Game apps for seniors: At 82, she created a game she could win

Wakamiya Masako started using computers before retiring from his job as a bank manager in 1997 in hopes of socializing online while caring for his aging mother at home.

As she acquired computer skills, she felt that her life was enriched socially and intellectually. But the lack of online materials for seniors prompted her to get creative: Using Excel spreadsheets, she saw models that she translated into art: drawings for fans of fabric and paper. She calls it “the art of Excel”. And she’s become a well-known advocate for computer literacy among seniors, giving speeches and writing books.

Why we wrote this

In our increasingly digital world, technology serves as a gateway to new skills and social opportunities. This octogenarian app developer makes sure other seniors aren’t left behind.

Then, in 2017, at the age of 82, Ms Wakamiya wanted a gaming app in which “the old people could beat the young people”. And a high-tech executive encouraged her to do it herself: She learned to code and launched Hinadan, a game featuring traditional Japanese dolls that users must move – like a puzzle – into position in depending on the roles. It was published in five languages.

Ms. Wakamiya says she’s realized that in Japan’s perfectionist culture, many people are so afraid of failure that they won’t try anything new: “Failure doesn’t exist. Simply starting something new is considered a success because you are still learning in the process.


Even in the age of smartphones, octogenarian Wakamiya Masako thinks the elderly in rapidly aging Japan are being kept out of the tech loop.

Retired from banking management for about 25 years, she spent a lot of time helping older friends and neighbors learn to use smartphones, and she developed the theory that they struggle because it doesn’t. there are no games and apps aimed at their age. group.

One possible solution, she thought, was to create a gaming app to encourage and enchant older people to get more comfortable with their smartphones.

Why we wrote this

In our increasingly digital world, technology serves as a gateway to new skills and social opportunities. This octogenarian app developer makes sure other seniors aren’t left behind.

“My friends were looking forward to such an app and encouraged me,” says Ms. Wakamiya.

So she got help from an expert, and her idea made her famous at home and abroad for being one of the oldest app developers in the world, praised by Japanese leaders and world tech leaders for transcending age barriers.

“Ms. Wakamiya asked me to develop a game application in which seniors can beat young people,” recalls Koizumi Katsushiro, president of Tesseract, a company that teaches computer programming and application development in the city of Shiogama, in the northeast of the country.

But he suggested that she create the app herself and that he would help her. The energetic Mrs. Wakamiya took on the challenge, struggling for six months to create the game.

“It was especially very difficult to organize the whole structure of the app,” she says of the challenge of learning to code.

In 2017, at age 82, she launched Hinadan. The game features the traditional Japanese Hinamatsuri festival, a celebration of Girls’ Day. On the Hinadan app, which takes its name from a tiered stand for displaying traditional Japanese dolls, users have to move the dolls – like a puzzle – into appropriate positions depending on the roles: the emperor and the empress, court ladies and court musicians with instruments. It is now available in five languages.

“I was satisfied with the launch. But I didn’t think it was such a big achievement,” says Ms. Wakamiya, surprised at the worldwide interest in her work.

Hailing her as the world’s oldest app developer, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook invited her to the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California in 2017. kissed me! Ms. Wakamiya recalls, blushing because Mr. Cook’s enthusiasm for his achievement broke Japanese custom. (The Japanese traditionally don’t hug.)

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks under a projected photo of gaming app developer Wakamiya Masako at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California in 2017.

Ms Wakamiya, who is vice-president of the Mellow Club, a Japanese online group for older people, quickly found herself on the global speaking circuit encouraging older people to overcome technology-related discomfort.

excel art

In 2018, she gave a keynote address at a United Nations conference in New York on “Why are digital skills essential for older people?” And she’s published several books on aging and technology in Japan, including one titled “Life Gets More and More Interesting After 60.”

“Masako is an inspiration to everyone, but especially to those who want to live a long, fulfilling, and purposeful life,” says Bradley Schurman, former AARP official, author of “The Super Age,” and the moderator of the 2018 UN event at which Ms. Wakamiya spoke. “She showed the world that curiosity doesn’t need to wane later in life.”

In Japan, his advocacy for the use of technology in old age is particularly noteworthy. Japan has been grappling with difficult issues related to its declining birth rate and aging population, including labor shortages and slow economic growth.

People aged 65 or over make up 29% of Japan’s population. This figure is expected to reach 38% by 2065, estimates the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research in Tokyo.

Ms Wakamiya started using computers a few years before retiring in 1997 in hopes of socializing online while caring for her aging mother at home. She says she has found that, more than a new way to expand her circle of friends, computer literacy has enriched her life with opportunities to broaden her perspective and satisfy her intellectual curiosity.

The lack of material online for the elderly prompted her to get creative: using Excel spreadsheets, she saw patterns that she translated into art: designs for fabric fans and paper. She calls it “the art of Excel”.

“Excel seems difficult for seniors. But I got the idea to draw some drawings using its functions. Then I got so excited that I was able to produce one new design after another,” says Ms Wakamiya, who wore an orange and green plaid shirt she designed with Excel during her interview with Monitor.

She acknowledges that computers have made her artistic where she was not before.

Ms. Wakamiya has taught other seniors how to produce artwork online, using Excel software as a design tool. “It’s very important for seniors to be creative and produce something original,” she says.

Tech evangelism

Ms. Wakamiya, who sits on Prime Minister Kishida Fumio’s digital policy committee, is known as an information technology evangelist whose mission is to empower older people to learn digital skills. The message carries weight, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, as more and more people value seniors going online to avoid social isolation.

On her own initiative, Ms. Wakamiya flew to Estonia, which is pioneering the concept of e-residence of digital nations, in 2019 to see how older people can fit into its e-government systems. She also gave a speech and conducted workshops on Art Excel while there.

Many older women note the uplifting effect of Ms. Wakamiya.

“We all feel uncertain about the future,” says Notake Yumiko, architect and member of the Mellow Club. “But his way of life enlightens him. Ma-chan [an affectionate honorific for Ms. Wakamiya] is very smart. But she’s still a humble person, which is so appealing.

Hashimoto Kayoko, retired from her career at a major trading house, bumped into Ms Wakamiya at an Apple store in Tokyo, where she was giving an inspirational speech.

“It was as if the rain in the dark sky suddenly turned into a brilliantly sunny day. Ma-chan lights up my heart,” she says.

“Ma-chan shows me a positive attitude.”

Ms Wakamiya, who lectures across Japan, encourages older people to get involved in volunteer work, especially because many, especially men, don’t know what they will do with their lives after death. retirement.

“While you are contributing to society, volunteering can help you broaden your perspective by meeting and working with people from different age groups. Some of them have big aspirations,” she says.

Breaking age stereotypes

“Older populations have many contributions to make to society, and they can also play important roles as innovators, investors and consumers in the economy,” says Schurman. “Masako helps break age stereotypes. It shows that there is a life after the traditional retirement which can last five, 10 or 20 years or more.

Ms. Wakamiya’s post-retirement life made her see things differently because throughout her four-decade banking career, most of her acquaintances worked in the same industry, she says. She recently realized that often in Japan’s perfectionist culture, many people are so afraid of failure that they won’t try something new.

“You don’t have to worry about failures. There are no failures,” she says. “Starting something new is considered a success because you are still learning in the process.”

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