What Gaming System Is Best For Older Adults?

The best gaming systems for older adults and seniors

There are many gaming systems that can be great for older adults and since each gaming system has its positives, its negatives, and its own take on how video games should be played, it can be very difficult to choose just one as the best. Each gaming system has its own controllers, its own screens that it can be played on, its own suite of games, and its own hardware specifications that will lend itself to older adults (or conversely, not).

Consider this list of gaming systems: Microsoft XBox Series X, Xbox Series S, Sony Playstation 5 (and 4 and 3 and 2), Nintendo Switch (OLED, Lite, and original), Nintendo DS, PC (personal computer), Mac (Apple computers), the Steam Deck, Google Stadia, Amazon Luna, Android TV, Fire TV Sticks, Apple TV, iPhones, iPads, Android phones, Android tablets, and retro products like the Analogue Pocket, AYN Odin, and Retroid Pocket 2+, .

That is a massive list, and it’s not exhaustive! There are so many different ways for adults to play games today and each one has a lot to offer.

When I tried to answer this question for myself, I came out with a few immediate answers:

  1. I think Nintendo has access to a great library of retro games that many older adults will identify with and love for the simplicity of control
  2. I love my PC and the different controller options I have. With all of the available options today, I can deal with many physical injuries through gear.
  3. Screen size is important, and handheld consoles are often too small.
  4. The simpler the game’s controls, the better. However…
  5. Complex strategy games are an excellent choice for most adults and can help with cognitive training, neuroplasticity, and more. Same with puzzle games and other strategy-development games.
  6. Relaxing games can be great for adults and seniors too, but that won’t necessarily be the only kind of game played.

As I said above, the simpler the game’s controls the better. One of the biggest issues with controllers (for me) is the analog stick control of most modern console controllers. Retro video games and retro video game systems often use the D-Pad method of control (the 4 arrows in the controller below), which I find to be a much easier way to control the video games I play. It’s also more often associated with games that have simpler controls (think: Super Mario Bros.).

Analog controller sticks or analog sticks started showing up on Playstation and Nintendo Gamecube controllers long ago
A Gamecube controller was one of the earliest analog sticks (Nintendo 64, Playstation were earlier though)

I mentioned that the pace and type of game being played is very important. Today’s modern first person shooter can be so high action that it can be hard to follow. That, coupled with difficult control schemes can stop most older adults before they can get started.

Screen size is important too, and so are things like the technology being employed. Screen size usually doesn’t matter though, until you use a handheld system (or perhaps when using a laptop or MacBook). Handhelds are devices like the Nintendo Switch or Switch Lite, the Nintendo DS lineup, the Steam Deck, and other retro consoles.

I think for most adults, the chance to improve cognitive decline, brain plasticity, physical health, or even mental and social health is very important. Those characteristics being part of a video game and/or gaming system should drive a lot of the decision making. By the way, if you’re unsure of whether or not there are benefits to playing video games, we have a great article about the benefits of video games for adults here.

Is Nintendo Switch good for older adults?

Nintendo Switch can be a great gaming system for older adults, as long as it’s paired with the right games and accessories.

For those of you who don’t know, the Nintendo Switch is the system that followed the Nintendo Wii. The Nintendo Wii was the first true physical health focused video game system that could truly help adults to get healthier. The introduction of games like Wii Fit, which included a board that measured your health and fitness levels, plus the basic games like Wii Sports which forced you to move and swing the remotes made the Nintendo Wii an amazing system for seniors and adults alike. The physicality of the system was also found to provide a distinct and strong social health benefit for adults.

What might surprise you is that the original and OLED versions of the Nintendo Switch can behave in similar ways. With the introduction of Nintendo Switch Sports, players can use the controller’s onboard accelerometers to move while playing Soccer, Volleyball, Bowling, Tennis, Badminton, and even swordplay!

There are also games like Fitness Boxing (1 and 2), Let’s Get Fit, and even the Ring Fit Adventure, which comes complete with a resistance ring that you use in many ways.

The drawbacks of the Nintendo Switch for many older adults is that the controllers can be quite complex and if you buy the Lite version of the Nintendo Switch, then you won’t be able to play the Switch on a larger screen (the Lite screen size is 5.5″, and it can’t be plugged into the Switch Dock). See, the Nintendo Switch (original and OLED) can be plugged into a dock that uses the HDMI port on your TV to display on the biggest screen in your house. This makes it easy to see games, which we know can be a problem for those of us aging.

The Nintendo Switch can be played as a handheld
Here’s the Nintendo Switch with Joy-Con Controllers embedded

Seniors and older adults might find that many of the games available for the Nintendo Switch simply are too complex, but this is where Nintendo’s Online subscription service can be very helpful. Once signed up for this yearly service, players get access to many retro video games from both the Nintendo and Super Nintendo systems (N64 too now). Those systems had much simpler games and while they won’t get players moving, these games can be played with friends and family.

I find that the Nintendo Switch is a heavy system to hold up for a long period of time (Switch weight with joy-con controllers is 400 grams), so don’t expect most adults to hold the system above their head while lying on a couch or bed. That means the larger 7 inch screen size on the Nintendo Switch OLED isn’t likely necessary, and an original Nintendo Switch (at 6.2 inches) is probably the best bed for an older adult.

The Nintendo Switch Joy-Con controllers embedded in a Nintendo adapter
Playing with the controllers in an adapter like this one is probably best for most adults

Is XBox Good For Seniors?

The XBox Series X or Series S can be a good gaming system for seniors or adults, but it really depends on the adult. Today, I think the best XBox system for seniors or older adults is the XBox Game Pass on PCs. Previous versions of the XBox include the XBox One and the XBox 360 (plus the original XBox).

While you can find games that will be better in terms of pace and style for seniors, I find that most XBox games are intended for a younger audience. However, games like Age of Empires IV, Minecraft, and the Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader series can be games that have a series draw and benefit for adults.

One thing that I always look for with systems when I evaluate it for my parents is if some of the older games (or previous system games) can be played on them. In the case of XBox Series X, there’s an incredible library of backward compatible games that can be used with the system. Those older games offer slower or less distracting graphics, and easier control schemes in most cases.

As I said, I think the best part of Microsoft’s offering when it comes to seniors is the XBox Game Pass on PC. Game Pass costs around $10-$15 a month, depending on your country, and it allows the user to install video games quickly and easily on their PC.

Why I like this option so much is for a number of reasons:

  • The XBox Game Pass allows you to pick from a large library of games to install
  • You can choose to play games with a keyboard and mouse or most installed controllers (including an XBox controller)
  • The pricing is reasonable for the access you’ll get to games
  • There’s a social component, with players being able to easily connect and play games together
  • There’s no additional hardware needed, and there’s now a cloud-based version of Game Pass (XBox Cloud Gaming) that would allow pretty much any PC to run the games.
A large XBox 360 controller in the hands of a gamer
The XBox controllers are known to be large, which can be a problem for many

The XBox consoles themselves can be used by seniors or older adults, but I find that the interface can be confusing to many gamers and that the controllers can be too large for many people. They also have two analog sticks on them, which can be hard to control especially for people who aren’t used to them.

The XBox Kinect was shown in some cases to be beneficial for adults and seniors with physical health limitations, but unfortunately this system isn’t in high use any longer. The good news is that today, Microsoft has created the Azure Kinect program, which will further the use of this technology (just not with XBox necessarily).

Is Playstation Good For Adults and Seniors?

The newest version of the Sony Playstation can be good for adults and/or seniors, however it has some of the same features and drawbacks as other modern consoles. In terms of drawbacks, I’ve found the menu system and the overall system can be confusing for some older adults. The need for subscription services like Sony’s Playstation Plus can be confusing and expensive.

As I’ve mentioned earlier in this article, controllers with analog sticks can be difficult for some users to control, and while the Playstation controllers are some of the best fitting (in terms of fitting within normal adult hands), I have found that they still can be difficult to use with some games.

As with the XBox and Nintendo Switch, the Playstation 5 and other Playstation console games were often directed at a younger audience. Despite this, there are many games you can find on the Playstation game store that will fit an older audience. Today, a new Final Fantasy VII remake can be a great choice, as many adults will remember playing that game on PC or Playstation 1. Games like Minecraft, Tetris, and social games like the JackBox series can be great to play with friends and family too.

Maybe the most interesting aspect of the Playstation 5 system when we talk about seniors and older adults is the fact that they will have a VR system (like they did with the Playstation 4). The Playstation EyeToy was one of the best gaming controllers for getting people moving, which had big implications for seniors who had incurred a stroke, and I really enjoyed the Playstation Move controllers personally. The only concern I have for seniors and adults using VR systems like this is through my own experience with the technology.

In the past, I used Playstation 4’s VR headset and controllers and found that I could become very disoriented and dizzy at times. Not only that, but I’m a very experienced gamer so when I tell you that I became dizzy at times, it’s possible that many people you know will have the same experience.

Still, if seniors can handle the Playstation 5 VR experience, I think this will be a great option for most older adults.

A Playstation console with a VR headset and controller being used
Virtual reality is an interesting option for adults with PlayStation consoles

Is PC Gaming Good for Adults?

PC gaming can be some of the best options for adults and seniors, depending on how you do it. In my experience, the mouse and keyboard control option for most PC games is the easiest for control, as it eliminates the analog stick on most modern console controllers.

A PC also allows access to many different services and therefore many different video games. In fact, I think that today, having a library on Steam for PC or Mac, a library on Epic Games, access to XBox Gaming Pass for PC, Google Stadia, and likely other online cloud services, makes a PC the ultimate gaming machine for adults and seniors.

Steam has regular sales that allow you to buy packs of games and they have the most video games on PC. I love playing games like the Tycoon series, X-Com, Civilization, plus there are so many puzzle games, side-scrolling games with simple controls, and sandbox games like Terraria or Space Engineers that make for a nice, expansive experience.

Steam is my choice for a PC gaming option for adults
My Steam Library has an easy interface for starting and sorting games. Steam has a massive library of available games to purchase too.

Interestingly, during the Covid-19 pandemic, a study was done that checked whether or not people played a more relaxing style of game, and that didn’t seem to happen. However, the study was done with Steam being the platform used, since they have such a large library of games from all genres.

The Epic Games library has games like Fortnite which is massively popular. It’s a first person shooter type of game, but older adults can find some fun in this when playing with their younger children or grandchildren. The Epic Games library also often features free games, so pick those up.

The XBox Gaming Pass for PC is a great, low monthly-cost option for access to a lot of games and the games change all the time. This can be a great way to keep adults interested, as many of the newest games become available here.

Google Stadia is a nice platform, but I am starting to personally doubt the longevity of the platform. It’s great to use and can be played in many different ways, but the platform seems to have less “steam” then something like Steam (that was a pretty good joke, no?)

In any case, these are all great to try out and to find games that fit adults that want to play games. All of them have great and fairly easy-to-manage multiplayer or social systems that make it easy to invite a senior or adult to a game, even if they don’t totally understand how it all works.

When we talk about controllers, the other great thing about PCs and Macs is that you can pick from many different mouse and keyboard combos that will help the average adult. As someone who played a lot of sports, I have a pretty tough time using my right shoulder for long periods of time.

Are Retro Games Good For Adults?

Retro games are some of the best games for adults and seniors. Not only is there a lot of nostalgia and muscle memory that comes into play, but the video games are generally more simple than most modern games. Personally, I think it’s best not to try and have seniors play retro games on some of the smaller consoles, because screen size and resolution may become a problem.

However, there are lots of options for playing retro games on many platforms, including the Nintendo Switch, XBox Series X, on PCs, and more. Another great option is to find one of the older consoles that you knew and loved as a child or as a young adult and buy that, plus some of the games.

For myself, the old NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), SNES, Sega Genesis, and even the Playstation 1 are what I remember playing and loving and when I play old games from those systems, I thoroughly enjoy myself. It’s also those kinds of games that I can get my father to play, along with one other game.

That game can almost be considered retro at this point, and it’s the beginning of an era of gaming too. That game is Minecraft, and it can be played on almost any gaming system. It’s easiest to control on PCs and Macs, as the mouse and keyboard interface is the easiest, and it’s also one of the most intriguing for older adults!

That’s because Minecraft isn’t about fighting and “killing” like many games are today. Although there is an element of battle in the game, players can almost entirely focus on the mining and crafting aspect of the game. There’s a heavy creation element to the game too, as your crafting can be of pretty much anything.

Old electricians or computer programmers will love the idea of “redstone” and how it can act like logic or electrical wire. Older construction folks will love building huge buildings, complete with working elevators. Others will like building castles, houses, or creating incredible farms.

And that’s just the beginning!

Are Phones and Tablets Good For Seniors To Play Games On?

As long as a senior can see the video game well, phones and tablets can be some of the best gaming systems for seniors. In fact, lots of the best video games for seniors that I have put below in my list come from either iOS (iPhones and iPads from Apple) or Android (Samsung, Google, and more).

There are literally thousands of game apps that can be downloaded for free and played, and most simple puzzle games like Bejeweled are good at teasing your brain.

Apple has done a great job of taking their games and the Apple gaming subscription service (Apple Arcade) to the rest of their devices too, which gives you more options. What I mean here is that you can play the same Apple Arcade games on an Apple TV device, and you can connect gamepads through Bluetooth to the system. That turns it into an iPad with a huge screen!

Android phones and tablets have a lot of the same games as iPhones and iPads, and something that’s become very interesting to me is that Android TV and Fire TV Sticks both can do the same thing as Apple TV. You can connect controllers (sometimes even wired controllers) to Fire TV and Android TV boxes and download a lot of the same games.

Even more interesting is that many of the games on those Fire/Android TVs can be played with a remote. A game like Crossy Road is incredibly simple and easy for a senior to play with friends and family.

What Are the Best Games For Seniors?

Here are some of my choices for the best video games for seniors, based on getting many seniors I know to play games and enjoy them! My other criteria for this list is that it provides benefits in a few different ways, including cognitive health, physical health, mental health, social interaction, and neuroplasticity. In no particular order:

Minecraft is the best overall game for seniors.
Minecraft is about so much more than fighting, but I do have a sword!
  1. Minecraft – It can be played on just about any gaming system and is unlimited in the ways you can play. It’s endless creativity and endless adventure, plus it’s a fun game to play with your family!
  2. Sid Meier’s Civilization – You’ll find many games in this series but history buffs will love this game for the characters and civilizations in it. Builders will like it because it takes a lot of strategy to win.
  3. Super Punch Out on Nintendo Switch Online – With the yearly membership fee and a Nintendo Switch, you get access to tons of NES and SNES games (and more). Super Punch out is a game of patterns, but each boxer you face is a different pattern and style.
  4. Bejeweled – Simple and addictive, this puzzle game looks great and isn’t too flashy to be confusing.
  5. Candy Crush Saga – Although you’ll be bothered with purchase requests by this game, it’s pretty much Bejeweled with more variation
  6. Words With Friends 2 – Amazingly you can play this on an Amazon Echo Show, on a phone, on a tablet, and on many other gaming systems. It’s just what it sounds like, which is coming up with words out of scrambled letters…with friends.
  7. Terraria – This one’s a little complex and the characters are small, but if you have an older adult who can play games a little already, this is a wonderful sandbox game with some incredible boss battles. This is definitely more of a gamer’s game, but it’s fun to play with friends and family!
  8. Nintendo Wii Sports – You have to get your hands on a Nintendo Wii, but there are very few games that work better to get people moving and talking. They are simple sports, but I still remember my aunt almost bowling through our TV.
  9. Tetris – No list could be complete without this puzzler. Even better is that there are now versions of Tetris, like Tetris 99 on Nintendo Switch that lets you compete vs others. Watch grandma beat everyone.
  10. X-Com – Adult gamers will know this series of games from their childhood, but Steam has the whole lineup of these games. X-Com: Enemy Unknown is a fantastic strategy game where it’s not about mouse clicking skills, but strategic thinking. The exciting visuals will be fun for seniors too, and they’ll probably buy 2 or 3 of these games after finishing the first.
  11. Valheim – This game is actually still being developed, but it’s already one of my favorite games of all times. This is a much harder game to play, so you must gauge the level of your senior. However, if they have played first or third person action games before, then Valheim is a must. It’s an open world survival game like Minecraft, but it looks beautiful and is mostly peaceful. Building boats, farms, and homes is an art form and is based on a lot of physics that anyone understands.
  12. SimCity – The latest version of this game can be found on XBox Game Pass through EA. That sounds complicated, but when you get XBox Game Pass, you usually get a lot of games on EA’s online service. Either way, this is a city building simulator that most people will love. It’s highly realistic these days, except for the odd giant mechanical spider alien that tromps your city.
  13. Guitar Hero – Harder and harder to find a good version of, but putting a plastic guitar with buttons in your hands somehow makes everyone want to stand up and sing (and play guitar). These days, if you’re buying a Wii then you probably just buy Guitar Hero for that, or for PC/Mac.
  14. Angry Birds – The original physics game where you launched birds at pigs. Oh wait, that’s the only game where you launched birds at pigs. I still remember when my dad became addicted to this and mastered just about every level.
  15. Pokémon Go – Walk, drive, ride, or just go and catch little creatures in a special ball. Then use said creatures in battles that you just tap on a screen…in order to catch more creatures in a special ball. The operative word here is “walk”, though. It’s also a very social game believe it or not, as there’s a huge following of people who just go around and play together in my city.
  16. Grindstone – Part of Apple’s arcade service, this game is absolutely one of the best puzzle strategy games I’ve played before. It’s hard to think through, but it’s easy to play. It’s basically a block-matching puzzle game, but it feels like more without being unnecessarily complicated.
  17. Elder Scrolls: Skyrim – This game is on just about every video game system today, and it’s no longer expensive. Not only that, but it’s fairly easy controls in a fairly complex and beautiful game (although the graphics are now old per today’s standards). This one lets you play a dungeons and dragons style game in first or third person so you can be a wizard, summoner, swordsman (or swordswoman), archer or ranger, rogue, or many other types of characters. You’ll fight dragons too! However, control of your character is less important than strategy.
Valheim is simply, beautiful
Valheim is all about Vikings and getting to Valhalla! It’s not an easy game, but it’s beautiful.

I hope you enjoyed our article today!

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