Nintendo > Science

12 Nov

[Cross-posted on Destructoid]

That’s a big claim, but Nintendo’s new Canadian “Build your brain” ads seem to support the equation.  In the ads a respectable looking adult can be seen playing a DS while an onlooker with a tiny head attempts to make small talk.  The person playing the DS either rolls their eyes or produces a forced smile — these people not playing games are idiots.

Now…game ads are usually at worst dumb and at best…well let’s just say that the best game commercials might not be up to par with your common toothpaste commercial.  But games represent an entire subculture — not only is a game commercial responsible for selling a product, it’s the only glimpse into what gamers are all about that most non-gamers will ever get.

And in the past I’ve been infuriated by commercials for games like Call of Duty: Big Red One, which was quite simply false advertising.  The commercial featured a completely pre-rendered battle scene that looked similar to the actual game in context (there’s your weapon, it’s in first person) but was completely…cooler than the actual game.  The advertisement conveniently forgot to mention, except for maybe in tiny fine print, that the footage does not represent the game whatsoever.  They might as well have just ran thirty seconds of Saving Private Ryan and told consumers “If you like World War 2, have we got a game for you!”.

But while the Big Red One ad tugged at my gamer sensibilities, these new Nintendo ads genuinely concern me.  Why?  Because this isn’t just a trick like a pr-erendered sequence, it’s an outright lie that flies in the face of scientific fact.

People used to think that crossword puzzles kept the mind fit and in working order as old age started to take its toll.  And quite literally it was just what people thought.  When it was put to the test it turned out that filling in the blanks in a crossword puzzle doesn’t magically repair your brain.  That’s because no matter what mental acrobatics you do, it won’t stop your brain from shrinking as you age.  When people age their hair dies, their muscle wears away, their skin loses its elasticity, their teeth get worn down, they get shorter as their bones shrink and their brain gets smaller.

Human beings have evolved to live short lives — our hunter-gatherer ancestors were extremely fit and died of natural trauma before they grew into old age.  As such, nature didn’t develop our bodies to live long lives.  When we developed agriculture we started to live in large groups with an abundance of food.  We started to live longer, albeit more sedentary lives.  Along the way we’ve developed technology to compensate for the new deficiencies we’ve created for ourselves, at a much faster rate than evolution.  In very early agricultural societies people subsided on grains; being high in sugar this unbalanced diet quickly rotted their teeth.  Thanks to modern dentistry and fluoride we don’t have that problem.  

But I can assure you, Brain Age is not the piece of technology that is going to slow or halt the shrinking of our brain.  Doing math does not create new brain tissue or generate new cells.  It does not keep the brain cells you currently have ‘fit’ and it does not prevent them from dying.

And this is concerning because when all of the non-gamers in my family see these ads, they will ask me about it.  They will be curious, because who doesn’t want to keep their brain fit?  And I will have to tell them “No, it’s not true at all”.  And my chance at showing them that videogames are just as valuable as other games and forms of entertainment will have been lost.

There are so many benefits to playing games already that it confuses me as to why Nintendo feels they need to lie in order to attract new gamers.  People have no problem with watching movies and playing sports, sinking hours and hours into them.  But videogames are still a passtime that non-gamers don’t understand.  

It’s not like they’ve seen what games have to offer and have decided it isn’t for them; we keep telling them that games are great but we never inform them.  I managed to get my mother to play Gears of War about a year ago and she had the same reaction she has while playing air hockey — once she got a hold of the controls (enough to move around and aim a bit) she was excited and loud and a bit afraid.  It’s been said that women have a hard time with high tension games, and this was apparent.  But she was having fun.  She had no problem with the setting, no problem that it wasn’t ‘directed at her demographic’.  Her big problem was not understanding.  It took her a while to grasp which character was hers, that other characters in the world possessed a different viewpoint from her own (the game world seemed one dimensional to her), and that the game had objectives.

The industry spends so much time smugly targeting groups of pretend users with stupid and deceitful advertisements that it doesn’t realize that everyone would be interested if they just knew the facts.  It’s easy to advertise toothpaste; everyone needs toothpaste and everyone knows what it is.  Imagine the first ads for toothpaste — nobody would know what it was or why they needed it.  

That’s the problem that videogame advertising faces today, and it’s the problem that no marketing team wants to solve.  They believe firmly in demographics and trendsetters and viral campaigns and market research, but I’m not sure they believe in people.


5 Responses to “Nintendo > Science”

  1. Carl November 15, 2008 at 3:09 am #

    While I’m not going to take sides in this argument, I am going to give a big *High Five!* to Nick for not spewing falsehoods and knowing his shit.

    I’m going to only focus on the science of the brain as I understand certain aspects of it. Correct any falsehood I spew, as you are wont to do anyways. 🙂

    It was bold in my opinion to say “Doing math does not create new brain tissue or generate new cells. ”

    Bold yet correct. Though only to a point. Doing something you already know how to do doesn’t help build new neural pathways. If someone were trying to crack some fundamental block in their understanding of math, or some of its components, then that person would be creating new pathways as those discoveries were made. Those first few trail and error attempts to use the new pathways would be the building we would require to stave of the effects of aging.

    Learning new languages is considered to be one of the best ways to rapidly create new neural activity and new pathways.

    When you are less than 8 months old your brain is producing new pathways faster than at any other time in your life. The speed of development slows down until age 1.5-2, and then it drops again at age 4. At age 8 it pretty much slows down to a trickle, and it is at this point when we have to motivate ourselves to learn.

    Researchers have shown that learning new languages is one of the ways in which someone of any age can accomplish rapid neural growth. Otherwise by the time we are 20 our brains have already ran out of ‘juice’ and have moved on to idling on ‘drink’.

    Even the elderly can do this if motivated to do so.

    So why should we be motivated to do so?

    Scientists have also shown links to the fact that the more active your brain, and the more active neural pathways it has, the more power it has to drive your immune system. Meaning that you live longer healthier lives, just by improving your brain.

    “There are so many benefits to playing games already that it confuses me as to why Nintendo feels they need to lie in order to attract new gamers.”

    Video games are already making and and keeping our brains fit in their current designs and applications.

    I would add though that in this case like with math, the learning and growth is done primarily early in the exposure to a new control scheme or mechanic/rule.

    I guess in a nutshell I’m saying that “My Spanish Coach” is making people smarter than Brain Age. Though I have to admit that the first few times you play the games/activities within Brain Age your brain is becoming stronger.

    One thing to remember too is: though people’s brains may become fitter through learning, fitter brains don’t equal ‘smarter’ people.


  2. Roy November 19, 2008 at 7:48 pm #

    Waaaah. Cry baby, cry.

  3. tommyjohn November 19, 2008 at 10:09 pm #

    Get over yourself. It’s a fucking ad. You’re fucking making more out of it than you should.

  4. Miko Wilson November 20, 2008 at 8:52 pm #

    I hope Tommyjohn gets a hug from someone really soon.

    There may be SOME validity to the advertisement. It’s really not the brightest idea to assume that what we know now about human development is the know all, end all on the subject. We could discover something relatively soon that flips the entire idea of human intelligence on it’s head. It has happened before.
    There is substantial proof that stimulating your brain via challenging puzzles and riddles DOES offer some relief to those suffering from Alzheimer and burgeoning senility. I’m not a psychologist, and I do not pretend to be one, but I hope I live in a world where people who work to better themselves get to see the result of that effort. I HOPE that people who don’t exercise get fat, I HOPE that people who study and comprehend information become “smarter/learned.” I HOPE that people who work to maintain their body and their mind get to hold on to life and lucidness at least a little bit longer than the rest of us. You get what you pay for, use it or lose it, no pain no gain; whatever stupid euphemism you want; I hope they’re all true.
    So while the ad may or may not be true; I think that the message it’s trying to portray is a little bit self aggrandizing, I think it is a sound one.


  1. GoNintendo » Blog Archive » Nintendo > Science- What are you waiting for? - November 19, 2008

    […] Article here […]

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