation” and “active” — is intended to provide high-quality exercises for elderly people who might live in rural areas away from specialized medical facilities.
“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,” said Sato, who lectures at Tohoku Fukushi University.
There are four games to choose from, each aimed at specific muscle groups, said Sato.
“But this software not only offers motivation to help people enjoy the exercises, but demonstrates the correct way to do them without the need for a therapist to be present,” he said.
Osaka-based Medica Shuppan Publisher last year released a similar game machine co-developed by Kyushu University researchers, while the same researchers are developing another one in a three-year program funded by the government.
And Nintendo, the maker of the Donkey Kong and Super Mario franchises, said late January it aims to reboot its business by entering the health care industry with “non-wearable” products.
No details have been made available on what this means, but the Kyoto-based leading game console maker already offers fitness game software Wii Fit series.
“I think these so-called “exergames” will be a powerful tool for curbing snowballing medical costs in Japan,” said Sato.


India to make new bid to launch Moon rocket on Monday

Updated 18 July 2019
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India to make new bid to launch Moon rocket on Monday

  • India would become the fourth nation to land a spacecraft on the moon
  • The project is one of the cheapest amongst its kind internationally

NEW DELHI: India will make a new bid to launch a landmark mission to the Moon on Monday, a week after aborting lift-off at the last minute because of a fuel leak, officials said.
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) said it had rescheduled the launch of Chandrayaan-2, or Moon Chariot-2, for 2:43 p.m. (0913 GMT) on Monday.
India is aiming to become just the fourth nation after Russia, the United States and China to land a spacecraft on the Moon.
Indian space chiefs called off the planned launch of the rocket 56 minutes before blast-off on Monday morning because of what ISRO called a “technical snag.”
Media reports quoted ISRO scientists saying a helium fuel leak had been detected.
India has spent about $140 million on preparations for the project, which is one of the cheapest among international space powers.
By comparison, the United States spent about $25 billion — the equivalent of more than $100 billion in current prices — on 15 Apollo missions in the 1960s and 70s.
The rocket will launch from a space center in Sriharikota, an island off the coast of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.
It will carry an orbiter, lander and a rover which has been almost entirely designed and made in India.
The orbiter is meant to keep circling the Moon for about one year, taking pictures of the surface and sending back information on the atmosphere.
A lander named Vikram will take the rover to the surface near the lunar South Pole.
India’s first lunar mission in 2008 — Chandrayaan-1 — did not land on the Moon, but carried out a search for water using radar.
A soft landing on the Moon would be a huge leap forward in India’s space program, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi determined to launch a manned mission into space by 2022.
India also has ambitions to land a probe on Mars. In 2014, India became only the fourth nation to put a satellite into orbit around the Red Planet.