Sunday, October 2, 2005

Game Design Review: DS Training for Adults

While we were in Japan earlier this month, Aya’s brother gave her “DS Training for Adults: Work your Brain” (Kahashima Ryuuta Kyouju no Nou wo Kitaeru Otona no DS Training). Oni-san, this article is dedicated to you!

DS Training for Adults is yet another a truly fascinating game title that straddles the edge between pure entertainment and practical software. The direct translation of the Japanese title is a good description of what to expect: ‘Whip your brain into shape under the supervision of Professor Ryuta Kawashima of Tohoku University's Advanced Science and Technology Joint Research Center”

At first glance, DS Training for Adults is a very simple quiz game that was built in under 4-months. It also happens to be a runaway commercial success in Japan, selling over 500,000 copies and show no signs of slowing down. What is happening here?

Game Anthropology
DS Training for Adults is one of the most clear cut cases of a game serving a market need that I have ever seen.

  • Problem: As people age, their brain slows down and the risk of dementia increases.

  • Solution: World renowned researchers have proven that it is possible to reverse this decay through the daily exercises that increase blood flow to the brain. By creating a software product that automates the training regimen, we can bring this revolutionary health care technique to the masses.
We have a market that skews towards older non-gamers. The problem we are solving is very important to them. Most are horrified at the thought of losing their mental capacity and would pay exorbitant amounts of money if there was a proven alternative.

And did I mention that no one else is serving this market?

Fascinating sales statistics
The sales of DS Training for Adults exhibit a sales cycle that is far longer lived than most games. To understand why it is so unique, we need to understand the sales cycle of a typical game and the market forces at work.

A typical game title sales peak in the first week and then rapidly diminish to a mere trickle. The second week is often only 20% of the original sales. A title is lucky to spend 8 weeks on the retail shelves before being moved into the bargain bins.

There are several market forces at work here.

  • Highly informed target market: Traditional gamers are a rather homogenous group that knows when a title is released and whether or not the concept is appealing. The highly efficient media system tends to carry the same stories and many gamers read at least one or more gaming websites or magazines on a regular basis. The result of all this is that within a very short period after its release, the majority of the ultimate audience owns the game.

  • Competing titles: Most games fall into specific genres that are highly competitive. As soon as a title is released, the reviews hit and the title’s rank in the pecking order of the genre is established. If you don’t make it into the rarified ranks of first or second place, your title quickly drops off the radar of the hardcore recommenders. Only the genre kings seem to extend their sales cycle through word-of-mouth.

  • Disposable experience: Most retail games are a disposable single-shot experience. You play them and you forget them. Contrast this with evergreen forms of entertainment such as chess or Monopoly. Every family has at least one copy of Monopoly hanging about the house. When the pieces are lost or it gets misplaced in a move, you buy another copy. The result is a steady, predictable number of sales.

    Games do not have this evergreen quality. Once you’ve experienced a title, it is rare for most players to repeat the experience. Most don’t even finish the game the first time. Technology is always advancing and the next genre king is always just around the corner. It is easier to buy the newest experience than it is to try to maintain the old experience. Very few games are evergreen products so the retailers move them off the shelf quickly to make room for the next big thing.
DS Training for Adults had a rather different sales curve. It started out slow and has stabilized at a steady rate of sales. Even though it was released in May 2005, it still managed to hold 8th place on the September 12th, 2005 Japanese sales list. Targeting the older non-gamers seems to be paying off.

Let’s look at some of the market factors involved

  • Fragmented target market: The core demographic that purchases the title rarely read gaming magazines. They are learning about the title slowly through friends and non-traditional media outlets. The result is a longer, slower sales ramp.

  • King of the genre: The core mechanics of DS Training for Adults fits a definite market need, but there are no few competitors available. If have a friend that is interested preventing dementia, there is only one title to recommend. This shows the benefit of an innovation strategy. You end up being the market leader by default.

  • Evergreen product: DS Brain Training is a title that is used every day for years on end. You don’t throw it away for the next best thing. It is inherently useful regardless of what comes out two weeks from now.
Successfully target an underserved niche with a meaningful product and profit. It is business 101, but most game developers were unfortunately never trained as traditional product designers.

Servicing the market need
Identifying a market opportunity is merely the first step. A game also has to provide a working solution. The market for DS Training for Adults presents several interesting design problems:

  • How can game mechanics be used to successfully deliver the basic brain training exercises?

  • What type of interface do you use for a market of non-gamers?
Game Mechanics
The designers of DS Training for Adults had some experience with the problem of productizing their research. The main author released several very popular books describing the research and various brain exercises. He also licensed his system to Sega in 2004 to create a portable quiz system that looked a lot like a small electronic dictionary. When it finally made it to the DS, there were several game specific mechanics that were added to make it more effective.

At its core, there is a simple risk / reward schedule driving the product.

  • Action: You answer a series of questions in the form of 3 quizzes.
  • Reward: At the end of the quiz, you receive a score that represents the mental age of your brain. If you did well, you lowered the age of your brain.
  • Risk: If you did poorly, your brain age is scored as older. You feel the icy albatross of dementia around your neck, slowly eating away at the very center of your identity.
The risk of our brains decaying is something that most of us live with every day. However, games have the ability to identify a risk and call it out in a very clear and effective manner. Simply by showing the player what is happening inside their brain, a primitive quiz game gains both a large carrot and a large stick for use in modifying the player’s behavior.

There is a lesson here about the strength of real world risks and rewards. You can certainly motivate people with abstract rewards. Our brains still react to getting a star or a few extra points on our final score. However, if you tie your risk / reward sequences into a meaningful real world goal, your low power psychological incentives become super charged. You see this with gambling games, with many sports that reward with real world social rank and with DS Adult training. A little bit of reality goes a long way towards improving the addictive qualities of your game.

Interface as a learned language
DS Training for Adults has a wonderful interface for its target audience. These are folks who rarely use computers and most likely never have played computer games. A traditional game interface is a giant barrier that could easily stunt the sales of the product.

I’m a great believer in the school of thought that user interfaces are a learned language. There is rarely anything inherently intuitive about an interface. Instead the best interfaces try to leverage existing knowledge about how a group of people prefer to interact with the world.

For example, in art programs, artists know that holding down the space bar changes your cursor into a hand icon that lets you drag the canvas about. This action has become so ingrained that it is purely muscle memory for most artists. If an art program comes out that lacks this feature, its UI is immediately lambasted as un-intuitive. It would be like knowing a common verb such as ‘drag’ but when you try to communicate, the other person just stares at you blankly. Heaven forbid, the program suggests an alternative verb such as “scroll bars.” No one wants to learn a new language.

In DS Training for Adults, the designers based the interface on a language they assumed their audience would know. Instead of pressing buttons, you jot down numbers much like you would in school notebook. For certain mini-games, you also can yell out answers and the game will use speak recognition to record your answers. The users of DS Training for Adult may not speak ‘Video Game-ese” but they are very likely to understand “Elementary School Quiz-ese”

There are a variety of additional tricks that are used to enforce the interface metaphor.

  • The professor is a bobbing head that encourages you much like a real world teacher would.
  • The DS is held sideways, much like a traditional notebook.
  • All the ‘random buttons’ on the DS are ignored and the whole game is played through the touch screen and the microphone.
  • There are a number of risk / reward schedules that are skinned to fit the metaphor. Training each day gets you a ‘good job’ stamp. If you do a good job, you are rewarded with additional lessons and exercises much like you would if you were taking a class.

The result is amusingly enough, a game that is very intuitive to its target audience, but feels distinctly non-standard to the typical gamer. When you target new market segments, there is a natural splintering of the interface language that many designers have come to rely upon. Where the groups interact, expect to see misunderstanding and perhaps a culture war or two. I would pay money to videotape a typical DS Training for Adults purchaser as they read through a copy of EGM looking for additional brain training games.

From the flip perspective, I’ve seen DS Training for Adults described by the mainstream gaming press as “Not worth full price, since there are only nine different games to play here, but definitely a fun time-waster.” A review of a title intended for non-gamers by gamers will likely miss the point. It would be like a non-metrosexual male such as myself trying to write a cute shoe review. :-)

Big Picture: When is a game a useful consumer product and when is it merely entertainment?
DS Training for Adults is what many people these days are calling a Serious Game. It takes the techniques of classic game design and applies them to a real world problem. Most Serious Games focus on teaching a particular real world skill to the player. DS Training for Adults is unique in that it claims that act of playing the game has direct health benefits. The basic concept is the same. Games are useful software products.

Serious Games are a new (or at least rediscovered) class of software that raises big questions about commonly held definitions of games. Many people, both game designers and game critics, have argued that games are inherently pointless. Our urge to play games is a remnant of our childhood, a pleasurable leftover behavior that is at best a luxury activity in our adult world. This attitude is pervasive and influences both the consumption and the designs of modern games.

Under this shallow philosophy, games become a series of disposable baubles that contribute nothing to society. As long as it is ‘fun’, a game is devoured by the sedated masses who demand only meaningless pleasure. If, by definition, there is nothing more to games, why try to create anything beyond mere candy?

I see titles such as DS Training for Adults and I must disagree with the concept that games are mere entertainment. There exists an entire universe of applications for quality game design that reach far beyond the current status quo. We need a new philosophy. Imagine instead that a game is ultimately a consumer product that services an identifiable need in the marketplace.

If we see a game as a software product, game design becomes a practical tool for solving real world problems. DS Training for Adults uses risk / reward schedules to turn the process of reducing dementia into an enjoyable and addictive experience. In my game design Space Crack, I use the same fundamental tools to create a product that helps long lost friends connect with one another. The possibilities are limitless.

When you start treating games as consumer products that serve real needs, you look at the process of designing games in a radically different light. It is not longer about one upping a current genre king with craftsman-style clone-and-polish techniques. It is about solving problems and making the world a better place. Not only is this idealistic and heartwarming, it also happens to be a great way to make money.

The good stuff
I would have a hard time writing a traditional game review for DS Brain Training for Adults. It seems a bit odd to attempt an objective review when there are really no other comparable titles on the market. Imagine you are tasked with reviewing an immortality serum. It is the only one that works, but it smells a bit funny. Do you knock off a star because of the smell? At best you can review it based off its effectiveness. Everything else is merely noise.

Luckily this is a design review. Here is a very brief run-down of some of the design elements I enjoyed in DS Training for Adults:

  • The risk / reward schedules are simple, pure and highly effective. I’ve spent very little time describing them because they are game design 101. They follow the standard pattern of having a core mechanic and then building layer of meta-game mechanics and ladders atop the foundation.

  • The little avatar of the professor works amazingly well. When you miss a day, you feel guilty. He comes across as slightly creepy to Western sensibilities, but I’m assured that he is quite charming from a Japanese perspective.

  • The brain age charts are remarkably effective. When Aya managed to get her mental age down to 20, there was a celebration in our household that lasted most of the day. I’ve rarely seen such an effective incentive in a video game.
The bad stuff
  • The handwriting recognition still isn’t perfect. As you go along, you get better at it. Still this could be improved. Ah, the downfalls of using advanced technology in an attempt to simplify a task. However, the flaws are not fatal and overall the interface was an inspired design decision.

  • I’m curious about the long term burn out. The exercises themselves are rather solid, but there is likely to be a limited number of tips and tricks that can be dispensed. At a certain point, people will get bored of the longer term meta-game mechanics. Ideally, however, playing this game should be like taking your daily vitamins. If the game can make the transition from addiction to habit then it can avoid long term burn out.
DS Training for Adults is a very different title than most of games on the market and it brings out some extremely fascinating lessons about game design. We covered the following concepts in this essay:

  • Targeting an underserved market can extend your selling period: By servicing a real market need you can create an evergreen product that faces little immediate competition. The result is long shelf time and improved sales. The downside is a slower sales ramp and the need for non-traditional marketing campaigns.

  • Real world risk / rewards schedules can supercharge the addictiveness of your game: By focusing on a real-world concern or interest you can turn a simple game into a highly meaningful activity. The result is slower burn out and more potent risk / reward systems.

  • Interface is a learned language: Good interface design is not a universal concept. Instead, ask “what are the skills inherent in your target population and how can you leverage them to create an interface that best matches with their unspoken expectations?”

  • Game can be more than mere entertainment: Approach game design from the perspective of a product designer. Look for unmet needs and use game design techniques to create effective solutions. Adopt as your central motivating philosophy that all games serve a purpose. By clearly identifying that purpose, you’ll make vastly superior games.
I hope to see many more titles like DS Training for Adults. Designers who pursue the goal of creating useful product will build entirely new fields of game design that expand well beyond the current pool of stagnant genres. I’ve said it before, but it is worth repeating. This is an exciting time to be a game designer. :-)

Take care


There is one additional brain training game available in Japan. It is doing quite well but is still in second place. The established, pre-existing brand of DS Training for Adults seems to have been a critical factor in its capturing of the genre title crown.


  1. Really great essay :) Thanks for the good read!

  2. Excellent essay. Luckily, it seems PSP will have its own Training series, although its interface wouldn't be as intuitive as DS. The idea of holding the DS as a notebook must be one of the strangest and at the same time most effective way of converting a console into something familiar. Do you know if it can be held with the touch screen to the left too (which may be useful for left-handed people), or just to the right?

  3. So when can we finally see this game outside of Japan? I really hope some influencial people are looking at this (great) blog entry and seriously consider localizing this game.

  4. To ReyBrujo:

    Do you know if it can be held with the touch screen to the left too (which may be useful for left-handed people), or just to the right?

    The game asks you in the beginning, when you're setting up yourself as a user (you can have up to 4 users with one card in a DS) whether you're left handed or right handed. So yes, if you are left handed, the set up would be the other way around...

  5. Hello.
    This is Takuya.
    I read every time happily recently.

    I apologize first.
    I am weak in English.
    Even if a strange sentence matches, please forgive me.

    DS is extreme popularity in Japan.
    A video game for families of Sony is more popular than NINTENDO.
    But PSP is high-priced to write it in high efficiency.
    For reasons of 2 of there being a low-priced thing and the game that I can do only in DS, DS is supported.

    An article strategy of a game resembles a survival strategy of a creature.
    They come to have a strong tusk and nail than anyone.
    They come to have a big body than anyone.
    Or they live in the place where a rival is not.

    The company which made the article which there is only in the present when a game of many fields is sold, one's company is strong.
    There are a lot of companies I am imitated immediately by other companies, and to be defeated by.
    I am interesting.

    A fish was a delicious season in Japan.
    Please come to Japan again sometime.
    I look forward to the day that can encounter.

  6. Wow, Danc. Thanks for making this known. It's interesting how a lot of these exercises have been around for a while, but the application of technology in a commercial setting has been viewed as somewhat suspect in an American culture. A while ago I read a book called Mozart's Brain and the Fighter Pilot by Richard Restak (link) and found it occurred to me that many of the exercises he suggests would make great game ideas, at least in a setting like Mario Party, in which little exercises can be repeated, though there was no dynamic way to really measure whether it was doing any good. This idea of actually giving you feedback that you're doing some good for your brain, really goes the extra mile in enhancing a person's enthusiasm for the game, because (even if it might be exaggerated, or fantastic, yeah, right you have the brain of a twenty-year old. ;) ) that's why a lot of older generation would actually purchase the game.

    As usual, you pick an interesting topic discussion... I am almost convinced I may have to revise my attitude about videogames to not be so puritanical... ;)

    Best regards and huggers,


  7. Danc talked about if a game is simply candy or can be usefull in the real world, but what about it being art. Some, not all, games have real artistic value in music or visuals. Myst, Metroid Prime, and Legend of Zelda come to mind as kind of an interactive art form.

  8. Spot on analysis as usual.

    Brain Training is a very well designed game. It does what it is designed to do - get people to buy it. However, I don't see people getting that much *enjoyment* out of playing it.

    I think about game quality in terms of entertainment vs time - it takes a while to learn the game, then it's fun for a while, and then you get bored of it. After a while, people no longer find the game fun. What, then, are the games people play for a long time? There are deep, cerebral games with layered strategy and complexity such as Civ III, and then there are games that bring in motivation other than "fun," such as Halo. Why do some people play Halo all the time? They feel a need to prove that they are "better" than other people in some way. Well, somebody has to lose, and the result is self-disappointment as a motivator. That works, but it's not good. Brain Training is something like Halo. It starts out fun, with nifty little minigames, and then it slowly becomes something you do everyday because otherwise the little bobblehead professor will tell you YOU ARE STUPID, and you don't want to be stupid. I can easily imagine many middle aged Japanese businessmen playing this game over and over very seriously and very unhappily. Brain Training does have one advantage over Halo, though - it can lie. Performance is vs a abstract aggregate instead of individuals, and you can /tell/ everybody that they are better than average. If people who play this a lot get better scores, players will believe that they really are better people than non-players or infrequent players - like Halo, but a stronger effect. So people can feel good because the game tells them they are better than average, but they are then continuously told that "you can't do any better" and eventually they get to be unhappy players. And well, let's face it, these exercises are only good to some extent, and a lot of the score comes from non-general game-related learning.

    If this were a /good enough/ way to work on your brain I'd say let the ends justify the means but as it is I cannot wholeheartedly approve of a game that mostly motivates its players with delusion and fear and is unlikely to produce a net gain in how happy they've been.


  9. Great Challenge, BDH. Thanks for commenting...


  10. I think the most interesting points you made were about games relationship with society. I started a long discussion thread about this over at


    I would actually like to here your thoughts on the issue more in depth. With games taking up a larger portion of people's time, it is our responsibility as developers to look at not only what influence we are currently having but what opportunities lie for us to take our medium to a more beneficial level.

    Seeing as the discussion was fairly lengthy, this seems to be a very important issue to many developers (and players alike). Perhaps you would like to write an essay about your thoughts?

  11. The one thing you didn't address is whether there's any merit to the therapeutic claims the game makes. Without those, all you have is yet another puzzle game, and yet another marketing campaign that exploits people's health fears (and their willingness to believe scientific jargon.)

    I don't know the answers, but I'm skeptical. The causes of Alzheimers' aren't known, but they involve autoimmune reactions in specific areas of the brain and nothing as simple as "increasing blood flow". And the idea of being able to identify specific "mental ages", especially through nothing more than quizzes, seems very naive.

    I'm sure that activities that keep you mentally active are beneficial to some degree. But I'll bet that nearly any game, from checkers to Tetris to Final Fantasy, would work as well for that purpose. Selling an ordinary game with promises that it has unique abilities to prevent mental degeneration seems underhanded to me.

  12. "Under this shallow philosophy, games become a series of disposable baubles that contribute nothing to society.... I see titles such as DS Training for Adults and I must disagree with the concept that games are mere entertainment... Imagine instead that a game is ultimately a consumer product that services an identifiable need in the marketplace."

    The argument that videogames are more than amusing baubles because they can stave off dementia or train users in "real world skills" reaches too far, and consequently shortchanges the medium it wishes to defend. Do songs or novels or gardens have to pass this test? It's generally accepted that those things have some kind of inherent value, they're enriching; they make us more sensitive, more in touch with our own experiences through identifying with the expressions of others.

    Overly utilitarian arguments for the value of games spurns their artistic mystery and treats games as though they were only a means to some other end.

    I heard a commercial on NPR today with a similar ring. An upcoming program would discuss the game "America's Army" and its apparent benefit to shooting accuracy with real firearms. The tagline for the program, repeated a couple times, was something like, "Videogames Might Be Good For You!" It was pronounced with the same bemused tone as "Eat A Whole Cake Every Day And Gain Incredible Sexual Powers!" might be. I thought, great, this is the argument for games: they'll help me shoot a gun?

    When/if games shed their taboo, they won't have to "train you for the real world" to be valued as more than "disposable baubles." Besides, if they're only good for preparing us for something else, they're still disposable.

  13. I see that Anonymous made a similar point to mine at 12:58, but to talk about artistic value only in music and visuals again shortchanges videogames, relying on its relationship to other media to argue its worth. It's like saying films are great because of photography and soundtrack and acting. What about editing, pacing, montage... (A film student could probably do better with this list.)

    Can we analyize games without cutting them into pieces? If one loves something, one should be able to celebrate its wholeness.

  14. Perhaps I am a cynical fellow, but I have little patience for game designers who blather on about creating an artistic experience.

    Saying games can be useful is not an attack on the shallow pseudo-artistic masturbation that infects the ego-centric fringes of any modern creative endevour. It merely offers an alternative, pragmatic design philosophy for those of us who actually want to help other people. Why not give it a try?

    I'm a big believer that skills, techniques, methodologies and expertise are all quite helpful in making effective (dare I say utilitarian) games. A game is a complex logical system. It is not some canvas that an idiot savant can splash a little paint on and call it good.

    Let us not devolve into the muck of "art for the sake of art" too soon in the exploration of this new medium. Even Picasso had a few years of classical training before he went his merry way. Once we've established our hundred years of classical game design training, perhaps then I'll be a little bit more open to people who want to bounce about with lollipops taped to their ass.

    take care
    Danc the Ranter

    PS: Great site, David. Like your style.

  15. Other random notes:
    - Yes, DS Training for Adults is fun. Some folks enjoy self improvement. Shocking, but true.

    - This could be a bit of snake oil, but I suspect not. Unfortunately I have no English-language science journals at my disposal to check out the claims. I think they burn that type of literature in this part of the country. Here's one quote though: "...results showed that the course was effective, with five out of seven people with mild cognitive impairment achieving normal cognitive function in three months"

    - Hi Takuya! Thanks for dropping by!

    take care

  16. David -
    Wow - you're /that/ David. Long time reader. I have an account on your site, but I'm not saying which one. ;-)

    danc -
    "shallow pseudo-artistic masturbation that infects the ego-centric fringes" is a bit harsh. A game can be made to make money, to make people happy, and/or to make people more "enlightened." The balance of these goals and the success in meeting them determines to what extent a game is a successful product and/or good art. It is unfortunate that some people make and buy art to have a way to feel superior, but you paint with too broad a brush.

    "Some folks enjoy self improvement" - I find this misleading. I would say "some people like being told and feeling that they are improving in some way that is important to them, and likewise greatly fear part of them degrading." True self improvement involves constant research, careful introspection, diligent application of self-developed techniques, and long-term observation and adaptation.

    As someone who likes to read scientific journals myself, I can also say that playing a variety of popular puzzle games for a little while, reading novels and research digests, regular exercise, and/or new physical/cerebral/spacial activities (take dancing lessons, learn to juggle, design electric circuits, and a million other things) will leave someone both happier and better off mentally than playing a "brain training" game over and over, while what the brain training game will do is make people feel good for playing it over and over and partly learning some narrow skills well.

    Takuya -
    We will appreciate your unique perspective even if you feel you cannot put it in English very well. I find your English to be strange but clear.


  17. bdh:

    I don't disagree with you that a variety of activities in your life would enrich your life and make people happier - and that 'self improvement' is a bit broad (as you pointed out, Danc does paint with a broad brush when in a ranting mode) - but you are missing the point of the game. The brain training game doesn't take that much time, and since Prof. Kawashima's research has proven improvements in brain fiber structure from these specific types of activities (where as engaging in more complex problem-solving produced working only small portions of the brain), it's more like walking or running 15-30 minutes a day to keep your overall bone structure strong and muscles somewhat active, rather than just lifting hand weights and ending up with large biceps but pencil legs.

    Yes, I love taking new lessons, picking up new sports, etc., & just finished a novel I bought this past weekend - but I do enjoy being able to do some quick calculations and literature reading (btw, some of the exercises involve reading aloud pieces of classic literature - so it also brings back memories and makes you want to revisit some of those classics or read new ones).

    After all, you are talking about the market of people (i.e. Japanese in 30-40-50's) who read over 6 books a month on average (in the U.S. 3.4 books per month is average for adults), which probably takes place while commuting on trains/buses. Most people are not wasting time or acting upon paranoia, but rather, using that bit of extra, otherwise vacant time for a bit of extra noodle 'exercise', so you might accidentally have a snappy comeback to a joke to enjoy life a little more. Also, keeping your noodles softer and pliable hopefully prepares you for what else life has to offer. ;-)

  18. Most retail games are a disposable single-shot experience. You play them and you forget them. Contrast this with evergreen forms of entertainment such as chess or Monopoly.

    I'm amused by the implication that chess and Monopoly aren't retail games. (Someone call Hasbro!)

    I think more than anything else I've read, this little snippet succinctly explains why our industry is in such a bad state; of course we haven't grown if all we look to for inspiration is what we've already done. There's an established tabletop gaming industry that's been around a lot longer than we have; there must be things they can teach us, if we pay attention. :)

    Where I work, I get strange looks when I tell people that I actually get together with friends (in an actual room, no less!) to play games which involve cards and/or dice and/or boards. How does that compare to where you work, Danc? Do your co-workers consider games to exist if they don't use electricity, or do you think it's an industry-wide blindness?

  19. you say, on october 2nd, that you were in japan "earlier this month"?

    what, were you only there for a couple of minutes?

    looks like you need to play that brain training some more!!

    oh, i'm kidding! (kind of!!) it was a good article.

    if you can read japanese, (mother series producer/writer/journalist/big-time japanese television celebrity/baseball fan/everyman) shigesato itoi has a wonderful article about the game on his blog.

    in closing, i enjoy your positivity; let us look forward to the Revolution as brothers! (even though i technically work for SCEJ.)

  20. Believe me, I'm not trying to lead us into some grandiloquent "art for art's sake" discussion. (Probably should have avoided the "A word" altogether.) Nor did I mean to suggest that a flailing imbecile is likely to splatter together a video game of great societal efficacy.

    Just sayin' that arguments for the cultural value of games which point to supposed health benefits step over the most obvious stuff. It's like saying that rock music benefits me because "dancing to it is a great work out" or "The Cure got me interested in Camus." No -- it's great because of how we experience it! It's great because of how it's put together, how it makes us feel, not because of some external consequence.

    By the way, I have nothing against games that teach me to cook or improve my erection, but it's misguided to value "edutainment" software by default above the "merely entertaining."

    I've been enjoying your essays very much since "Nintendo's Genre Innovation Strategy." This point has simply been on my mind, and I'd expect you, as someone who takes his work seriously, to seek an acceptance for videogames not dependent on compensating, servile applications.

    Thanks for the comments about my site.

  21. *grin* I think you may have accidently touch one of my ranting trigger points. Apologies if that last post was out of hand. :-)

    I perhaps overanalyze games, but I believe that even entertaining games end up often serving a practical purpose (To help us relax in the evening, waste some time on a bus, spend time with friends). By understanding the key psychological benefit to the market segment that enjoys those titles, I believe that you can make much better games than if you just aim for the general blob of 'entertainment'

    Most of my game designs fall into the realm of entertainment, not your typical edutainment land. I definitely agree with you that one is not better than the other. However, a game like DS Training for Adults can teach us interesting techniques for making either type of experience more effective.

    Happy day.

    PS: Still reading through your site...curious what tools you use to make your pictures?

  22. Danc,

    That doesn't sound overly analytical. I've been in analysis for many years, so I'm all about analytical approaches, including those that may begin with observation of a market need.

    For my site, I draw with a Wacom tablet in Photoshop with a normal round brush or pencil tool.

  23. It's fascinating that a quiz game is being marketed as a dementia-staving device. I mean, one could make the argument that ALL games, in order to be games, must continually challenge the mind to make quick decisions, and thus, all games are as, if not more, likely to stave off the dementia.

    Is the game fun....? Does it really matter to the buy who keep buying it? Cause apparently, it doesn't. If they buy it and they play it, then that's fun enough.

  24. Implying that a game has any utilitarian value is just ludicrous. This game can help people no more than say playing a leapfrog game can help a child read.

    Furthermore, saying a game has no artistic value is ignorant. A shortcoming I hadn't expected from danc. Some wonderful music has been composed for games, and the images in Myst and others were originally drawn on paper by an artist. Just because it is a comic book doesn’t mean it’s not art. Somebody who can’t see Channelwood as artistic vision or Bolero of fire as a real piece of music (whether you like it or not) really shouldn’t be commenting on art anyway.

  25. To clarify my position. I do not believe that games lack artistic value. A brief look around my website should suggest that I have the utmost appreciation for the artistic mindset. :-)

    I merely feel that a 'games as art' philosophy is not the most pragmatic starting place for either building great new games or analyzing current games. There are plenty of sites that meander on about games as art. We all want to believe in something bigger than ourselves. This site tries to bring a more grounded, practical perspective to the discussion. I'm a 'foundations first' sort of guy. :-)

    And yes, games can have utility. Any consumer product that is successful is generally sucessful because it provides the purchaser with some utilitarian value. This value can be psychological as well as physical.

    take care

    PS: Banging about with Painter right now. Creating a bannana space ship piloted by a space monkey. Really, when it comes right down to it, it is all about the monkeys.

  26. As a psychology student, I wanted to share a bit of information related to the claims that the game slows the ageing of the brain. Note that ALL brains age in terms of IQ, and that this effect occurs independently of whether a person develops dementia or not. This isn't merely a program for potential dementia sufferers as Rowan seems to suggest. IQ tests have actually shown that cognitive functioning can be reduced to levels of around 65 by the age of 70(where the average IQ of a 22 year old, the age of peak cognitive functioning, is 100). IQ is generally taken to be a measure of the speed of information processing, or the ability of the subject to learn and absorb new information.

    DS Training For Adults appears to be based upon this principal, and its aim appears to be the reversal of this ageing process. I am somewhat skeptical of the effectiveness of such an attempt. Most research on this type of area yields two kinds of results. The first is that these type of training exercises tend to increase only your performance at the exercises themselves, and not in the general area of cognitive functioning. Secondly, the effects of most attempts to raise cognitive functioning and/or reverse its degeneration tend to have temporary effects that last only for a couple of years. I think we'd need a lot more research to establish whether Kyoju's work really does make a difference or not.

    ps. I love this blog, keep up the good work Danc!

  27. ridethefader, I tend to believe that IQ tests tend to test people's ability to take tests. In which case, a quiz game could quite easily prove beneficial for better scoring on IQ tests.

  28. That stuff about IQ is...wrong. Read . An *average person* has an IQ of 100. What it is, more accurately, is your place relative to the rest of the population in how good you are at solving a set of problems that are supposed to be a representative of all mental ability (but inevitably aren't).


  29. Best to just read Gould's The Mismeasure of Man. Which I just started rereading a few days ago, happily.

  30. I got the game, and I hope the people commenting here have a chance to actually try out the U.S. version. I hope the U.S. version does well. Perhaps if this gets promoted through the self-help outlets (Men's Health, etc.) and maybe organizations the AARP (?) it might find a similar market.

    I'm not a native Japanese speaker and a lot of the tests, like memorizing short Japanese words and reading parts of famous novels outloud quickly, is hard for me. So, right now, my brain age is around 50. Perhaps the U.S. version might more fairly represent my mental ability?

    I'm noticing I'm more able to quickly read/process Japanese, which is probably a good thing for me. I'm not sure I'm gaining much improvement in overall cognitive function -- perhaps just practicing math makes you faster at math? -- but it at least has one practical result for me, which is strengthening my ability in a foreign language.

  31. Does the author or anyone else reading this post know when the Club Nintendo demographic stats were published and if the current stats are available anywhere on the web?

    I'd love to get a sense of how the registered user demographics have changed since this publication.

  32. nice website related to brain training:

  33. Lumosity, a scientific brain training site, is all online and has a free trial.

  34. Brain offers those exercises free of charge forever.

    Sad that people made a commercial project out of this. Individuals should be able to perform these useful exercises free of charge.