If you don’t know about the “brain games” website Lumosity, you should go have a look. It’s kind of like yoga for your mind. Well, maybe you wouldn’t like it if you hate puzzles and sudoku and lateral thinking games, but even if you do you might find it useful.
Lumosity isn’t a website of puzzles like sudoku, and it isn’t a brain teaser site, either, but it is designed to offer fun games that challenge your brain. Some of them are so straightforward that they could have been made for a personal computer circa 1984 – oh, wait. 😉 Raindrops is a prettified update to the old falling equations math game Funnels & Buckets; in some ways it’s harder (3 misses and you’re done, whereas in F&B the buckets had to fill up, so you could miss up to 10 times or so), but in others it’s easier (the screen clears for a fresh start when you miss in Raindrops, while in F&B the numbers keep on falling). Either way, though, it will challenge your speed if nothing else: the game speeds up until 3 equations have fallen to the bottom before you could answer, and it throws more equations out simultaneously as they begin to fall faster. You can’t ‘win’ this game.
Actually, a lot of the games at Lumosity are this way, and I think it’s one of the site’s strengths. However well you do initially, the games will speed up and add more variables until you struggle with them; they’re well-designed to offer a challenge at almost any level. And they are simple in concept – Raindrops uses basic arithmetic; a maze race game spins, challenging your ability to stay oriented while navigating as fast as possible; a pattern matching game tests your working memory by asking whether the current card matches the pattern shown one or two cards earlier, with a collection limited to 3 or 4 cards (surprisingly tough!); a word game asks you to come up with as many words as you can that start with the same few letters.
Unfortunately, the research on any benefits in the real world of working on your speed, memory, or mental calculation skill with these games seems to be sparse even now. Lumosity has some study reports listed on the website, but the number of study participants is so small that it seems unreliable; one lists 23 participants split into a control and an experimental group – far too few people to make for a representative sample. Other than that, the site notes frequently what people say about Lumosity, that is, it notes anecdotal evidence. Anecdotes prove psychologically persuasive for many or most people, but even when they report actual results (Lumosity only reports perceived results), they are too dependent on the individuals telling them to be reliable indicators of general results.
But there are some high-profile schools doing studies on Lumosity, they say (Harvard, Columbia, Stanford), so maybe they’re working on something more comprehensive.
Well, if I haven’t badmouthed their small-sample study too much, I’ll add that I signed up for the free trial a couple of weeks ago, and the games are quite fun. I’m playing them to get a little more comfortable trying to solve problems under an intense time constraint that gets more difficult as I do better. Sounds a little like a CAT, and I figure it won’t hurt. I tend to freak out a little bit when I feel rushed … never much liked the linear Mario games, where the screen will push you forward if you don’t keep moving constantly. So, I’ll try to get used to it so I can keep my head a bit clearer.
Give it a try. If you’re going to play flash games online, you might as well pick ones that are a little more edifying than, say, Gemcraft. Right?