Forget the idea that being good at computer games is a sign of a misspent youth. If millions of Japanese are to be believed, it is the secret to a happy and healthy old age.
Brain Training for Adults, a package of cerebral workouts aimed at the over-45s by the Japanese game console and software maker Nintendo, is said to improve mental agility and even slow the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Players have to complete puzzles as quickly and accurately as possible, including reading literary classics aloud, simple arithmetic, drawing, and responding rapidly to deceptively easy teasers using voice-recognition software. The player's "brain age" is then determined.
The challenge, to reduce one's brain age, is proving addictive among Japan's baby boomers, many of whom say their only contact with game consoles was limited to bemused glances over the shoulders of grandchildren.
Targeting grey gamers is proving a smart move by Nintendo as software makers try to wean themselves off the shrinking teen market. A record 20 per cent of Japan's 127 million people are 65 and older, and the number is expected to rise to almost 30 per cent by 2025.
More than 3.3 million of the games have been sold in Japan since they went on sale in May last year, with the second package in the series selling 500,000 units in the first week.
The first in the English-language series of games, Brain Age, is due for its US release in April 17, followed by Big Brain Academy in May. The games are expected to go on sale in Europe in June.
Experts say Japan's elderly have seized on the mix of fun and easy-to-use consoles to confront nagging fears that without mental, as well as physical, well-being, they can expect to spend their twilight years miserable and alone.
"The idea of training the brain gives us hope that we can make it better," Rika Kayama, a psychiatrist, told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. "I think many of us are overly frightened of getting old, or even refuse to admit it."
Ryuta Kawashima, a professor of neuroscience at Tohoku University, who part-developed Brain Age (known in Japan as Brain Training), says he has proof that a few minutes every day spent exercising a particular part of the brain brings improvements.
During research he captured images of various brain functions and found the organ functions best when confronted with simple calculations than when multi-tasking during a conventional computer game.
In his learning therapy experiments, he claims to have seen marked improvements in people suffering from dementia who are set simple mental tasks.
Source: China Daily