Brain Age: Concentration Training

Game review by
Chad Sapieha, Common Sense Media
Brain Age: Concentration Training Game Poster Image
Brain training game purports to help your working memory.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Educational Value

Kids can learn about a broad range of subjects ranging from math and geometry to reading and music in this challenging collection of memory exercises. The game's goal is to help players improve their working memory by practicing the act of retaining and then recalling specific bits of numeric, geometric, audible, spatial, and word data. Along the way they'll have opportunity to practice basic skills in areas including calculation, spelling, and musical notation. Brain Age: Concentration Training pushes players while they do exercises that require them to concentrate, memorize, and focus.

Positive Messages

This game suggests that the current glut of devices in people's lives has resulted in something called information addiction, which in turn has led to poorer working memory (our ability to temporarily store information for manipulation). It purports to improve one's working memory through exercises that force players to store and recall various types of data.  

Positive Role Models & Representations

The game's virtual instructor -- based on Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, an actual neuroscientist in Japan -- is intelligent, helpful, and generally encouraging throughout the experience.         

Ease of Play

The game automatically adjusts difficulty for most activities based on the player's performance. However, the game keeps the challenge level at a point meant to push players to the limits of their abilities, which means the so-called "devilish training" activities are almost always a real struggle.

Violence

Players can toss pebbles at the face of a virtual instructor, but he's never really hurt (though he does occasionally bark in surprise or mock pain). Also, he sometimes appears in a vaguely scary devilish form, not because he's evil but instead to convey that the puzzle he's about to introduce is going to be hard.

Sex
Language
Consumerism

This game is part of Nintendo's popular ongoing Brain Age series.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Brain Age: Concentration Training is a mind exercise game that purports to help players improve their working memory -- the means by which we temporarily store data during day-to-day activities. Aside from a goofy little side activity that involves gently tossing pebbles at the game instructor's face (he's never really hurt), the experience is free of violence and other iffy content. Parents should note, though, that it is designed to be challenging, and that younger players will likely struggle. Kids who aren't yet comfortable spelling five or six syllable words and can't instantly summon answers to multiplication problems will quickly grow frustrated. Parents need to remember that Nintendo is warning parents not to allow kids age six and under to view the graphics in 3D because that viewing "may cause vision damage." The Nintendo 3DS offers parents the ability to lock out the use of 3D graphics in the system's Parental Controls.

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What's it about?

The first new entry in Nintendo's Brain Age series in nearly four years, BRAIN AGE: CONCENTRATION TRAINING sees the return of virtual instructor Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, who leads players through dozens of mind-exercising activities. The good doctor is worried that the surfeit of gadgets we use throughout the day has negatively affected our working memory, or our ability to stay focused, concentrate, and accurately store and recall multiple bits of information in the short term. Hence, a new mode called "devilish training" that is meant to help us improve this part of our memory. Challenges in this mode -- unlocked one by one over the course of several weeks -- typically involve activities such as reading sentences aloud, solving mathematical problems, or analyzing groups of shapes. During these activities players must store specific words, numbers, or geometric forms in their memories, then recall them on command. The level of difficulty grows according to the player's demonstrated ability. Results are recorded and graphed so players can track their progress. Supplemental training and relaxation activities offer up additional mind exercises ranging from Klondike solitaire and piano games to more traditional Brain Age challenges in areas including spelling, calculation, and shapes.

Is it any good?

The latest Brain Age game has no shortage of activities, unlockable extras, and interesting factoids, but is nonetheless fraught with problems, the most glaring of which is that it's often just not much fun. Automatic adjustment of difficulty in devilish training exercises keeps you on the very edge of what you can handle. That means players experience failure and level demotion as often as they succeed, which can become quite disheartening. Plus, activity difficulty seems imbalanced. We couldn't progress past the second or third level in "devilish calculations" after nearly a week of play, but advanced to level 8 in both "devilish pairs" and "devilish blocks" on the first day.

Exacerbating matters is the series' lingering problem with writing recognition. The software often misinterprets the rendering of the characters 2, 4, B, and M, which forces the player to redraw them. This means that players lose focus and concentration, consequently forgetting the bits of information they were supposed to remember. The only thing more frustrating than failing an exercise due to lack of ability is failing one due to a technical problem. Brain Age: Concentration Training could prove compelling for kids with precise printing and a high tolerance for failure, but everyone else is apt to find more aggravation than fun.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about tricks for remembering things. How do you remember people's names when you first meet them, which errands to run, or new phone numbers? Do you think your memory doesn't receive sufficient exercise if you use tools like notepads and phones to help you remember? 

  • Families can also discuss the notion of information addition. Do you think there is a downside to all of the portable gadgets we use? Do you believe they affect our ability to concentrate or properly socialize?  

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