Sumo video game supports ‘100-year lifespans’

By Ryuzo Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Photographer
The monthly “Silver eSports: Grand Sumo in Saitama” was held on Aug. 17 in Urawa Ward, Saitama City, at a venue with banners and other decorations evoking the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo arena in Tokyo. This photo shows an elderly man, surrounded by a gyoji referee standing at right and a camera crew from a local TV station covering the event, energetically playing against a young female volunteer. The participants are given shikona ring names and called by them during the event.

SAITAMA — On the third Wednesday of every month, elderly people enjoy playing a competitive sumo-themed video game with younger people at a local public facility. Titled “Silver eSports: Grand Sumo in Saitama,” the event is intended to enhance the well-being of senior citizens through playing esports face-to-face. In Japan, the term “silver” often refers to elderly people.

The venue’s decor evokes the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo arena in Tokyo, where grand sumo tournaments are held. Banners and Japanese flags are on display as in the arena, and a poster reads, “Manin onrei” (Thank you for a full house), creating a great atmosphere.

A commercially available video game called “Tsuppari Ozumo” was played at the event. One difference was the control device, which has large buttons for easy use by aged fingers.

Participants wore chonmage topknot style wigs, which made them look like sumo wrestlers. They started playing after the gyoji referee called out, “Hakkeyoi, nokotta!” which is the signal to start a sumo bout. The players performed various effective sumo techniques by moving the controller’s joystick and quickly clicking the buttons.

Sumo was chosen for the monthly event due to its simple rules. The sumo video game is easy to play partly because its game console is easy to manipulate.

This esport event began in 2018. The local nonprofit organization Saitama Shimin Network set up Saitama Shimin Silver eSports Kyokai (Saitama City Citizen Silver eSports Association) to give senior citizens opportunities to meet regularly to play esports for their well-being while revitalizing the city. When people move their fingers, it is said to prevent the decline of cognitive functions, such as memory and attentiveness.

The association has about 40 members. No membership fee is required as the association is run by volunteers.

When the monthly event was held on Aug. 17, about 30 people gathered to energetically play the game. First-time participants from Saitama Prefecture, and elsewhere also took part. Players ranged from a 17-year-old high school student to a 90-year-old man.

Saitama resident Takashi Morita, 87, the chairman of the esports association, said: “Many elderly people tend to always stay home. If they are given chances to go out to enjoy playing esports with other people and then have dinner with them, it contributes to maintaining their muscles and having them talk more.”

Morita also said, “It can activate our brains and help prevent the decline of our cognitive functions.”

Morita stressed that participants getting together at a venue instead of playing online at home was chosen to serve this purpose.

He said: “Our activities focus on enjoying interactions in a friendly atmosphere, rather than competing to win. But, by having an instinct to win through playing the video game, it will help us better enjoy our lives in a time when it is not impossible to live to 100 years old.”

The association is planning to run the event more frequently at more venues, Morita said.

Nonmembers of the association can participate in the event. There are no gender or age restrictions on nonmembers, so elderly people and other participants can inspire each other. Reservations are accepted through the association’s website.

By Ryuzo Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Photographer
Participants do warm-up exercises before playing the sumo video game.
By Ryuzo Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Photographer
A participant tests a prototype of a vibration device that is placed on a chair to enhance realistic sensations and the sense of immersion. A cooperating company is developing the device.
By Ryuzo Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Photographer
Participants listen to the organizer before playing the game.
By Ryuzo Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Photographer
A video controller developed for elderly people

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