Feeling a little blue? Wanting to increase your confidence? If so, MindHabits (created by Dr. Baldwin and the Article 19 Group) have produced an award winning game for your PC that is here to help! By clicking on happy faces and ignoring neutral and mad faces MindHabits hopes to train your brain to focus on the positive in about 5 minutes a day. I have always maintained that the ripping heads off of digital opponents (with spinal cord intact) a la Mortal Kombat style offered many therapeutic properties. (Perhaps that's why I'm not a mental health professional nor should ever be.) Reviewing MindHabits is a bit of a challenge because it is not a conventional game, but uses a gaming platform for the potential of personal growth. It is also a very short software package with very few and similar activities.

I was really looking forward to reviewing MindHabits because I thought it would be similar to games puzzle games like Brain Age. I'm a self-confessed math nerd and love challenging myself to puzzles that test the ol' gray matter. MindHabits can't easily be classified as a puzzle game. Based on published research from Dr. Baldwin (McGill University) MindHabits is essentially a collection of interactive activities based on those Dr. Baldwin developed and used in his research.

When starting MindHabits for the first time there is an initial setup period where you're asked personal information (favorite color, where you were born, etc…). It feels almost like a standard registration screen (which I would normally try to bypass as quickly as possible). The process in this case should not be hurried though, because the game is actually gaining input that is directly used in its activities. Once in the main screen you have the choice of taking part in any of the four activities to train your brain or take track your progress which can give you a numerical output on how you're supposedly feeling that day. The four interactive activities (Matrix, Words, Who Are You, Grow Your Chi) are supposed to exercise the mind using three main scientific principles of: Inhibition (use game mechanics to promote positive habits), Association (connects personal info to positive feedback), and Activation (uses personal references). MindHabits comes with a full explanation for each of the four activities in order to explain the scientific background and reasoning behind it. The website of the game proudly displays its award-winning status (which I would assume means that others have found either the innovation or the results of playing MindHabits desirable). Despite the scientific component (which unlike engineering I would see as more touchy feely qualitative 'science') what good is MindHabits if it's not fun to play? Improving yourself is one thing, packaging it such a way that it doesn't end up like every piece of personal gym equipment turned clothes hanger is completely different.

Matrix is an activity where you attempt to click on the warm and/or inviting faces as quickly as possible. Faces will continue to pop up and change (especially at higher levels) so it can be a challenge to scan the faces and click on the right one as quickly as possible. The Words activity is a very simple word-search game where the words you are to find are listed at the bottom. These words vary (although I suspect came from a list of words most used at Woodstock) and generally include 'love', 'loved', 'embrace', 'friendship', etc… The Who Are You activity uses the words you initially used in the quasi-registration process. You are to click on the words amidst other ones in order to increase your score. In higher levels faces appear rapidly and by clicking on the happy faces you can get a higher score. The Grow Your Chi activity is a combination of the other activities. The same words from the Who Are You activity run past the screen (either up and down attached to balloons or across the screen attached to airplanes) with happy and sad faces floating past on clouds. The higher levels in this activity are absolutely nuts and tend to induce stress instead of relieve it.

The graphics are simple, bubbly, colorful and a bit immature for the target adult audience. The format and caricatures resemble what you'd expect to find in any children's educational software package. The game is full of pictures of different faces from many national backgrounds each modeling different moods for use in the activities. The limited and repetitive activities that you play essentially have you looking for one of the words you identified during the quasi-registration process, or searching for smiling faces amid a sea of the unamused. There really isn't much variety to the game at all, that's pretty much it. I found that it took less than half an hour to navigate through and play everything MindHabits has to offer.

Visiting the MindHabits website I was taken back from the apparently never ending accolades from the media and various users. If you notice the comment from "PK Breeze" who states that MindHabits was the "most delightful mind-altering experience I've had since the 70's"; that is the one comment I would agree with on that entire page. I'm sure PK dabbled into mind-altering drugs in a big way to believe that MindHabits has such amazing powers over the human mind.

I've been playing the game fairly regularly over the past four months and have not found there to be any huge amazing changes in my psyche. I am no more pleasant to hippies wearing leather belts lecturing me about animal rights, feel no less road rage as certain drivers have yet to discover their turning signals, nor feel less stressed when preparing for final exams. My verdict? MindHabits works great if you think it will. The power of suggestion is an amazing tool independent of intelligence or experience; our friend PK Breeze bought or used MindHabits with the best intentions of it working. In contrast, I received this game in order to evaluate and found it to be repetitive and boring.

The basic story of MindHabits is that for a very short and repetitive game it needs all the hype in order for players to see value in the skinny software package. From what I've read and experienced over the past four months I'm unconvinced the game is anything more than a placebo. If you're still interested be sure to download the free trial before committing yourself.