The Rockwood Files: Mind Games

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Yesterday I took my son’s hand-held video game away from him. He hadn’t misbehaved, and he’d already finished his homework. I made up some excuse about how it was a sunny day and he should get outside and take advantage of it. He relinquished the game and shuffled out to the driveway with a basketball in hand. Little does he know that I really wanted him to put down the game so I could have it all to myself.

A few months ago, I bought a hand-held Nintendo DS for our boys before we embarked on what felt like the longest car ride in the history of the world – 14 hours to Ohio with three kids and two adults trapped in a minivan. I figured a new game would take the edge off the boredom in the car, and it did.

I bought game cartridges for the kids to play like Super Mario and an adventure game with a starfish in it, but I also bought a game that looked interesting for grown-ups. It’s called “Brain Age 2”, and the concept behind the game is that, by exercising your mind on a daily basis, you keep it sharp as you age. According to the little know-it-all voice that narrates the game, 20 is the ideal “brain age.” After the age of 20, our brains apparently start to decline, which explains why I can barely remember to do anything besides breathe in and out these days. Eventually, I’ll probably have to start writing “breathe in and out” on my to-do list or I’ll forget about that, too. But I digress.

After the electronic game narrator explained all about the ideal “brain age,” he encouraged me to take a series of three short video tests that would help him determine my current brain age thereby giving me a baseline to work from. So I took the tests, and the game kicked my thirty-something butt. It’s not that the tests were too hard. For the most part, the games require you to use simple arithmetic and number memory. The catch is that you have to do it quickly and accurately. The faster and more accurate you are, the lower your brain age becomes.

After I took that first test, the game told me my brain age was a whopping 78. I was stunned. My brain was practically eating stewed prunes and shuffling around on a walker with tennis balls stuck to the ends.

If I were more mature, I would have just laughed it off as a silly, inaccurate video game and gone on with my life. But I couldn’t let it go. Something in me needed to prove that I’m not as dumb as that game thinks I am. So I started practicing – sneaking off to a quiet room with the game so I could improve my speed and accuracy on math and word quizzes. Slowly but surely, I shaved a few decades off my brain age.

After three months of almost daily practice, I’m proud to report that my brain is much younger than it once was. My best mental age so far is 21, which means my brain is just barely old enough to order itself a margarita. At a time in my life when I get called “Mom” or “ma’am” on a daily basis and haven’t been “carded” in over a decade, it makes me feel better to know I’m walking around with a brain as young as any college co-ed.

My husband has become a little addicted to the game, too, and sometimes we battle to see whose brain age will be the youngest. Right now I’ve got him beat by three years – a fact which I’ve rubbed in mercilessly even though my 21-year-old brain tells me that the gloating will certainly come back to bite me in my thirty-something behind the next time I do something stupid.

I wish I could say all these mind games have made me more efficient or intelligent in my day-to-day life, but honestly I haven’t seen much difference. A few weeks ago, I accidentally let the car battery run down. I completely forgot an important birthday. And I still have no idea how to use the auto defrost feature on the microwave. At the end of a busy day, my brain mostly feels like mush.

But when the kids are busy playing outside, I can steal away to a quiet corner, test my skills and feel a little validation when the video game professor tells me I’ve still got it.

Want to read previous installments of The Rockwood Files? Click HERE.