Like most kids, my mom would always yell at me for playing video games too much. "Get off that &#%$ game, it's rotting your brain!" she'd say. At the time, I took it as just something moms said, just like "If you keep making faces, it'll stay like that." However, I always wondered if there was any merit to what she said. Are video games bad for you? Or were they just misunderstood?
To help find the answer, I went to the "Coolest Grandparent of the Year" competition at the Nintendo World Store in New York. Nintendo hosted the event to promote Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day amongst the untapped market of non-gamers; generally, people over the age of 40. If you're one of the few who haven't heard of it, Brain Age is the brainchild of neuroscientist Dr. Ryuta Kawashima. It was designed to help improve people's mental prowess through games of simple math, memorization and recognition. Grandparents squared off in the game to win the title of Coolest Grandparent and a prize package including two Nintendo DSs and an assortment of games. The competitors ranged in experience from veteran gamers, to those who had never played a video game in their lives. Opinions on gaming contrasted sharply.
"Do you see the intensity?" said Grandmother Ruth Spirow, pointing to her grandson playing the game. "It's scary. That's why his mother only lets him play once a week." After winning the first round of competition, I asked one grandpa, (who was dragged to the event by his large gamer family) if he was interested in ever playing the game again. "I don't think so," he replied, the dismay of his family who continually pressed for him to give gaming another chance. But each time they tried, he loudly exclaimed, "I don't do games!"
But not all the competitors were so jaded to gaming. One feisty old timer, wearing a Silent Hill T-shirt and going by the name "Old Grandma Hardcore," actually has a blog devoted to reviewing games and has been featured on G4-TechTV's "Attack of the Show". She's been playing games since the 1970's and accredits her mental vigor to playing plenty of games that stimulate her brain. She likens playing games to reading a book, just with more involvement from the reader.
"We don't make any claims to the actual ability of this game to enhance your brain's functions," said Amber McCollom, senior manager of public relations at Nintendo. "It's just meant to be a game that anyone can enjoy, both young and old. We're hoping to introduce gaming to a whole new group of people."
That plan might have worked, as many of the participants who were initially opposed to video games seemed to have changed their view. "Well, in moderation I guess they can be alright," said Mrs. Spirow after finishing in second place. I also noticed several others walking out with copies of Brain Age, though whether they were for themselves or gifts for the kids, I cannot say.
The eldest of the contestants, "Old Grandma Hardcore" was the day's victor. Asked what she credited her win to, she proudly declared, "Being Old!" Though there hasn't been any substantial research as to whether or not playing such games can be beneficial, it is commonly held that the risk of conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia can be reduced by keeping the brain active and challenged regularly. In any case, sales of the game have reached 2 million copies in Japan and have already reached a quarter of a million in the US with no signs of slowing down in either region. As to whether we'll see 50+ year old gamers crowding the local arcade any time soon…only time will tell.
Link to Old Grandma Hardcore: http://oghc.blogspot.com/