Changing the Game

Since the inception of the video game console, the genre has been regarded by non-gamers with a range of emotions from cool disdain to outright hostility. Games have been regarded as an anti-social, brain diminishing waste of time. The industry has endured blame for everything from obesity in children to school shootings. However, Nintendo has set out on a mission to change this perception and perhaps convert the masses. To show a different side to gaming. One that, dare I say it, helps you learn. Or can even help you quit smoking.

While the Nintendo Wii is still flying off store shelves at a rate that is barely believable, the company’s handheld gaming system, or the Nintendo DS, has been quietly amassing a new genre of games. They call it Life Training. There are no guns a blazing and no time sink of forty hours or more in these games. In fact calling them games at all may be a stretch, but they have proved to be an interesting and growing niche for the company.

It all began in 2006 with the release of Brain Age: Train Your Brain In Minutes A Day. Nintendo execs were looking for a way to bring in the scores of newly minted ‘casual gamers’. These new consumers were the mothers, the grandfathers, the people that had never once saved the princess but still enjoyed Sudoku and Mahjong. Brain Age appealed to this demographic by giving them small snippets each day with progression being rewarded with new unlockable games. It was easy to pick up and play, an essential factor to casual gamers. On top of that, it was educational. The game tracked the player’s ‘Brain Age’, showing on charts how much quicker they were at these word and math exercises after playing consistently for a week or a month. Sales were phenomenal and the floodgates opened. Soon Brain Age 2 and any number of generic knock-offs were lining the shelves next to more traditional games. But that was merely the beginning.

Now that the consumer was hooked on these educational yet fun games, Nintendo decided to branch out with their “My Coach” series. Suddenly, the DS could help increase your vocabulary or teach you Spanish, French, Chinese, Japanese or even help you study for the SAT. All under the guise of games, making learning fun.

Today Nintendo offers a wide variety of Life Training games. USA Today and the New York Times both released a compilation of their famous crossword puzzles. Titles have sprung up that do everything from teach the user yoga to cooking. The DS can be a cheerleader to help you quit smoking or lose weight. It can even teach you card tricks. And while more traditional gaming isn’t going anywhere, the market has expanded greatly with the addition of this fledgling genre. So whether you’re a lifelong gamer or wouldn’t know how to hold a controller if your life depended on it, Nintendo is making the effort to bring us all together. And help us lose that Christmas ten.

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