New research has just been published (full paper in pdf) showing the results of an experiment carried out by the BBC to investigate whether ‘brain-training’ games make any difference to overall brain power.
The results of this study (n=11,430) seem pretty conclusive: they don’t.
These results have been criticised because the researchers used a sample aged 16-60 when most games of this nature are aimed at the over 60s (the age at which one switches from a sentient being to an absent-minded simpleton) and because the time spent playing the games was relatively short (4 hours on average over 6 weeks). These may be valid criticisms, but the question this research really raises for me is: why did anyone assume that playing this sort of game would improve overall brain power in the first place? The idea that repeatedly playing a series of cognitively low-level and disparate games will in some way enhance overall brain function seems very strange to me. (But, hey, if someone wants to prove it I’ll be the first to be converted)
This research both pleases and troubles me. The former because there is finally some robust research being carried out that opens up the debate about these type of games rather than simply following the hype put forward by those who produce them. The latter because I worry that the media will equate this research with ‘games not good for learning’ and put back the case for games – complex, rich, sophisticated games – for learning back 20 years.