Nintendo scored a surprising market success with its Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training title on the DS—not a typical slash/shoot'em-up game at all, but rather one designed to actively boost your mental prowess. Along with other "edutainment" games, 5 million copies were sold in the first year. But recent research sheds light onto Nintendo's claims, and reveals that using the DS is no more effective than figuring out problems the old way, with a pencil and paper.
Scientists at the University of Rennes, France, designed a test to investigate Nintendo's claims that edutainment games like Big Brain Academy and Brain Training can improve the "practical intelligence" of users, and boost their memory "two to three times better" with repeated use.
The test involved splitting a group of 67 ten-year-old kids into different test groups. Two groups did a seven week training course revolving around brain-tuning software on the DS, while a third group did a sequence of old-fashioned brain-training exercises using paper and pencil. The fourth group acted as a control group, doing no extra work at all apart from their regular homework.
The kids took a series of mental tests that measured their logical thinking, mathematical prowess and memory before and after they'd been through the training regime.
The results showed that the children who took the DS-based training showed no significant improvements versus those who took the traditional tests. Some statistics even revealed that the DS group had a 17% fall in memory skills after the seven weeks, while pencil-and-paper kids performance rose by 33%.
As Alain Lieury, professor of cognitive psychology at the university, puts it: "If it doesn’t work on children, it won’t work on adults."
Nintendo's official response to the Telegraph newspaper was carefully worded: "The challenges in Brain Training and More Brain Training are inspired by the exercises developed by respected neurologist Dr. Kawashima, who believes that the brain needs to be exercised to stay fit in the same way that our bodies need exercise to stay in shape." Dr. Kawashima is a brain expert, working at the New Industry Creation Hatchery Centre at the Tohuku University school of medicine, and is considered one of Japan's top brain imaging scientists. He's also written two best-selling books on brain training.
But by pushing the supposed benefits of the DS training regime as being supported by a neurologist who believes them to be beneficial, Nintendo makes it sound as if the games actually help, without tying the company to any specific promises or "irritating" scientific facts.
The DS is, of course, a phenomenally successful game platform, and at least the supposed brain-training games are about as effective, on the whole, as traditional methods. And if the digital 21st-Century format that the logic and maths puzzles are presented in can get anyone interested in science and mathematics, who wouldn't have been, then you can argue that the DS brain games are a good thing.
It'd just be better, more scientific if you will, if Nintendo demonstrated some proper statistical analysis to support the claims made by their products, instead of leveraging off the celebrity intellectual kudos of Star Trek's Captain Picard.