Why, your brain doesn’t look a day over 20! What’s your secret?

I’m not sure if Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day! (2006) counts what we define as a “video game,” but  when I got my spankin’ new DS, it was the first DS game I picked up for the system. Now, why in the world did I buy Brain Age, when, by 2006, there was a plethora of DS games (including Super Mario 64 DS) on the market?

Brain Age cover art © Nintendo (source)

The DS was the first handheld gaming device that I ever owned, and I’ll be honest, I felt a little silly with it at first. I was, well…[sigh]…perhaps going through an “I’m-now-in-my-thirties-and-what-the-hell-am-I-doing-with-my-life” crisis. My only point of reference concerning handhelds was the Gameboy; and even though I never had one, I never remember seeing anyone “old” with one. And you’ll notice it took me awhile to come around to the DS – it was released in 2004. I was sorta but not intensely into games then, enjoying small pockets of time with the Gamecube mostly. So, 2006 rolled round, and I had a brand new job and a brand new commute. And I found myself wanting to do something else during those commutes besides reading and/or falling asleep. My husband actually suggested that the DS might be a good thing for me, and that with a game like Brain Age, I’d feel a little less juvenile with it (in my own mind, that is).

Maybe I’d have felt differently if I knew it could have made me look like a very pensive Nicole Kidman. (source)

Brain Age was…well, what was it? Not a traditional video game by any means, it was more like an electronic engagement tool (huh?), full of math problems, puzzles, and IQ-type tests that were supposed to increase brain activity. It contained the unsettling Prof. Kawashima, an encouraging and, at times, very annoying talking head that introduced the “games” and helped you keep track of your progress. In addition to the math and stuff, it also had Sudoku, which I had heard tons about but never played.

Oh must it, Kawashima?? MUST IT?!? (source)

And I can’t think of a single way to amp up this title – no blood, no guns, no saving the world. It was unremarkable, but it was not boring. Really, it wasn’t. And whether it was the game or my own belief in the training exercises, it did actually help me become more focused, especially when played in the morning. We all know there’s something rewarding in challenging oneself. How many times have you, on your own and without an audience, played through the same game to beat your high score/beat it on a harder difficulty? Nobody was there cheering on my ability to answer math problems more quickly on one day than the next, but the in-game graph proved that I was getting better at the game’s many problems. The game didn’t come with any pomp and circumstance, but I was able to create plenty of it in my mind each time I stepped up and won a challenge.

But the 6’s might be nines and the 9’s might be sixes in this topsy-turvy, coo-coo bananas world of ours. (source)

I remember number challenges the most, but the game had lots more to offer. I’ll admit to becoming somewhat addicted to Sudoku for a time, and there were exercises that I was terrible at, like word memorization and recall. I never played any of the voice games. On the train, there were already several people who talked to themselves, and I was not about to become one of them. Beyond that, I, the killjoy, couldn’t stand talking into the game’s mic. (I hated it in an any game – talking, or yes, blowing into it was so goddamn ridiculous. Call me self-conscious, or old.) Oh, and the drawing game. I hated that one t0o. Drawing anything on the ol’ DS was fruitless…and I was, and still am, a terrible artist.

Um…way to go Max…if that’s your real name. (source)

As distracting as the talking head Kawashima could be, he was mostly amiable. He was happy when you did well and sad but still positive when you sucked. When I left the game for an extended time period, he was always glad when I came back (but always wondered where I had gone, the nosey bastard!) My progress with the game varied widely, with really great weeks and really bad weeks; and the game had no shame in showing you how bad (or great) you were doing. When you started the game you had to do a “brain age check” which produced a number between 20 (needs life support, perhaps?) and 80 (a young and vibrant brain!). Mine was pretty dismal starting out, and the goal, of course, was to improve it over the course of the game. I never got up to a magical “80,” but there were days where I got close.

He’s a real kidder that Kawashima. Haha..ha…dick (source)

There must have been something genuinely intriguing about the game, because I ended up trading the game in for Brain Age 2. More puzzles, more weird Kawashima, more highs and lows in brain training. The games really are great for commuting, and probably long travel. They do help you stay alert to a certain degree, and probably do help increase certain brain functions with repeated play. As much as I’d like to credit them with helping me become a better person, the Brain Age games were gateway drugs into not only the world of the DS, but also gaming in general. Once I became comfortable with the DS and stopped worrying about my “place” among other working commuters, there was no stopping the addiction. “Real” games followed en masse and with a vengeance, both handheld and console. True exploration began, as with so many things, simply letting go.

7 thoughts on “Why, your brain doesn’t look a day over 20! What’s your secret?”

  1. Reblogged this on The Duck of Indeed and commented:
    Cary wrote a very entertaining article on the educational DS game, “Brain Age”. I only got the game myself because it came with my DS, but it actually turned out to be quite fun and addictive. So read Cary’s post and see what makes this game fun (ruined only slightly by the kinda creepy, floating head man).

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  2. When I bought my DSi, it came with two “Brain Age” games, math and this other one I don’t remember. They are fun, but the darn thing marks me wrong because it thinks I put in another number when I really did draw the right one. “The answer is 7.” “Oh, did you write the number 9? You are wrong! The answer is 7.” Curse them! Curse them all! I haven’t gotten sudoku yet. They did once reward me with this Tetris game thing for “relaxing”, which was very addictive. I never talk into the DS mic thing either. I feel weird. I do often talk to my games, but when they tell me to do it, it’s weird. Weird floating head man keeps telling me to say stuff to him and see what happens, but I can’t bring myself to do it.

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    1. Ha! I do remember having some initial problems with writing numbers in Brain Age. Though I don’t think my 4s and 9s look the same, apparently the game couldn’t tell them apart when I wrote them. I did get some terrible scores due to stuff like that, or because I took too much time just trying to write out the numbers carefully!

      I *hated* being told to talk to my DS games, so I never did. I prefer to be in charge of stuff like that — talking — or rather, yelling, as is usually the case.

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  3. I enjoy Brain Age. I haven’t played it in ages, but I know what you mean when it comes to finding the fun in something that could be seen as “schoolwork.” I always wanted to improve my scores during the time I sucked. It’s one of those games that is good to play when you don’t feel like killing or blowing stuff up. I categorize it as a rainy day game to play.

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    1. Indeed. I was surprised at how much I looked forward to playing it each morning. Even if my “brain age” got worse, it was still worthwhile to make the effort. Plus, it never made me want to break the DS…public game rage isn’t a pretty thing.

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    1. I never got to Big Brain Academy, but…a grade?! Congrats on your A-, but I think being graded in a video game would bring up too many terrible school memories for me, lol!

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