aem o es
Brain games offer a smart
alternative to shoot-’em-ups
By Charles Bermant
IMAGINE THIS SCENARIO: A guy is sitting
in the living room, reading the paper. His son
is upstairs playing a video game while his
wife is in the kitchen wrapped up in a round
of electronic Sudoku. She finishes the puzzle
at the same time her son completes the last
brain teaser of identifying how many cubes
are in a stack. And they both let out a loud,
Video games are evolving as game makers come out with alternatives to the violent
and complicated products that have defined
the industry. Most people who consider
themselves “gamers” will still crave dazzling
graphics and a need for astounding dexterity
to go from one level to the next. But “casual”
games, as they are christened, are more about
showing brainpower than aggression.
“When you accomplish a goal it is not at
someone else’s expense,” says industry analyst
Rob Enderle of the emerging category.
“These games keep your mind sharp and can
increase your mental acuity.”
Loosely defined, casual games are mentally based exercises that test levels of competence rather than competitive strengths. They
are nonviolent, easy to use and skewed toward
an older audience than the standard 18- to
35-year-old white male gamer demographic.
Players are embracing games that ask
them to match random numbers or shapes
and don’t blow anything apart when they get
a wrong answer. The games often have a
The Costco Connection
Costco warehouses and costco.com feature
two brain-challenging games from Nintendo:
Big Brain Academy and Brain Age, as well as
Sudoku video games and players.
frame of reference to what a person already
knows. And they’re easy to start and play.
“With a lot of video games you need to
spend 20 or 30 minutes figuring out how it
works,” says Seattle Times reporter Kim
Peterson, who covers—and plays—video
games. “You can pick these up and start playing right away. You have a challenge and work
to beat your own score without killing anybody. This appeals to a lot of people.”
keep your mind
sharp and can
Consider the popularity of Sudo”ku, a logic puzzle using number sequences. Game
developers have entered the Sudoku market
with video games and devices for electronic
play. Sudoku books are published with magazine frequency, while those who prefer a
computer-based format can take advantage
of numerous free online sites.
Like Pong or Tetris, Sudoku can be profoundly addicting to people who claim to
dislike video games—except it doesn't
require spry physical response or hand-eye
coordination. You only need to concentrate
long enough to play one game. And another.
And yet another. OK, just one more.
Such obsession isn’t a prerequisite. The
self-paced nature allows the completion of one
game in 10 minutes or 10 days. And because
there are no flashing lights, people play as therapy. You could wake up in the middle of the
night worried and restless, then play a few
rounds of Sudoku—it’s instant relaxation.
For others, the games are stimulating.
This is supported by game journalist John
Bardinelli, who says that when he plays a few
games of Sudoku in the early afternoon “I
end up feeling just a little bit sharper for the
rest of the day.”
Supporters say that casual games do
more than keep us amused. A RealNetworks
survey this spring reported that three-quarters of parents whose children play casual
games have observed an educational benefit.
Matt Atwood, public relations manager at
Nintendo, says casual games have cross-gen-erational appeal. “With some games, kids
show them to their mothers and get no reaction,” he says. “But with games like Sudoku,
we’ve heard of cases where once kids show
Mom the game they don’t see their game
device for a very long time.”
Even so, the casual game’s ability to
sharpen one’s wits or deepen one’s knowledge
pool is secondary to what matters most. “The
consumer doesn’t want products to help them
become smarter,” says Michael Goodman, a
senior analyst with the Yankee Group. “These
are games. They need to be fun.” C
Charles Bermant writes about music and
technology and can be found online at