If your image of the average video-game enthusiast is someone not yet ready to shave, car date or, for that matter, cross the street without asking permission, you’ll be surprised to see who’s picked up joysticks and selected avatars for themselves.
Let’s put it this way: Video games aren’t just for the grandkids anymore.
Out where the years are golden and the hair is silver, you’ll find a growing group of avid video-game players. Peer into the game room at your local retirement community, and you will find a well-used, well-loved Nintendo Wii gaming system.
No blue hedgehogs, no super brothers named Mario and Luigi capture the hearts of these stalwart game players. No, the game of choice here is bowling. Nothing fancy. No polar bears bowling. Bowling alley-style bowling without the rented shoes or the need to lug around a 12-pound ball.
The bowling-alley sounds from the speakers mimic those of any bowling alley you’d care to enter. But instead of picking up a ball and staring down the tenpins, bowlers adjust a cartoon character, an avatar, on the screen and send the ball on its way – some with a simple flick of the wrist, others with a practiced bowling motion.
The game is so popular that 71 Wii bowlers from seven Spokane-area retirement homes gathered recently at Lilac Plaza Retirement Community for an all-city tournament – complete with projection consoles set side by side and an online link to a retirement center in Omak, where another eight bowlers wanted in on the tourney. High scores were announced over a loudspeaker and, after lunch, trophies were presented.
In a room filled with family and friends, teams with colorful T-shirts and names like Holman Hotties and Royal Strikers battled the Corbin Hot Shots and the Wii Lilacs.
“This is so much more than I would have expected it to be,” Lilac Plaza CEO Glen Pierce said. “I think this is something that we will be able to keep going. There are a few more communities in the Spokane area that have gotten started with Wii bowling, but they didn’t think they were ready for a tournament just yet. Next time.”
Competitors encourage each other with each shot. It’s one of the few times you’ll hear the words, “Hey, nice turkey over there!” shouted in mixed company.
Kris Martin, the computer center director at Lilac Plaza, organized the event – pulling together the projection televisions so everyone could watch and compare scores in real time, setting up the link with Omak and overseeing the construction of a screen that can be used in future tournaments.
“It’s been so much fun to see everyone get involved,” she said. “The health benefits and the social benefits have been wonderful.
“It took a little work to get everything together. It’s not cheap to do because you have to rent the projection systems, but our tech people pitched in and made it all work and our custodial staff built us the screen.”
At Lilac Plaza, Wii bowling is so popular that residents get together three times a week to compete. At Fairwinds Retirement Community, the demand is even greater.
“They love it so much that we have bowling just about every night of the week,” said Jamie Kent, the center’s activities coordinator. “It’s interesting – we’ve tried to get people interested in some of the other games. We have a couple men who get together once a week or so and play golf, but bowling is far and away the most popular game we have.
“For most of them, this is a game they used to play when they were younger. They may have trouble playing the actual game because of how heavy the ball is and because of some physical limitation. But with this Wii system, they don’t have to do that. All they have to do is move their arm and they can bowl.”
Jerry Edinger helped build the screen system, making sure that it could be taken apart and used wherever and whenever the next tournament will be held – something organizers expect to see every three months or so.
“This is just a lot of fun – it’s a chance for us to all get together and have a little fun,” he said. “My wife and I used to work for Safeway. Today she ran into someone she used to know from the store. It’s like old home week.”
Edinger is one of the home team’s better bowlers, owner of some half-dozen perfect 300 games on the game system in the last few months.
“The fun thing about this video game is that you can bowl a 300 one game and a 150 the next,” he laughed. “Don’t tell anyone, but if no one is using it, I take it back to my room and practice.”
The extra practice earned Edinger a fourth-place trophy for his 213 score. Cliff Hoekema from Sinto Senior Center turned in a 216.
But the high scores from the day were turned in by Fairwinds bowlers. Gladys Soth rolled a 226 and Ervie Johnson had the high score of the day with a 258.
Fairwinds had four bowlers turn in scores of better than 200 and easily captured the first-ever all-city trophy, with Lilac Plaza second and Sinto third.
“To be perfectly honest, I think our bowlers were a little off today,” Kent said. “Ervie usually bowls a perfect game.”
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