MindHabits is a game that is at least trying to be helpful. According to the box, “MindHabits features scientifically designed training challenges, as well as measurement tools, to help you gain and maintain a more positive frame of mind.” The game is based on the (published) research of Dr. Mark Baldwin at McGill University, and the included mini-games are modified versions of the ones used by Dr. Baldwin during a ten-plus-year study. But does the game really work, or is it hokum? I’ll relate how well it worked for me, but that’s not necessarily the answer to the question.
MindHabits has a theory: if you can ignore frowns (and negative words) and concentrate on smiles (and positive words), then you’ll improve your outlook on life and reduce stress. To help you along these lines, MindHabits comes with four mini-games and five trackers. The mini-games train you to see good things and avoid bad things, and the trackers test how well you’re doing.
As an example, one of the mini-games is called Matrix. In this game, you’re presented with a series of pictures on a grid, and your objective is to click on the smiling faces while ignoring the frowning faces. As you move up in level, you see more faces and they stay on screen for a shorter length of time, making the game more challenging. One of the nice things about MindHabits is that you can pick the level where you want to play, so if you find one level of the game to be too difficult, you can drop down to an earlier level where you’re more comfortable.
Another of the mini-games is called Words. This is a basic word-find game, where you have to find certain positive words hidden in a grid of letters. As you advance in level here, the words start appearing backwards or diagonally, making finding them more difficult. When you start up MindHabits, you have to create a profile that includes seven personal words to you (such as your hometown and your favorite color), and these words can appear in the game as well, giving you a bonus if you find them.
The five trackers in the game are very short and can be completed in a few minutes. They test how well you’re doing, and they give you a score from 1 (bad) to 10 (good). As an example, in one tracker you’re quickly shown a series of faces, and you have to answer whether you detected any smiling faces in the group, or if all of the faces were frowning. You don’t get a score for each tracker, but you do get an overall score (called your outlook), and so you can keep track of how well you’re feeling each day.
So at least in theory MindHabits can help you out. But here’s the problem I had -- none of the games are any fun to play. They’re quick (usually taking about a minute each), but they’re tedious, and there’s nothing about them to make you want to keep playing. Worse, my outlook score actually went down during the week I spent playing the game, and I have a sneaking suspicion that my fairly neutral scores, which ended up hovering around 5.0, didn’t mean anything. (My suspicion is that if you’re not affected by the words and the faces used by the trackers, then you’ll just get a 5.0 every time, but it’s hard to say since you don’t get to see any of the inner workings for how your score is generated.)
It’s possible that MindHabits is one of those activities where if you think it’s going to help you then it will, and if you don’t then it won’t. I started out pessimistic, and nothing about the game changed my opinion. Plus, MindHabits is a little bit lightweight (it only takes 25 MB on your hard drive), it’s a little bit screwy (the high scores page appears to be all but random), and its mini-games wear out their welcome quickly. And so it’s just not a game that I can recommend, unless you’re thoroughly desperate, and in that case you’d probably be better off with professional help.