Weird Games: Videogames can be a great way to learn, and some games take this to an extreme. The desire to learn while having fun has given rise to a whole new genre of “training” games. These games have you using your consoles as personal coaches, psychologists, and the best friend you never had.
Wild animals use playing as a fun way to learn necessary life skills. If the wide variety of “training” games out right now is anything to go by, it seems that we’re trying to do much the same thing – albeit with significantly less biting involved.
Videogames might constantly be getting criticised for causing aggression, depression and gambling, but a few people have caught on that they can also be a great learning tool. As any parent or teacher will tell you, kids learn best when the teaching is turned into play. My husband credits Final Fantasy as the reason why he knew SAT words at age 13. There are just so many things to learn, and some games are eager to teach.
Every major console has at least one physical fitness game. You’ve no doubt heard of Wii Fit, which uses a balance board for various workout routines. UFC Personal Trainer for the PS3 provides you with your own fitness trainer while you try to follow along with a PS Move in each hand. The Xbox 360 has Your Shape: Fitness Evolved which uses the Kinect technology and is a step in between using a workout video and actually getting up and going to the gym.
The Nintendo DS in particular has become a medium for a huge variety of training games. The portable and interactive nature of the DS has made it the perfect on-the-go trainer. And one of the most common training games on the DS are puzzle collections like Brain Age. This game claims to “train your brain in minutes a day!” Brain Age is supposed to be a fun way to help keep your mind working. And it’s not the only one of its kind: there’s also Big Brain Academy, Thinksmart, Left Brain Right Brain, and Brain Boost, to name just a few.
In reality, there’s very little evidence to suggest that these puzzlers actually train your brain. At least one study has shown that Brain Age does pretty much nothing except help pass the time. But instead of marketing these types of games as puzzle collections, game companies continue to showcase them as ways to add some grey matter to your collection. You’re not just keeping busy on a long train ride – you’re getting smarter! We all want to feel like we’re improving ourselves, providing we don’t have to make any real effort.
Your brain might feel young after all those brain training games, but what good is it to think like like a young person if you don’t look like one? To make sure your skin stays young and healthy, you’ll need the skincare training videogame. Dream Skincare for the Nintendo DS features beauty adviser Chizu Saeki,who will act as your portable dermatologist and give you tips for taking good care of your skin. Players can enter their temperature and “monitor hormonal balance” for glowing, radiant skin that has absolutely nothing to do with the light of the DS reflecting off it.
While you’re staring at those DS screens, you might as well be doing something for your eyes. Flash Focus: Vision Training in Minutes a Day is supposed to improve your vision through a series of mini-games and, presumably, the strenuous eye-exercise you’ll have to endure to read the game’s lengthy name. Flash Focus boasts that if will help you train your eyes just like professional athletes! Among the product features, Amazon lists: “put eyes to real-world tests.” Now there’s something you just can’t get anywhere else.
If you’ve been following along, you should now have a quick wit and sharp vision encased in beautiful, supple skin. You may now use your well-trained face to sneer at others with derision. What’s that, you say? At least there’s no such thing as Face Training? Nintendo has thought of that too, I’m afraid. In Face Training, you use the DSi’s camera to make faces at your handheld, hopefully not in public. The idea seems to be that the more flexible you make your face, the prettier you’ll become.
Of course, not all training games quite literally raise eyebrows. The very same Nintendo DS that brought to us most of the training game I’ve mentioned so far is also being used for a more serious kind of training: school. Nintendo DS consoles have been making their way into schools recently, and not just as a way to pass the time between classes. Price, size, and level of interactivity make the Nintendo DS a great tool for teachers. Some schools have started using Nintendo DS as a way to supplement lessons.
Soon, the DS may become an even more powerful learning tool in classrooms around the world. According to Adriasang, new technology being developed by Nintendo and NTT is striving to help children learn by recording the teacher’s words and transcribing them into notes that can then be accessed later for review. This technology can especially help children with hearing problems or learning disabilities, who might normally get left behind during the lesson. In fact, getting the Nintendo DS into classrooms has been Shigeru Miyamoto’s plan since 2010, when The Escapist reported that his goal is to see the DS used alongside textbooks and other more traditional learning tools.
And school’s not the only place where you’ll find videogames being used to train certain skills. Some companies like Miller Breweries and Cold Stone Creamery have developed games to help train workers in skills without wasting resources if the employee happens to mess up. The benefits of videogame training have not escaped the attention of the US military, either, who have invested millions of dollars into the making of training simulators. Want to learn sharp-shooting skills for the army? There’s an app for that.
I won’t be surprised if sometime soon we’ll get a video game that helps potty train kids (I imagine it’ll arrive in Japan first). Or maybe train your dog using videogames. Ultimate Duck Hunting already tries to accomplish this, since the goal of the game seems to be more about training your dog than hunting ducks. But you can’t really argue with what is described on the game’s website as – and I quote – an “exciting and realistic shooting game and it’s it’s also educational!”
Maybe we’re placing too much faith in videogames to teach us real world skills. Or maybe we’re just reverting to our wild roots and using playtime to learn everything we need to know about life, ourselves, and how hard you’re allowed to bite someone until they won’t play with you any more.