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GDC 2009: Making Sense of Brain Games

Via: Game Developer Conference 2009 - Serious Games Summit Track

SGS Session: Making Sense Of Brain Games: A Scientific Analysis Of Game Design In The Brain Fitness

Speaker: Carrie Heeter (Professor, Michigan State University)

Session Description

Games to exercise the brain have emerged as a specialized serious games market segment, in the form of individual games and companies specializing in a coordinated suite of good-for-you cognitive workouts.

Neuroscience research addresses the question of whether playing games can improve cognitive functioning.
Michigan State University's brain game design research looks at whether today's brain games are good games.

Using scientific methods, MSU faculty and students have analyzed a random sample of individual and brain fitness company brain games. The research characterizing brain game design along the lines of graphics and sound, premise, rules, conflict, challenge, character, feedback, navigation, and story as well as which forms of fun and specific cognitive functions are targeted.

Any casual observer who has tried some of these games has probably noticed that brain games tend to offer much less engaging game play than a typical successful online casual game. They appear not to be fun enough to attract players unless the player is overtly concerned about brain fitness.

A clear exception to this rule is Nintendo's Brain Age (from a company who, not coincidentally, creates other highly successful commercial games).

In fairness, Serious Games are not expected to be as fun or as well designed as high budget blockbuster commercial games. But it is reasonable to ask what level of production quality and player experience is typical in brain games today.

Michigan State University GEL Lab (Games for Entertainment and Learning) undertook a systematic, scientific analysis of the state of the art of brain game design, looking at games offered individually and those that are part of coordinated brain fitness suites.

The researchers offer an in depth portrait of the state of the art of modern brain game design and discuss next steps for this emerging market.

MSU Brain Powered Games Website - Brain Powered Games Exercise Different Brain Domains

From attention and memory to logic and language skills, MSU Bain Powered Games aim at empowering players to play at their ideal level of challenge – just hard enough to grow, but easy enough to be fun. These "good for you" games can be played in as little as 10 minutes.

Developed by the Michigan State University Games for Entertainment and Learning (GEL) Lab, each Brain Powered Game is designed to exercise one or more different brain functions.

Brain Powered Games are part of ongoing research and are currently in beta testing. The games are free but they would appreciate our reactions and suggestions and our participation in the research to better understand how games can help brains, and to improve the games we offer.

The Science Behind It: How Brain Powered Games Work

Brain Powered Games were made at Michigan State University in the Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab. Employing principles of game design and cognitive science, the games are designed to be fun and exercise your brain.

Different Brain Power Games exercise different parts of your brain. Don’t focus only on one of the games. Diversify the brain functions you are exercising, for a well-rounded workout, and you will diversify your cognitive reserve.

Every game has three difficulty levels to choose from, including Gentle (easy), Moderate (medium), and Power (hard). Every brain is unique. As you play you will discover which games are easy and hard for you. Brain Powered Games include hints to keep players from getting stuck. Challenge your brain by choosing difficulty levels hard enough to stretch your brain, yet easy enough to be fun.

After each round of play, Brain Powered Games provides you with feedback about how accurately you played (we call it your genius %) and how quickly you played (ranging from slow to awesome).

Brain Powered Games keeps track of your play performance so you go see how often you play and how much time you spend playing each game. You can also see how many genius and speed points you have earned. If you enjoy competing with others, you can compare your scores with other players in the high scores table.

Brain plasticity refers to the lifelong capacity for physical and functional brain change. Research now shows that learning (and living) constantly changes the brain. Negative plasticity changes reduce brain function. Positive plasticity changes can restore sensory, cognitive, memory, motor, and affect.

Brains have a lifelong capacity to grow and change. Until recently, age-related cognitive decline was considered inevitable and irreversible. New research dramatically overturns conventional wisdom, revealing great potential for brains of all ages to change.