BIG BRAIN ACADEMY / Nintendo / DS


Apparently there's a whole lot of unspent cash floating around in the "brain games" market, as in addition to Nintendo's "Brain Age" games (of which there are multiple releases now), they've also got "Big Brain Academy" out there on the shelves. Academy is a bit simpler and less varied than the other "brain training" series, focusing on five mental skills - computation, analysis, thinking, identification and memorization - for each of which there are three activities that are done over and over in order to attain a higher ranking.

The game first gives you an initial test in order to determine your "brain weight", which is simply a score based on how quickly and accurately you complete the exercises. You then strive to improve your "brain weight" by doing variants of the exercises over, and over, and over. You practice repeatedly, you get better, you get a higher score and a warm fuzzy sense of progress, and you ostensibly feel you are getting smarter.

And it's all a complete load of horseshit.

While Nintendo's "Brain Age" touts the design of Professor Ryuta Kawashima (a well-known Japanese neuroscientist), Big Brain Academy was apparently just thrown together by some shlub in one of their R&D departments. As such, it's credentials as an "educational tool" are very much in question.

As a sheer test of intelligence, the games are compromised by a number of obvious factors. Eyesight, for example; older gamers will not see the screen as well and thus not match pictures as quickly. And there are related quirks you have to get used to, like the fact that the nickel and the quarter in the computation mini-game look almost identical. But as you play these games for awhile, you'll notice that they are pretty easily gamed - that is, you start seeing certain patterns and common repeating elements that drastically improve your score. In most of the games that I tried, I scored 200 points higher in my second attempt than in my first, and then nearly another 200 higher again on my third or fourth attempt. How accurate of an intelligence test can these things be when you vary in your score by such a huge percentage in back-to-back tests?

Here's another thing that bugs me - after you take the initial test, the game compares your rating to that of some famous person. In my case, the game claimed I had the brain of Michelangelo. How in the f- can they possibly quantify that? Did they raise old Mikey from the dead and run a battery of personality and intelligence tests on him? Or are they just completely pulling shit out of their asses? My bet is on the latter.

Now you can say, "Oh, but it's all just a harmless fun little diversion and it might even do you some good." That would be fine, except that the primary selling point of the game is that it "improves your brain". That is how Nintendo convinces you to part with money from your wallet, as the mini-games aren't particularly fun and don't stand up to being played just for their own sake. And the game really does not "improve your brain"; it improves your ability to do the specific mini-games that are included, but I am extremely dubious about it having any kind of impact on your general intelligence, clarity, thinking speed, etc. I certainly don't see any studies proving that case, and until I do I have to consider this game a case of borderline false advertising. It drills you over and over in some specific task like matching or counting change, and naturally over time you get better at that particular task, then it gives you an ever-increasing "brain weight" score which makes you feel good about yourself, but has no measurable effect outside the game in your everyday life. It's all a psychological sham, playing on your own ego. Caveat emptor.



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