Review – Flash Focus

Like smoking crack and murdering people, I don’t like MMORPG’s, even though I’ve never tried them. I think the reason can be traced back to the first one I can remember: Ultima Online. In the abject depression of my teenage years, when I spent most of my time in a filthy basement (oh wait, that’s still what I do), I had a friend who would spend all day training his Ultima Online character in the the most insidiously boring fashion. Hitting the attack button over and over for hours and days did not seem fun to me, and I felt like its eventual reward was not rewarding enough to warrant so much tedium.

I must admit that this boredom-reward trade-off has lured me in at times: almost every Final Fantasy game I’ve played hooked me because the intricate plotlines made up for all that dull hitting of the attack button. In fact, it’s safe to say that this strategem has hooked gamers for decades, and will continue to do so. Although I think that good dialogue and well-constructed cut-scenes make for a better reward than simply increasing one’s level or getting a better sword, there’s no doubt that the latter prize is still enticing enough to make morally-challenged game studios a bundle of money.

It’s about time someone followed in the Sega CDs footsteps.

The introduction of Brain Age and its ilk have added a new wrinkle to this phenomenon. No longer do we sit and stare at our screens for hours just to make our virtual characters stronger and smarter. Now, apparently, all this cross-eyedness is good for us real live flesh-and-blood gamers. I can see how this could be the case with Brain Age: playing a DS is physically not all that different from reading a book, and a lot of the activities in the game seem like the kind of stuff smart people do (though I wouldn’t know, since I don’t associate with any of them).

Flash Focus takes a new tack on this concept. The scientists at Namco Bandai have finally decided to tap into the deep wealth of gamers who believe they can become professional athletes if they only play more video games. Fittingly, they have loaded, er… sprinkled the cartridge with a few fast-paced tasks that have a passing relation to sports. Examples include a boxing game that includes no real boxing, a basketball game in which all one does is pass the ball (you do not, however, actually see a ball at all), a volleyball game that involves no volleying, etc. When you are not playing these (barely) appropriately-titled “sports games,” Flash Focus is trying to convince you to indulge in tasks that are even more irrelevant than the ones mentioned above, and even less fun.

Aside from this not-funedness, however, the concept that playing a DS for hours will make your vision better is just plain old Corky from Life Goes On retarded. If there is anything that I’ve learned from my newfound computer job (other than the country code for Singapore), it’s that staring at 2 dimensions for hours on end will make your eyesight suck. Furthermore, I can think of plenty of non-DS-related activities that WILL definitely make you better at, say, baseball. Like, um… throwing a baseball! Or maybe hitting a baseball with a bat! I have also heard that catching a baseball with a baseball glove will improve your baseball skills.

No, Flash Focus is not a game for aspiring athletes. It’s a game for suckers. Unlike most crappy games that at least make an attempt to appear legit, however, Flash Focus lets you know you’ve been had from the get-go. The first game you play is a dead ringer for 3 card monte, except it’s called something else to make it seem more vision-trainey. To me, it’s just a further indication of something I should have known all along: like with 3 card monte, with Flash Focus you just can’t win. Just ask the nerdy four-eyed kid who dropped the pop fly.

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16 years ago

Hey, screw you! It was a sunny day and my mitt was tasting particularly good; how was I supposed to know that someone would actually hit a ball into right field?!

16 years ago

Actually, the idea that playing video games will make aspects of your vision better isn’t entirely off-base. Sure, repeated eye-strain can screw with your ability to focus, but video games have also been found to positively affect several aspects of the visual processing that goes on after light hits your eyes.

Among other people, Daphne Bavelier has been investigating this up at U Rochester. Her site ( says that “Video game players (VGPs) were found to outperform non-video game players (NVGPs) on the localization of an eccentric target among distractors, on the number of visual items they could apprehend at once and on the fast temporal processing of visual information.”

That doesn’t mean that Flash Focus actually works. I believe most of Dr. Bavelier’s research was conducted with first person shooters, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if attempts to cash in on the “training” type of video games end up removing the aspects that actually train your brain to group, count, and recognize/categorize small moving objects more quickly and effectively.