Baby boomers should play video games

Human brain. Baby boomers: start playing video games before it's too late to have fun!

Last week I had an epiphany. Like all epiphanies, it was more Doh! than Eureka: blindingly obvious, not unique or original. Or maybe I just had a hissy fit.

Baby boomers means, in this blog only, people over 50. Video games are—in the minds of many older people—noisy, crash-and-burn, shoot-em-up, politically incorrect games played on a computer or a thing with handles or buttons. Video games fry the brain and turn kids into antisocial nerdy perverts.

That’s the gut feeling of an awful lot of people over 50. And yet we hurl our money away on brain training programmes that are poor imitations of video games and essentially boring.

I offer my own idiot example.

A year or so I bought a brain training programme. I wanted to improve my memory, and the way I heard certain sounds. The training programme looked like a serious contender, created by a long list of neurologists and psychologists.

Dutifully I plugged away for the first 20-odd sessions, ignoring little technical glitches with good humour. Then last week I spat the dummy. I was bored to sobs. What was I thinking, wasting my precious life like this? Where was the joy?

These distinguished scientists were applying games theory to the training, but with three serious flaws.

  1. The tasks were intrinsically meaningless. (Distinguish doh from boh, zaa from wa. Remember sounds like bad, gad, pu and ga in sequence. Click the boy, then click the dog, then click the café—ad infinitum.)
  2. The rewards were unrelated to the tasks.
  3. Deviating from the set sequence of set tasks was almost impossible.

Any games developer would have scoffed.

I logged out of the brain training programme never to return. Bye bye hundreds of wasted dollars. The next day I stumbled across Enigma, a dinky little video game that’s very popular—and free. My brain was much happier. Enigma isn’t homework. If it trains the memory better than straining to differentiate between pointless, meaningless, context-less phonemes, fine. But I’m playing it for fun.

New things are scary, true, and nobody likes looking like an idiot. Older people are less likely to plunge into the electronic unknown, more likely to turn to a bunch of professors for help.

But the brain would rather have some fun than a brutal weight-lifting regime. New games (even little Enigma) will certainly massage your brain. And hey, nobody need ever see that first abysmal score!

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