Dublin SquareThe story of the Gerontoludic Society begins just prior to the 2008 Meaningful Play conference that was held at Michigan State University in East-Lansing, Michigan, USA. In the months leading up to that conference, Bob De Schutter (Belgium) was conducting research for his doctoral dissertation on games and older adults, and he had just finished his work on “Blast From The Past” – a Nintendo Wii-based game aimed to facilitate knowledge transfer between grandchildren and their grandparents. As he learned about other people who shared his interest in play in later life, he decided to try to get them together in one room to discuss their research. A panel seemed an appropriate way to do this, so upon contacting Henk-Herman Nap (The Netherlands) and Leyla Dogruel (Germany) and sharing this idea, he submitted a conference proposal to Meaningful Play. The result was the “Suitable for All Ages: Game Design for the 60+ Demographic” panel. With it being the first of such an assembly, this modest success created momentum for similar gatherings.

Over the course of six years, the field steadily grew. During this time, companies, such as Silverfit and Lumos Labs, began to target the older adult audience, and academic literature pertaining to the older adult population and digital games increased considerably. However, the vast majority of this research explored and assessed the use of digital games for potential older users, such as games for rehabilitative means, and not on active older gamers. As a response to this, research labs began shifting focus to this particular population (e.g., Anne McLaughlin’s LACE Lab at North Carolina State University, USA). In addition, during this time, a very small group of scholars wrote doctoral dissertations on various aspects of this growing niche of gamers, such as Kathrin Gerling (Germany), Julie A. Brown (USA), and Hannah Marston (England). Furthermore, Sara Mosberg Iversen (Denmark) published the first critical overview of the emerging field of study.

With this in mind, Bob – now an Assistant Professor of Applied Game Design at Miami University (USA) – decided that the time was right to bring the multidisciplinary field together via another conference panel.  Having kept a list of scholars who had published on the topic, he established contact with most of them and ended up with enough interest to create two panels. This resulted in a panel proposal to both the CHI Play conference in Toronto, Canada (with Julie A. Brown, Anne McLaughlin, Maribeth Gandy and Tim Nichols) and the 2014 Meaningful Play conference in Michigan, USA (with Kathrin Gerling, Sara Mosberg Iversen, Carrie Heeter and Henk-Herman Nap).

The Meaningful Play panel was first on the conference agenda and proved to be an even greater success than the initial panel just six years earlier. The room was filled and the panel presentations spurred lively discussion. After the session ended, the panel members convened at the Dublin Square Irish Pub near the MSU Union building to celebrate the successful afternoon. A few minutes later, the Gerontoludic Society was informally founded.

Upon returning home, Bob called a meeting between the members of both panels. It took place on November 11 2014, at 2pm. During the meeting, the first agreements were made to formally create the Society. Bob became the founding president, while Kathrin was appointed as vice president. On November 16, 2014, its first version of the bylaws was published and The Gerontoludic Society became a reality.