David Guardalabene 6/12/2006 ENG102
Brain Age: An Investigation into the Nature of an Intellectually Stimulating Video Game
By Brian Guardalabene What am I looking for? Before I begin it may be helpful to know what Brain Age is. Brain age is a video game for the Nintendo DS released by Nintendo Treehouse on April 17, 2006. The game is one of a kind, being the first handheld educational video game to be targeted specifically towards adults. You can see evidence of this by looking at the in-game “brain age” calculator, which doesn’t go below 20. Brain Age even recommends you to take the results with a grain of salt if you are under the age of 20. So I figured I would start my search with a relatively simple question: does the video game, Brain Age, have beneficial effects for those under the age of 20? Having already purchased the video game, under a different rationale of course, I would have direct knowledge of how the video game affected me. I started this search with the presupposition that I would find a good number of studies and articles relating to the effect of Brain Age. How did I conduct my search? The first place that I decided to look for information on the scientific effects of Brain Age was the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Although they didn’t have a section on the specific effects the article did contain information on the history of the video game, which proved useful to me in answering my question. According to the article Brain Age was based off of a book by a notable Japanese brain researcher, Ryūta Kawashima, titled Train Your Brain. This book gained the attention of Nintendo of Japan and within 90 days a basic demonstration of the game was up and running (“Brain Age”). So this game was based on actual exercises that have been proven to help stimulate the mind? Interesting indeed, but it didn’t really do much to answer my question. I then decided to go on to some of the links suggested by Wikipedia. The first link that I went to was an online article published by The Wall Street Journal entitled “Survived the '60s? You May Want to Try This Nintendo Game”. Obviously this didn’t sound too promising but it was worth a once over anyways. As it turned out, the article was not very positive and suggested that the brain age is more a calculation of how quickly you learned how to play rather than how well you were exercising your brain (Mossberg). It was time for a more positive article. Once again I looked over the list of links and found one from IGN.com, a popular website dedicated to entertainment. The link turned out to be an interview with Nintendo Treehouse conducted a month before the games scheduled US release date. Sadly, this article didn’t hold up to snuff either. The interviewer asked questions that focused on how the game was created and the technology behind it rather than the actual effects of the game on people who played it (Bozon). I wasn’t about to give up hope however and I looked to Google to give me some answers. Searching for “studies involving brain age game” yielded a wealth of results, 6,370,000 to be exact. Unfortunately most of them were unrelated to the topic at hand but one did prove to
Page: 2 contain some worthwhile information. The website, The Biological Psychology News Link, listed a number of articles containing information falling within the fields of biology and psychology (“News Link”). Several clicks later I finally discovered one article by The Washington Post that was able to provide me with an answer, just not the one I was expecting. According to the article, there haven’t been any thorough studies on the correlation between mind games and actual results (Mehta). It seems I would be forced to go off of my own experiences with the game to find an answer to my question. Fortunately for me, Brain Age has a built in graph utility that graphs my progress for each of the individual mini-games as well as my overall brain age. As I looked over my brain age graph, there did indeed appear to be a positive climb. I started at 64, went to 51, and finally jumped to 35 in the course of about a month. In the mini-game named “Calculations x20”, I started out at a little over a minute and I have decreased that time to less than 30 seconds. Another one of the mini-games, “Head Count”, gave me similar results, starting out at 3/5 successful rounds and ending at 5/5 successful. “Calculations x100” also showed a positive climb. However, the games “Syllable Count” and “Low to High” didn’t show as much success as each of them displayed a relatively stable graph over both months. The results did seem to show that I was improving, but how much of that could I attribute to just learning the game as opposed to actually training my brain? To answer this I had to make some observations about my own life as I progressed through the game. To be honest I have noticed a pretty dramatic improvement in both my memory and my reasoning abilities since I began playing this game. But once again I felt forced to question these observations, leaving me with only a foggy and generalized answer to my original question. Out of desperation I decided to turn to Google again this time searching for “Nintendo Brain Age studies”. To my surprise one of the results was an article by none other than Scientific American Mind. The article seemed quite promising and indeed it did contain some valuable information such as a description of a demonstration conducted on the author while he was playing a similar game titled Smart BrainGames. The demonstration proved that certain categories of brain waves were better for concentration and reasoning and that the game would help you stay in those wave zones when you need to (Mossman). All of this research seemed pretty fruitless and has changed the nature of how I look at this question. But despite first appearances I did indeed learn a number of things from this search. What have I learned from this search? I was able to conclude a number of things from my searching. For one I found that published research on brain enhancing and brain training exercises is relatively low. This came as quite a surprise to me as I originally thought that the recent rise in the number of such exercises was a result of positive research done on them. In reality it seemed more like a way to make a quick buck than anything else. Another, more positive thing that I did garner out of all this fact gathering was that Brain Age can help improve your thinking skills at least marginally if you do the exercises at least 4 times a week. My own observation of my results and the articles by Scientific American Mind and The Washington Post supported this deduction. My research also raised new questions that have yet to be answered. Why haven’t there been any well researched studies on the effects of such games? Is it possible to design a game or a series of exercises that when used daily would have a profound effect on the reasoning
Page: 3 capabilities of a person? Why has there been an increase in the desire to improve your mind? All of these seem to be valid questions that I believe need to be raised, challenged, and answered. In the process of my search I was able to answer my question. If you are under the age of 20 it is in my opinion that Brain Age can help stave off some of the problems that the game was designed to fix in the first place. Playing this game seems to have only positive results and I would suggest it to anyone looking for a way to stay sharp. Unfortunately I was only able to reach this conclusion through observing my own results and not through the information contained in the various articles. What this means to me? This search has reinforced a number of research techniques that I have used both during this study and in the past. Wikipedia and Google proved once again to be invaluable tools in the information gathering process. I did learn some new tricks during the search. I’ve discovered that the answers to a question sometimes cannot be answered by simply looking it up on the internet. A little bit of introspection and self-observation are necessary to reach a solid answer when online resources fail to provide one. In the future I will no doubt be doing more of this when the time comes. On a more personal note, I learned that regular exercise of your brain through such challenges and puzzles is something that everyone should be doing if they hope to ward off some of the negative effects of growing old. I myself have decided to establish a regimen of brain exercise using not only this game but a variety of other exercises both online and offline. I guess it goes to show you that not all games live up to the hype of being “brain rotters”.
Bozon, Mark. "What's Your Brain Age?." IGN. 30 Mar 2006. 13 Jun 2006 <http://ds.ign.com/articles/699/699131p1.html>. "Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!." Wikipedia. 13 June 2006. 13 Jun 2006 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_Age>. "Chapter 1. Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook." Biological Psychology News Link. Sinauer Associates, Inc.. 13 Jun 2006 <http://www.biopsychology.com/index.php?descType=always&type=chapter&id=1&pag e=0>. Mehta, Aalok. "You May Unrot Your Mind." The Washington Post. 28 Mar 2006. 13 Jun 2006 <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2006/03/27/AR2006032701172.html>. Mossberg, Walter S.. "Survived the '60s? You May Want to Try This Nintendo Game." The Wall Street Journal Online. 23 Mar 2006. 13 Jun 2006 <http://webreprints.djreprints.com/1447130730772.html>. Mossman, Kaspar. "Circuit Training." Scientific American Mind. June 2006. 13 Jun 2006 <http://www.sciammind.com/article.cfm?articleID=00016C9D-2761-14779D3383414B7F0000&pageNumber=3>.