I must admit I was tempted when the Nintendo DS came out. I’d gone off games when they all started to involve getting De Niro-like into the mind of a traumatised Vietnam vet for three days before you were allowed the knife you needed to stab your way out a 3D jungle prison camp. But this new machine looked like fun, and was a pretty nice bit of product design.
When I finally did get to test a friend’s, it was for the greater part of a week after a big break up. I spent the whole time sat on a couch in a house in Sydney drinking chocolate milk and whisky, playing Advance Wars until I started dreaming in square arrangements of neon Panzer divisions. At the end of the week, I gave it back, and resolved to get on with life.
However, a year later, the DS decided to follow me into adult life. Tube train boards targeted at the commuting Pizza Express and speed-dating contingent were advertising “brain training”. What used to be called “leisure”, or “idle distraction” was now “training”. Seriously, what training is needed for a civilian population already spending the majority of their waking hours moving cells of numbers around Excel spreadsheets? Was the idea to gain banks of reserve brain muscle? It’s the mental equivalent of the pointless Vin Diesel physiques that hulk over Macs all day in “funky” West Coast American design agencies. Can a steady diet of sudokos, crosswords and number games be the silent but deadly preparation for the big push? The development of cognitive abilities that will stagger one’s superiors into rapid promotion and a better life?
This isn’t going to happen though, any more than someone who plays Tony Hawk’s is going to become an accomplished skater, or someone who plays Soldier of Fortune will become a ruthless expert killer.
The brain, which we shall continue (incorrectly) to think of as a muscle, adapts, if it adapts at all, to best serve the tasks it spends the greater part of its time doing. Namely Microsoft Office. With a bit of brain training and telly-watching thrown in. Why don’t we all make a pact to ditch all the “training”, grow up and read a book on the tube? It looks sexier anyway. As long as it’s not Life of Pi or Dan Brown.