Games are a great way to waste time, but they don't get you any closer to learning to read music or speak a new language. Except they totally do.We want to show you some ways to use video games to help you learn real skills for the real world. If you've ever thought about taking up a hobby, but decided against because it cut into your Starcraft time, here are some ideas for ways to fuse your interests and become a more productive gamer.
1. Give Your Brain A Tune-Up
FLASH GAMES - Basic memory games are a dime-a-dozen online. The vast majority of these feel spammy and come with pop-ups or instrusive ads. Most respectable flash game sites, like Miniclip or Addicting Games will get you to a simple memory game experience, without the less desirable side effects. Smartphone owners can also download classic memory games like Simon, which will be ad-free. [Simon]
BRAIN AGE - Most DSers at least know about Brain Age, the game that claims to make you sharper by playing for 10 minutes a day. Though the creator's claims have been disputed, there's nothing saying that regular mental exercise can't offer other benefits — like increasing your life expectancy. [Brain Age]
LUMOSITY - Lumosity utilises a system similar to Brain Age, using basic exercises to keep your brain in peak condition. Lumosity also has a free companion iPhone app so you can take tests whenever. As for credibility, Lumosity is endorsed by neuroscientists at Stanford: Take that as you will, but the fact that SOMEONE is backing this up automatically puts the program miles ahead of most of its competition. Plus, the guys at Lifehacker like it. [Lumosity]
2. Improve Your Typing
Gaming-Themed Typing Games - Lots of popular video game franchises have been adapted to a educational typing format, ranging from classics like Pac-Man and Mario, to more modern, adult-themed games like House of the Dead.
GIRP - There are also lots of flash games out there as well, but many of them are below board, and might not be as helpful as you'd like. In that realm, I recommend GIRP- a typing game that doesn't teach you the positions of the keys, so much as it forces you to memorise each letter's position in relation to every other. [GIRP]
3. Learn To Play An Instrument
Despite the fact that the music genre is currently in the middle of a meteoric plummet out of the world of gaming, games like Rock Band and Power Gig still have a chance to survive in the post-Guitar Hero gaming landscape as legitimate means of learning how to play the guitar.
ROCK BAND 3 - With Rock Band's new pro mode, players are actually playing their instruments rather than pretending. Players can plug in their special Rock Band-ready guitars and learn the basics of real guitar playing. Learning to play the keyboard on RB3 is even easier; any MIDI keyboard can plug into the game... with an adaptor, of course. [Rock Band]
ROCKSMITH - Ubisoft's upcoming music game, Rocksmith, also teaches you how to play the guitar. Rocksmith's one advantage over Rock Band is that it's compatible with any guitar. [Rocksmith]
I bet a lot of you expected that to be the end of the music section, huh? Well We ain't done yet.
SHEET MUSIC TRAINER - Learning how to read sheet music can be a chore, but if you use the Sheet Music Trainer on the iPhone, you can make that less interesting part of music a little more fun. [iTunes]
5. Learn Another Language
JAPANESE IMPORTS - High school students often times watch movies or read books in a foreign language for school to help them learn other languages, how is playing games any different? For years, JRPG fans have been importing games that will never see a US release for over a decade now; these guys started learning Japanese to play games, but it was playing those imports exclusively in Japanese that helped them go from novice poser to fluent fanboy. Japanese isn't the only language you can that way. Why not play Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood in Italian? Having trouble with your French accent? Try Heavy Rain.
SMARTPHONES - There are also a TON of more direct language aids available through smartphone. Some are more engaging, and some are thinly veiled study apps.
American Sign Language Alphabet game - Match up the symbols to learn the ASL alphabet. [iTunes]
Mindsnacks (French + Spanish) A set of games to help you learn French or Spanish. [iTunes (Spanish)]
Kanji Tutor (Japanese) A quiz game to help you remember your Kanji. [Android Market]
Survive! Series (Japanese, Italian, Spanish) Get around in a foreign country using your foreign language skills. [Android Market (Japanese)]
Obviously, the best choice for every individual is based on their own learning style, but there are a lot of options, so just because one language tool doesn't seem to click with you, don't worry about it. There are tons of other options on the table.
6. Get Better At Games
FPS Trainer - If you like shooters, but don't like being publicly humiliated then maybe you go should check out FPS trainer, the video game that wants to make you better at video games. FPS Trainer is a very simple (and free) PC FPS that teaches you the ropes of the genre. In addition to the standard lessons, there are peer "trainers" you to give you feedback about your performance. Basically FPS Trainer is like the obligatory boot camp section at the beginning of every FPS game, except this one actually helps. [FPS Trainer]
7. Learn To Draw
ART ACADEMY - Art Academy, available for DS as a cart or via DSiware, teaches the basics of drawing step-by-step, from using the right type of pencil, to the nuances of shading and negative space. Think of it this way; a DS is way easier to carry around than an easel, paper, pens and pencils. [Art Academy]
8. Learn Some Scripture
As it turns out, smartphones, both iPhone and Android, are apparently a solid resource for someone (Christians, mostly) to connect with their faith... through trivia! If knowing the bible, chapter and verse, is important to you then these apps seem like they might be helpful.
Bible Books (iPhone) A trivia game focused on teaching you to remember the names and order of the books of the new testament. [iTunes]
Brain Cafe: Test your faith (iPhone/Android) A religious-themed trivia game. [Android Market]
If trivia isn't enough of a game for you, you can always break out the ol' NES and a copy of Bible Adventures for some nice theologically themed platforming.
9. Learn How To Weather The Perfect Storm
OK, so this is a stretch.
In anticipation of buying the largest cruise ship in the world - "The Oasis of the Seas" - Royal Caribbean created the STAR Center, a set of life-sized bridge simulators, in Florida to teach the crew how to pilot the mammoth sea vessel. The STAR Center simulators will recreate scenarios ranging from idealistically calm caribbean waters to hurricane-class winds. Looking at it, the bridge simulator doesn't look especially fun. That is, of course, because it's not meant to be. The simulations exist to teach crews how to handle a massive ship and keep its passengers out of harm's way. Then again, if you love being the captain of an enormous ship, then I bet this thing is awesome.
10. Learn To Get Out Of A Burning Building?
As we've seen, there are a lot of skills that video games can teach, but so far none of them will help you stay alive in a dangerous situation. This one does. In 2009, professors at Durham University in Britain created a simulator to show staff and students the best way to evacuate many of the campus' buildings in the event of a fire. The virtual fire drill was built using Valve's Source engine. Even though Source was old, even at the time, officials at Durham were impressed that using a video game to solve their problems was "faster, more cost effective, and had better special effects". Of course, they also said that the simulation didn't work so great on gamers who often tried to jump or force their way past burning objects in their path, rather than find an alternate route.
Got a favourite brain-building game that you don't see above — or just want to talk up your favourite? Let's hear it in the comments.