Sunday, May 29, 2011

Test Driving a Brain Age Game on Kinect

If you feel your brain isn't as sharp as it used to be, welcome to a very big, dumb club! Well, maybe "dumb" isn't entirely fair to all of us. Most of us do continue to be productive as we age. But it's hard not to feel dumb when your daily experience shows your memory, math, reasoning and other skills are on the fade. What can be done about this?

Like many of you, I use puzzle games like Sudoku to challenge my mind. After a year of doing Sudoku, I'm really good at Sudoku. But I'd rather be good at remembering what I just came down to the basement for and practical things like that.

So when I received the game "Body and Brain Connection" for my 57th birthday this month, I decided to make an experiment out of it. This is one of the new generation of games that uses a variety of game-like challenges to exercise and improve mental function. Plus, it tracks your performance over time and summaries all that as a "brain age".

So, can a 50-something guy who feels his brain slowing down use a fun tool like Kinect and this brain training game to improve his mind? Or, is your humble guinea pig destined to become a dummy? For the next month or more, I'll put the game and my brain to the test, and document it here.

First, what is this game? "Body and Brain Connections" is one of the many products out there today promising to help people reduce their brain age. One thing that makes it cool, compared to others, is it is available for the X-Box Kinect, so you don't use a mouse or a joystick to play the various mental challenge games in the program. Instead, you stand in front of the Kinect and it sees you and tracks your body motion. You interact with the game by moving your hands, feet and whole body. (It's like Wii, but you don't have to hold any controller gizmo.) Kinects is cool and "Body and Brain Connection" is just one of the games available for it.

First Impressions
My first run with the game made me feel kind of dumb. No surprise there. It took me a while to get the hand of the interface, because I am not of the game generation. Basically, you move your hand to select an onscreen button or action. But with this particular Kinect game, once your hand is over the item you want, you need to reach your hand forward a bit toward the item. This changes the cursor to be a grasping fist and in no time you have begun. The grasping business did take me way too long to figure out, so I share this with you now to spare you the humiliation.

There is one thing about the games that I find quite annoying. It's the little lightbulb guy, who makes inane comments and dances like a dufus at every loading screen. He gets old fast -- even faster than my brain. If you recall the annoying assistant named "Clippy" from Microsoft Windows, this is similar. I'm trying to view him as just another test of my brain... this one testing my patience. The other onscreen character is a doctor who comments on your progress, offers tidbits and advice.

One of the first things the game wants you to do is establish a baseline for your brain age. So that means it gives you a short series of challenges that amount to a brain fitness test. And at the end, it declares your brain age.

I got off to a rocky start with the fitness test because I was stumbling over the interface. (I hope you do better.) So when the game declared my brain age, I was fearing I'd get something in the 80s. I was relieved to get a brain age of 57 -- my exact age.

The plan now is to play the brain health games every day for 20-30 minutes per day, and test progress weekly. So check back soon for the report on the first week of brain game training and more review comments about this game. Will my "brain age" get younger? Older? Or will the lightbulb guy turn my brain age to a brain rage? We shall see.