Week of March 20th - The Grandma Paradox
Nintendo offered Grandma the chance to receive an advance copy of Brain Age before it's released here in The States on the 17th of April. It didn't take much effort on Nintendo's part; Grandma has followed the success of its Japanese equivalent and was curious to see what it was about. You get to see her glamorous copy in the top picture there; when Nintendo sends games early, they don't always have packaging, you see. Hers was taped to a press release and the tape sort of ..stripped off the label. "It just means that I have a SPECIAL copy!" Grandma will tell you.
She likes it!
The game consists of a few different elements: First you have the Daily Brain Training exercises. There you'll find word memorization testing, speed reading, speed math questions, puzzles, all kinds of shit. They range from "well THIS is easy" to "dammit, I should've known that" all the way to "Jesus CHRIST!! WHAT THE FUCK?!" If you do one exercise, you get a stamp for that day and a little bit of brain training. If you do three exercises in one day, you get a BIG stamp and I assume you're on your way to becoming a super-genius. Next you have your Brain Age Check, where you complete three random puzzles as quickly and as accurately as you can, and then you get a score. That score is your brain age.
When Grandma first turned it on and flipped the DS to a book-like position, she found the menus easy enough to navigate. The graphics aren't unnecessarily elaborate; the game is pretty enough for it's function. She was greeted by the decapitated floating head of a Japanese David Byrne, who seems like an encouraging enough sort of guy. Then Grandma took her first Brain Age test.
Grandma - "Ok..."
Me - "What?"
G - "Shut up!!!"
Me - What?!"
G - "I'm supposed to ...memorize thi-just SHUT UP, you're distracting me."
Me - "..."
G - [mouthing several words and nodding her head for some reason]
Me - "...so how many-"
G - "SHHH!!!! You're fucking me up!!"
Me - "..."
G - ".......tire.......coin.....slit....."
Me - "....What's up?"
G - "You screwed me up when I was supposed to memorize the list and now all I can remember is TEN."
Me - "Ah."
G - "Yeah."
Me - "So what's your brain age, then?"
G - "62."
Me - "Alright let me try...."
G - "Hey that's no fair! You can't go in the bathroom with it, you have to let me punch you in the arm or something!"
On our first try, Bob and I also received a brain age of 62. Mom got it all the way down to 44, impressing everyone with her insane Stroop Test skills. We've kept up our daily testing, and for the most part we're improving. Except Bob. Bob appears to be the only stupid one. After a few days, Mom and I had the brilliant idea of going down in history as the first people in The United States to use Brain Age as an alternative breathalyzer test. Our plan was simple: take two shots of gin or vodka, wait a bit; then take the Brain Age test. Repeat until pleasantly drunk or unable to complete test.
It didn't work.
Drinking actually IMPROVED our scores.
Grandma was playing Grandia III at the time Mom and I stumbled in to gloat about our incredibly low brain ages. Grandma rolled her eyes and ignored us. Our St. Patrick's day was spent making history, man. HISTORY!! Leave it to us to turn the dream of a Japanese doctor to give the planet a simple, cognitive mind exercise program into a fucking drinking game.
It wasn't until we had sobered up when we realized what went wrong with our "experiment." You can only officially test and record your brain age once a day. You can test all you want, but it will only record the first test you take in a 24 hours period. There is a method to this madness. If you take the test three times in a row, chances are you may get similar words from a previous memorization test, or you may have had a moment to think about a math problem you answered incorrectly earlier and there it is again; your habituated mind ready for it.
In this little clip we find Grandma facing off with Barbie using one game, two DS units and a wireless router. The wireless game consisted of 30 math questions; the winner is the one who gets the most correct in the least amount of time. Barbie didn't even have a chance; Grandma finished this round in a little over one minute. Barbie wasn't done when I finally gave up and clicked off the camera.
One can connect up to 15 DS units with one game card, and from what we understand, this game is going to be pretty inexpensive.
Grandma tends to like the games that are marketed towards gamers. RPGs, RTSs, Strategy Tactical, Platform, Action-shooter, etc.,... She also likes the card and puzzle games on occasion, but she didn't earn the title "Old Grandma Hardcore" playing World Championship Poker. Brain Age is a fun game, no doubt. Packaging Sodoku in with the daily brain training exercises was a smart move for Nintendo; Sodoku is an already immensely popular and addictive numbers game, so the game is worth buying for that alone. The brain training exercises don't seem like a half-assed attempt to market a Sodoku DS game, however. There is a very clear purpose for this game.
Unfortunately for Nintendo, the purpose of Brain Age resembles homework, and what the hell kid is going to want to buy and play THAT? They already solved the attention-span issue by making the daily training short and sweet. The graphs may show improvement over time, but let's face it- Brain Training is more about brain maintenance than it is about brain improvement. These aren't shallow attempts at a placebo effect for folks, either- some of the exercises, such as The Stroop Test, have been around psychology textbooks for awhile. They even WORK if you give a solid effort.
So what is Nintendo's solution? Personally, I think they should shift the focus of marketing away from gamers entirely. Gamers are a smart bunch for the most part, but wars have been fought within the community over the classification of what a video game IS, let alone it's function. Let's be honest: Brain Age, when used properly, accomplishes many of the "side-effects" that many games out there already generate; faster reaction times, better memory retrieval skills, improved cognitive mapping abilities, etc.,.. When one plays Geometry Wars, for instance, one has to learn how to anticipate patterns, how to look past the bright glare of explosions and still maintain hand-eye coordination enough to simultaneously escape and assault. Activating and maintaining new or rarely used neural connections necessary to play a game obviously carries benefits other than a million plus score. It's healthy for the brain.
So what is Brain Age? If video games can provide the same brain training function without explicitly informing you they are, what good is Brain Age?
This is The Grandma Paradox.
Grandma loves Brain Age. She's USED other video games for similar purposes but she also plays merely to play; to become engaged in a good story, to experience a beautiful and impossible environment, to role play, to destroy, to create, to compete, to have FUN. Brain Age and games like it will be ESSENTIAL in pulling people who otherwise do not game into this wonderful experience with the rest of us. Brain Age gives us the raw, bare-bones benefits of gaming and presents it in an mature and clear way that won't frighten off those who have become conditioned to equate video games with children and Tron.
Don't underestimate this little game. If Nintendo of America plays their cards right, this could be a catalyst for the genesis of a new classification of gamers.
Grandma and I both happily endorse Brain Age, and we're not even getting fucking PAID. The short press release included with the game didn't convey enough how important this could potentially be outside of the Japanese market, which makes me wonder if they really know what they have. If we want to get more folks of Grandma's maturity playing video games and into the gaming community, it will be games like Brain Age that will help us do it.
[Ask Grandma Hardcore is still on this week; post your question as a comment or e-mail us and we WILL answer you as soon as we can. (Our international readers didn't get a chance with the scheduled threads.) We have some more videos coming for you, lots of news, and as soon as we fill our jar of pennies, Grandma's going after Oblivion.]