UCL Anthropology



About the Ageing Playfully Network

The Ageing Playfully Network, led by Dr Carrie Ryan, Professor Paul Higgs, and Moïse Roche, began in 2020 through the generous funding of UCL’s Grand Challenges Fund. The initial project was inspired by Dr Carrie Ryan’s interest in the game of bingo, which, despite its prevalence in older people’s life cross-culturally, rarely receives serious academic attention. Dr Carrie Ryan approached Professor Paul Higgs, who has drawn attention to the overlooked nature of consumption in older people’s life, to explore why game play, on which older people spend significant time and resources, is often ignored and, at times, derided. With the help of Moïse Roche, the Ageing Playfully project formed to understand the relative absence of literature on game play in late life and to situate games and play as a serious topic within ageing research, policy, and practice.

In this initial period, the Ageing Playfully project found that, though there was a dearth of academic literature on playful ageing, there were academics across disciplines and continents, corporate actors, and community organisations interested in game play in old age. Though these actors believed game play in old age had great potential for ageing research, policy and practice, many of them said their excitement about the subject was blunted by popular discourses that paint game play in old age as childish and frivolous and thus unworthy of academic, corporate, or community support. The project applied and was granted funds from UCL through the Innovation Network funds to create an Ageing Playfully Network, to situate playful ageing as a serious, and worthwhile, topic of research, innovation, and practice, and to encourage, inspire, and convene interest in its subject matter.

This network matters:

The Ageing Playfully Network takes game play in old age seriously, because older people themselves find game play meaningful and integral features of their everyday lives. The project, therefore, has at its core the belief that ageing research, policy, and practice should reflect what older people value.

The Ageing Playfully Network also recognises that game play in old age has the potential to make serious contributions to ageing wellbeing, and thus may provide new and innovative synergies for healthy ageing agendas globally. As populations are ageing worldwide, global and public health organisations, from the United Nations, World Health Organisation, and the National Health Service, are urgently looking for creative ways to help older people live healthier and happier lives. The Ageing Playfully Network seeks to provide an evidence base for the health-effects of play in old age and inform programming and policy around how best to structure and deliver playful ageing care and community services for older people in future.

The Ageing Playfully Network also hopes, through its efforts, to transform contemporary representations of ageing. Old age is often discussed as a life stage overcome by debility, disease, decline, and death. However, the possibilities of old age are constantly transforming as older people live longer and healthier than ever before. And, even in decline, older people live rich, innovative, and joyful lives. By understanding older people through the frame of play, the Ageing Playfully Network draws attention to the way older people remain creative, dynamic, and indeed playful throughout later life. In doing so, the Ageing Playfully Network aims to offer more reflective, nuanced, and holistic images of ageing in contemporary discourse.