Brain Games

There is no machine that can turn back time, but there might be one to train your brain to stay sharper for years to come.

CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker reports senior citizens are the new growth market being targeted by the stagnating video game industry.

"What we're unveiling is the next leap in gaming!" said Reggie Fils-Aime, Executive Vice President, Nintendo of America, at a recent unveiling of the company's latest offering, "Brain Age," aimed at older consumers.

The gamers in the Brain Age ads clearly did not grow up with PCs, video on demand, and video games. They're all smiling – but Nintendo's pitch is all about health: "Studies show," intones one ad, "cognitive exercise can help increase blood flow to the brain."

"People are always looking for ways to keep their bodies healthy," says Nintendo VP Perrin Kaplan. "This is a way to keep your mind healthy. It's essentially a treadmill for your brain."

"Brain Age" is already a success for Nintendo, which made $4 million from the new game within the first month of its release.

In the game, your brain age – that is, your score – improves the more quickly and accurately you do the tasks laid out in the game.

The game was born in Japan, which has the world's most rapidly aging population. When a Japanese researcher saw that short, rapid mental tasks stimulated the brain, Nintendo saw an opportunity.

The game has been a huge success with seniors.

"The game is easy," says one Japanese gamer, Kazuhiko Imai, speaking through a translator. "Anyone can play it."

It's even popular with some doctors.

"It can motivate old people, draw long dormant abilities out of them," said Dr. Atsuko Uchida, at Uchida Hospital in Kyoto, Japan.

The jury's out on whether these games actually can boost brain power. Some studies say yes, others no. But those who think videogames are just a waste of time might be surprised to learn research shows they can do some good.

The PC-based video game Re-Mission, developed by HopeLab for teens and young adults with cancer, helped patients who, learning more about their situation as they zapped imaginary cancer cells on screen, got better scores in real life on sticking to their treatment plan.

Another video game is touted as a help for weight loss.

"That's where game developers work their magic," says Ben Sawyer, of Games for Health, which brings together developers of games for health and educational purposes. "If we can get their magic to touch some of these big issues in health care, then maybe we can, you know, sort of game our way to better health."

Maybe so, but moderation never hurts: as any youngster knows, video games can be addictive.
  • Francie Grace

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