The Revolutionaries

The Revolutionaries
Pensioners That Play

Gearoid Reidy | 4 Apr 2006 08:05
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Mainstream: It's the gamer's comfort word. Since the advent of the PlayStation, we've been told in countless breathless media reports that gaming is now mainstream. That now it's OK.

But in reality, the only thing mainstream about gaming is its perception in the media.

Gaming targets young, well-off males - exactly the type of people who dictate in the media what is and isn't hip. Games, we have been told, need no longer rank alongside building model planes and attending Star Trek conventions in the playground of "cool."

Just like in the playground, that acceptance brought solace. And yet, gaming is still a niche, still with shockingly few games that target anyone outside the 13 to 25 age bracket.

Gaming is now at a curious crossroads, one where many other forms of media, from science fiction to rock music, have stood. Like them, once considered crude, pulp entertainment for the brainless masses, gaming can take to the mainstream - but only when it makes itself relevant to the lives of ordinary working Joes.

The Real Revolution
Enter Nintendo.

While Nintendo's new console may or may not end up being called the Revolution, on the streets of Japan, the real revolution is already here, and it's taken many people by surprise.

After all, when the DS was first announced, the sniggers of journalistic derision were audible. Compared to the sleek PSP, it had a screen that many cell phones would be ashamed of, and all the power of a hot Baghdad afternoon.

These journalists - all predominantly well-off young males, of course - forgot one thing: Their graphics-are-everything view of games is not one that is shared by everyone. Every week of sales figures for Japan is proving Nintendo right.

The real revolution began with Nintendogs, which, as already reported, was a game many had thought could not - should not - succeed.

Instead, Nintendo bypassed the fanboys and carved out an entirely new market, composed of both the curious novice and the bored hardcore, men and women in almost equal proportion. It's a market Nintendo continues to mine.

Animal Crossing: Wild World may look like a kid's game, but Japanese commercials have pitched it toward stressed-out women, who can enjoy the "slow life." The result was Japan's biggest-selling game of 2005.

But more than any other, the game that has found a new audience is Nou wo Kitaeru Otona no DS Training, which will come to the West as Brain Age. Combined, the original game and its recent sequel have sold over 3 million copies in Japan. To put that into context, that's more than twice what any Xbox game other than the Halo series has sold worldwide.

Otona no DS Training is made for adults. Professor Ryuta Kawashima, upon whose design the game is based, is a genuine and well-known Alzheimer's expert. The game tests your "brain age," with the lowest possible score - i.e., the best - being 20. There are no flashy graphics, nothing more than basic sounds, and absolutely no signs of Mario. The newest version has you do such un-game tasks as writing haiku and counting change.

The result is something familiar yet entirely new. It may not be a classic by most gamers' definitions, but it is a game with almost universal appeal, one anyone can pick up and play instantly. It is a game that is drawing the attention of the world.

At the beginning of March, the DS made headlines across the world, thanks to an Associated Press story on its success with older gamers.

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