Are Brain-Training Video Games Effective? The Japanese Think So

“Brain Age” and its recently released sequel are hugely popular video games in Japan and the US. What’s unusual about this is that the games are made for and marketed to “older people” (which in video game language means “anyone over 25”) as a way to improve your mental acuity by keeping your cognitive skills at peak levels. Does any of it work, or is it just a self-help fad for the 21st century? interviews Go Hirano, a Japanese entrepreneur (their description, not ours) who provides a general overview of the current state of “brain training” and its borderline-scientific underpinnings.

In the US, the Nintendo “brain training” games are presented as a sort of anti-aging tonic for the 30+ set that grew up on Atari and NES, but in Japan, “brain training” is an entire industry that’s been around for years. Most of the scientific studies either for or against the concept, however, have been poorly structured and unverifiable—which makes it a prime marketing opportunity for any population hell-bent on self-improvement. Says Hirano, “In any bookstore, there always is a section for brain books, [and] adult consumers keep devouring such games. Dentsu, the biggest advertising agency announced the No.1 Consumer-chosen Choice of the Product 2006 was game software and books for brain training.”

But despite the criticism that the currently popular games don’t do much, Sharpbrains insists that the concept as a whole is valid, even if current implementations are not. A study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that “reasoning training” helped stave off a decline in brain functions in older brains, and “cognitive training” improved performance in the area being trained for approximately five years after the training occurred. It may be a while, though, before any sound medical proof arrives that your “old person video game” is doing anything more than helping you while away the days until senescence.

“Brain Training and ‘Brain-ism’ in Japan” [SharpBrains]
“11 Neuroscientists Debunk a Common Myth About Brain Training” [SharpBrains]

“Long-term Effects of Cognitive Training on Everyday Functional Outcomes in Older Adults” [JAMA]