Thursday, July 20, 2006


Better Living Through Video Games

I'm fascinated by the idea of video games with real-world benefits.

The poster child, of course, is Dance Dance Revolution, a video game that people are using to lose weight. I've experienced this first-hand. A few years ago, I graduated from college and discovered that I'd put on well over forty pounds through four years of living off snack machines and sitting around in computer labs. Getting a PSOne and a copy of Dance Dance Revolution really helped to kick-start my weight loss program. I eventually slacked off and the weight came back, but now I'm back on it with DDR Mario Mix. Although I sometimes question the calorie counting system, I can't deny the real-world results. If I play half an hour a day for a week, my body just feels lighter and more flexible. I breathe easier, I circulate better.

Another little gadget (and another example of the things Pokemon did right with the Gold/Silver/Crystal editions) was the Pocket Pikachu 2. I scoffed at it during its initial release because the virtual pet fad had come half circle to the "saturation and backlash" phase of its existance. But when I found out that it wasn't a virtual pet in the traditional sense -- no real care needed, works more like a pedometer that gives you a window to Pikachu's world -- I decided to start carrying one around. So when I heard that the average person needed to walk 10,000 steps a day to maintain a healthy lifestyle, I was ready. Thanks to Pocket Pikachu, not only did I meet my goal for month after month, but I was rewarded for my hard work with items that I could use in the Pokemon games. Now that's clever.

And now we have Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day. This one's a bit of a pickle. I like the fact that it was based on research into what sorts of activities stimulate the brain and keep it active and healthy -- the "games" revolve around mental arithmetic, memorization, and reading out loud. There's a "Brain Age" test that's meant to chart your progress, but as my brain age improves, I have to wonder to what extent my brain is actually sharpening and to what extent I'm simply becoming more familiar with the activities that are used to calculate my score. It's a little more difficult to feel the effects of playing this one; I did it for a good month, and I can't say I've noticed any significant improvement in my cognition. Still, if Dr. Kawashima's research is to be believed, just playing the game every day will give me some sort of benefit, regardless of how well I do. And it only takes a few minutes a day.

Someone at GameFAQs once jokingly suggested that we're going to have a "self-help" genre in video game stores now. And I say, why not? A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Dressing up a workout with music and pretty colors makes it not only easier to endure but fun and addictive. Who can say no to something that's fun and good for you?


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