Sunday, June 12, 2011

Week 2 Shrinks My Brain Age to 43

My brain age test after two weeks of daily brain games using Kinects is 43 -- down from 54 last week and 57 when I began using the "Brain and Body Connection" game.

Will this astounding improvement go to my head? I think not, for these three reasons:

1. When I did my first two runs through the brain age assessment test, I had zero experience with the game/exercises used for the test. I felt my performance was pretty bad. In fact, I commented on this in last week's article. Well, I stand corrected. I thought the game did not use the same games in the test as it does in daily training, but it does. It was just a matter of time before I had played enough brain games to start seeing the repetition. (There are 20 different brain games in the program, each with 3 levels of difficulty in each.)

This week, each of the three challenges in the brain age assessment were ones I'd played in daily training, so naturally I did better. No surprise, then, that my score improved.

2. No sooner than I dropped 11 unsightly years from my brain age, than I began my daily 20-30 minutes of training and the game served up a new game -- shape matching -- that left me completely stumped. I mean stumped to the point that I just stared at the screen with a look of total stupefaction unable to figure out what I'm supposed to do. Which bring me to the third reason that doing well in this game will never go to my head.

3. "Brain and Body Connection" takes pictures of you when you don't know it, then uses those pictures in the infographics it displays to show your progress. (Remember, Kinect games are based on a camera technology that is always watching you, so it can easily save snapshots at any moment. And it does.) It would be nice to get a little warning. But, no. This game has a knack for catching me at the worst angles in the worst light at the worst moments. There's one picture of me where I look like I'm emerging from a dark alley intent on breaking the legs of the dancing lightbulb character in the game. But that picture is downright flattering compared to the picture of me with a look of stupefaction as I try to understand the shape matching game.

It's funny about the pictures, because Kinect allows you to setup avatars and the "Brain and Body Connection" game uses your avatar within the various games and exercises. So why doesn't it use your avatar on the infographics instead of these awful and unexpected snapshots? If this game goes to version 2, I'd strongly suggest they drop the snapshots in favor of the avatar, or add a lot more control for the user over the images.

Anyway, one day after I achieved brain stupefaction, I played the matching shape brain game again. This time I read the directions twice and watch the tutorial until I had an "aha" moment. Once I knew how to operate the interface, I scored a "B" on my first attempt.

This illustrates the problem with the "brain age" calculation that is the heart of this game. Your numbers for any given test are likely to be skewed by what you don't understand about the game or Kinect, and not necessary on your wits or reflexes. If you could stick with the game for a month or spend more than the 20-30 minutes per day I'm doing, then maybe the brain age results would level out. But my own astounding improvement in brain age is really just me catching on to the game rather than proof that little effort could yield big results.

I do feel a bit sharper in some things, and I like the mix of mental and physical activity that comes with Kinect-based games like "Brain and Body Connection". But the same day I racked up an 11-year improvement in my brain age I also wandered all over the house looking for my car keys. Just like old times for this brain.



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