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Seniors becoming old hands at Wii

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KAI RYSSDAL: Nintendo has managed to pull off that rarest of retail doubleheaders. Its Wii game console was among the hot gifts last Christmas. This year, if possible, it's even hotter. So if you're in the market for one -- good luck to you, and you're going to need it, because you might have to fight your grandma to get one.

Marketplace's Jennifer Collins reports.


JENNIFER COLLINS: Get out your date books. The place to be tomorrow night is an Erickson retirement home outside Chicago.

GAME HOST: Welcome to Erickson Sports' first-annual Wii bowling championship.

Four teams, 16 people, no one is under 65. Nintendo's game console, the Wii, is their battle ground.

HOST: Bowling for the Sedgebrook Alleycats we have Otto "Six Pack" Rehm, Ginger "Ginger Snap" Cox, Flora "Flora Dora" Dierbach.

Flora "Flora Dora" Dierbach is the head of the entertainment committee at the Erickson home. She says there's almost always a line of people waiting to use the Wii, and residents are hot to buy more.

FLORA DIERBACH: And I know they haunt the stores because they're difficult to find. And they get an ad in the paper saying somebody has them, and they go out there and they try to get it -- they're gone.

That kind of following is exactly what Nintendo had in mind when it started giving free consoles to senior centers recently. A quarter of all gamers are over 50, up from around 10 percent in 1999, and seniors buy 25 percent of game consoles, although some may be for their grandkids. Serious gamers have an explanation for this.

CRISPIN BOYER: Well, it's a fad. It's like a Furbie.

Crispin Boyer, an editor at Electronic Gaming Monthly, says he was skeptical until he took a bunch of games to a senior center in California. Wii ping pong was popular, and so was racing.

BOYER: And some of the women there were telling me that they liked it because they haven't driven in, you know, 20 years. So it's fun to get back behind the wheel even if it's like a virtual driving experience.

These programs are called casual games. They're the fastest growing segment of the $30 billion video game market. But some senior gamers need training, so with those consoles Nintendo sends experts.

NOAH KIRCHER-ALLEN: So bring it up to your face, and hold the trigger button.

SENIOR GAMER: Hold the trigger button? Which is the trigger button?

KIRCHER-ALLEN: The trigger button's back here. I'll show you one more time.

Noah Kircher-Allen teaches seniors to bowl on the Wii. Today he's at the Pasadena Senior Center in Southern California. Among his students is Marsha Burger. She says she appreciates the attention from the game industry, but she wishes companies would be more realistic when they market to people like her.

MARSHA BURGER: Sometimes when I see the Viagra commercials -- and my husband takes Viagra so we love it -- um you don't see somebody my husband's age. You see someone in his 40s. It's like my husband's 67. Where are those guys?

Members of the Pasadena center plan to start a virtual bowling league next month. Marsha thinks that they should make an event of it with snacks and . . .

BURGER: You know a little martini. Well if I get them a little, just a little tipsy maybe I can beat them.

I'm Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.

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