Why Brain Games Are Wasting Your Time

Nov 4, 2014
  carlthomen
Coach 1270

We’ve all seen luminous advertising for websites that provide simple memory and pattern-recognition games that make you smarter when you play them (or at least, that’s the claim). I was curious about these ‘brain games’, so I rang a friend of mine and asked him to try some out for me, thinking that we could compare notes. He agreed. The next day he called me to tell me what he thought. The conversation went like this:

Carl: So what did you think of the brain games?
Graeme: Please don’t make me play them anymore.

Graeme, like many of you out there, pointed and clicked energetically for a while. And then he got horribly bored, cursed his people-pleasing nature, and did something else. For my part, I apologised for torturing him in the name of socially-minded research.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m aware that there’s good research out there that ties brain games to positive increases in fluid intelligence (which is our ability to adapt to new situations and solve problems we haven’t encountered before). Unfortunately, endlessly clicking a button when you see a pattern repeated in front of you results in a problem we’ve all encountered thousands of times before: abject, terrifying, punch-yourself-in-the-face boredom.

These games make you cleverer. Fine. But it boggles the mind that people are spending money to develop games that make you smarter, when Chess has been around for thousands of years. Why would I spend my time clicking on randomly appearing coloured circles when Chess is the most comprehensive brain-trainer out there? Plus, I save $15 a month and I’m not alone at my desk bored out of my skull.

In fact, it’s the exact opposite: chess is super social. We’re talking about a vast, worldwide community, and the internet makes connecting with and playing against them easy. Chessity, for example, has tens of thousands of members in 150 countries, ranging in skill from beginner to grandmaster. These are real people with their own unique stories: men who played chess while Soviet tanks rolled through Budapest; geniuses who can play ten games simultaneously; underprivileged children struggling against the hand they’ve been dealt. These unique humans are all playing chess and hanging out at online chess café’s afterwards, waiting to talk chess and life. They’re also getting smarter, but most importantly, they’re having fun doing it.

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[via @Geraint Rowland CC BY-SA 2.0]

You might call me a romantic, but I think enjoyment is a huge part of improving at anything. You’re unlikely to keep doing something if doing it’s like sticking pins in your eyes. Our society is so concerned with improvement – getting bigger, faster, and smarter – that we’re at risk of forgetting about the benefits of a time-honoured game like Chess. And for what? To blindly follow mechanistic means-ends reasoning that will result in compulsory n-back training for the whole world, or in other words, hell. I say play chess and have fun instead.

[featured image: Via @Peter Dedina CC BY-SA 2.0]

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