The Mensan principle of fostering intelligence was my primary reason for joining the organization, and I exercise this virtue volunteering my free time at the local hobby shop. The activities conducted there nurture and sharpen mathematical, linguistic, and logical intelligences in minds age eight to 80. The shop is a Mental Gymnasium, where every Comic Book, Board and Card Game, Video Game, and Role-playing Adventure is a type of cognitive fitness equipment, pumping gray matter.
These are some of the exercises we promote:
These periodicals, brimming with pictures and conversation bubbles, are a fun way to get kids into reading. Young children lack the wealth of experiences adults take for granted that are so crucial to a vivid imagination. Without the ability to visualize situations, children find prose boring, if not daunting in its cognitive demands.
Comics offer a wonderful bridge from reading to children to helping them read on their own. Unlike prose, where every new word presents a pitfall to following the story, a child may continue to follow the action illustrated in each comic frame regardless of their reading level. The meanings of new words are revealed within the context of the illustrations and dialogue.
Collectible Card Games
There are a multitude of CCG’s covering cartoon characters, vampires, super heroes, pirates, robots, spies, history, myths, on and on. The basic rules of most CCG’s are fairly simple, but things get complicated as each card has the potential to change those rules. Then there are card combinations, where the ability to abstract how two or more cards may interact will give you an advantage over your opponent.
Children who play CCG’s exhibit incredible feats of logic, verbal acuity, algebra, abstract thought, and even statistics without realizing what they are learning. I love it when players surprise me with novel card combinations or strategies. In a game like “Magic The Gathering,” where there are thousands of cards and ten years of game history, new tactics abound.
Futurist H.G. Wells invented the first recreational war game, named Little Wars, which provided a more structured way to play with toy soldiers. Before him there was Chess from Persia and Go from Asia. Today there are a variety of collectible miniature games, where, like CCG’s, each new opponent brings a new strategy to the table.
Board games require spatial reasoning and forward thought. They reward players who falsify their hypotheses and see things from their opponent’s perspective. Every game has different rules and dynamics. Each board provides a whole new cognitive playground.
Infinite monkeys banging away at infinite typewriters for infinite years will produce all the works of literature. I have established a computer lab with six systems and more than 30 grade school kids play with them, so you can see how the chaos factor increases exponentially.
The evidence suggests these games improve reaction times and the ability to multi-task. Most of all they promote interest in computers. Recently one child figured out how to shut down his opponent’s system remotely through the network during game play. Other kids have devised programming hacks to tilt games in their favor. All of these actions are prohibited of course, but I secretly admire their ingenuity and enthusiasm.
These are a natural extension of storytelling, wonderful imaginative collaborations among participants. Each player designs a character with customized attributes, and a Game Master fabricates a world in which to play. Teamwork is crucial, as a diverse party of characters seeks to compliment one another’s skill sets and tackle each scenario the Game Master throws at them.
Role-playing is also the realm of statistics, as players manipulate their character’s skill sets to tilt the odds in their favor. Five dice, modeled off of the five platonic solids, are used to determine different levels of chance. Of course, players live in the Game Master’s world, and that individual has infinite control over the game’s dynamics, so dice-rolls aren’t always the final word.
The shop provides a safe place for kids to hang out and have fun while exercising their minds. We try to promote the virtues of sportsmanship with the help of companies who publish the games and provide us with tournament prizes. The social interactions that take place over games are exercises in disputation-resolution, where only peaceful intellectual means are allowed.
With all of the above examples, parents need to closely supervise their children’s activities. About half of the comic books on the stands today are inappropriate for children. The people your children are Role-playing with determine the content of those games.
It’s just like the television, movies, and friendships their children experience; parents should stay involved. Listen when your children talk about their gaming experiences. Read what your children are reading. Coach them on fair play. Most of all, remind them that losing is a learning experience and opponents are teachers. Respectful conduct improves a type of intelligence not easily measured, emotional.