Brain Quest on the Nintendo DS for grades 3 & 4 is designed for elementary school kids age 8 - 10 to make learning more game than chore. In Brain Quest, EA Games has applied what video game makers have learned to do better than most educators: lure kids into developing skills with ever increasing challenges that actually frustrate for a while and then deliver the satisfaction of success. The game allows each player to choose third or fourth grade questions or a combination of the two with a total of 6, 000 questions.
Brain Quest has four playing modes: Brain Mode, Quest Mode, Multiplayer and a Sudoku game category with different grid sizes and difficulty levels. In Brain Mode you choose questions from one of six categories: English, Science, Math, History, Geography, and Grab Bag. There is also a “Random” button so that you don’t know what category is coming next. Sometimes the questions are grouped around a theme, such as homonyms, and after the answers, your guide gives you additional information about the events.
There are several different types of questions. Whenever the game introduces a new type of question, cute little dog pops up to explain it and to lead players through the steps of answering them. For the homonyms, there is animated matching, drawing lines between ‘know’ and ‘no,’ ‘sun’ and ‘son.’ At the end, the criss-crossed lines realign to show what words belong with which. Then players have to type in a five letter word that sounds like “through” that means “propelled through the air.” The final question in the homonym module asks if the player can recognize the word on a list: antonyms, homonyms, synonyms. Knowing that counts for a genius point. At the end, the guide explains the meaning of the roots.
In Quest Mode, you face three computer challengers in a game environment called Brain Quest Park that has different scenes that correspond to different categories of challenges. Change the scene and change the category. Each scene has three guides who ask increasingly difficult questions. Sometimes a guide will send you looking for a different questioner in a different category. So the game throws you around to cover the whole park.
Often “grade level” or “age-appropriate” labels in games aim for the lowest common denominator, the minimum of skill required to reach the oldest possible mark. With kids, the older the marker, the more attractive the game, skill or event. So it sometimes feels that publishers have dumbed their games down. But boy oh boy, not here. There are easy questions for third graders like how old you have to be to vote or arranging these four words - practice, needs, our, band - into a sentence. There are medium difficulty ones. (How many US Senators are there? Be careful you don’t select ‘50’ like I did! ) And really hard ones. Could you, in third grade, have arranged celestial bodies in order of size from asteroid, planet, star and galaxy or known to order soil layers from bedrock to subsoil, topsoil and ground level? Could you do it even now?And this is in the third grade, not fourth grade version of the game. Then there are the “genius point” questions. A sample “genius” question asks players to match the countries of Canada, India, Norway and Spain, with their currencies: dollar, rupee, krone and euro.
Playing the game gives you points and unlocks “stickers.” Once you have enough points, you can select Collectibles in the main menu and go to a screen where you can buy those ‘stickers’ to put into the game scenery. Some are simple stickers, but the higher points unlock animated stickers like the little lemur who blinks and wags his tail.
It is no small feat if Brain Quest can simply make answering questions like this fun. The reality is that children are being evaluated by tests that use many of these techniques, and playing a “game” like Brain Quest not only gives the distraction of a game, it also teaches test taking skills while testing general knowledge in a sort of calisthenics for the mind. It does not teach understanding, and so is not a substitute for real education. But it does increase the ‘cultural currency’ - Match the food or drink with the part of the body it helps keep healthy: meat, milk, water, and carrots have to be matched with the appropriate benefit to bones, muscles, kidneys and eyes. - that has been shown to help a child succeed in higher levels of school and college.
Brain Quest website
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: Nintendo DS
Grade Level: 3-4