When you're Britain's premiere Womens In Games apart from the other four, attending press events can be a tiresome business. As almost invariably the only woman there, you'll find yourself endlessly photographed and filmed. You'll flatter yourself this is because you are so attractive, but then you'll remember an ex-boyfriend once describing you as looking "a bit like a white Bill Cosby", and realise it's about your novelty value. Just as you did back then. A picture of a lady playing a videogame, apparently, is always more interesting than a picture of someone who looks like 90 per cent of people who play videogames playing a videogame.
But times are changing, as Nintendo's top brass men never tire of telling us. They've made gaming more accessible! They've broadened the demographic! They've sold lots of games about maths and dogs! Even women and old people like games these days, for Peter Moore's sake!
Nintendo re-re-reiterated this message at a recent event titled 'Mind, Body & Console'. It felt like one of those deals where you get a free holiday (i.e. the chance to play some new games) if you agree to sit through a talk on how brilliant timeshares are (i.e. how brilliant Nintendo is at broadening demographics).
Taking a wild guess that you're not that interested in the demographics bit, we'll skip straight to the games. Following the CHINGCHINGCHING success of Brain Training, Nintendo has been looking at other things it could help us improve, and settled on our eyes and faces. We went hands-on with both Face Training and Sight Training at the event, and here's what we thought.
If you think being photographed at a press event because you're a woman sounds unnerving, how about being photographed at a press event because you're a woman gurning her mouth into O shapes at a DS. The advert's got Zoë Ball doing it, you know. She's never looked less Would.
Face Training, according to the press release, is "based on the internationally recognised concept of Facening". Bizarrely, Facening's international fame has yet to spread to Lewisham so we had no idea what this meant. Turns out Facening is all about pulling different facial expressions to exercise and tone your features. A simpler term for it might be facial yoga; an even simpler one would be gurning.
The set-up is the same as Brain Training. You create a personal data file so you can keep track of your progress, and train your face for around ten minutes per day. The game comes with a camera which plugs into the side of the DS and a stand on which to rest your handheld while you make faces at it.
During exercises, an animated lady on the left side of the screen shows you what to do with your face. The right side shows your image as viewed by the camera. First off you have to line your head up with an outline on the screen so the game can measure how well you're performing.
Then you follow the lady's instructions for the exercises, which involve things like stretching your jaw, widening your eyes and making shapes with your mouth while going "oooo" or "eeee".
The camera resolution isn't brilliant; it's about what you'd expect from an average mobile phone. It's not flattering, especially if you've had no sleep because you've been burgled for the second time in TWO WEEKS so you're spending the nights sitting on the sofa with the lights out holding a shotgun. Anyway.
At the end of your exercises the game gives you a score. It's not an 'Age' as with Brain or Sight Training, but a percentage based on your performance. The exercises are easy, but we only got 10 per cent. You try playing Face Training in a room full of journalists while the nice Japanese man translating the in-game text for you tries not to laugh.
Whatever your position in the "but is it really a game?" debate, Face Training feels a lot less like a game than Brain Training. But it's not aimed at traditional gamers, it's for people who want to look young and beautiful and are prepared to spend ten minutes a day gurning to pursue that objective.
If that sounds like you, or if you're looking for a present for someone it does sound like, Face Training could be the answer. It looks slick, it comes with neat accessories and it's an innovative idea. Whether it's an interesting one, at least as far as most gamers are concerned, remains to be seen.
This one is more similar to Brain Training as you're playing mini-games, essentially. Once again, you can create a profile and keep track of your improvement over time. Each day you can perform a short set of tests to discover your current Eye Age.
Nintendo isn't pretending Sight Training will actually improve your eyesight, so don't throw away your contact lenses. It's about improving your vision, or 'Focus Ability'. There are five areas to work on - dynamic visual acuity (seeing moving objects), momentary vision (taking in several bits of information at once), eye movement (moving eyes quickly and accurately), peripheral vision (seeing over a wide area) and hand-eye co-ordination (being good at videogames).
Each 'core exercise' (i.e. mini-game) is designed to improve one of these skills. To train your momentary vision, you have to remember and input a number which flashes up for the splittiest of seconds. The hand-eye co-ordination test involves tapping symbols with the stylus before they disappear. The peripheral vision test displays a wide selection of symbols, again for only a moment, and you have to pick the matching one.
Then there are the sports training games. These are designed to improve more than one skill at a time. We played a volleyball game where you have to watch a ball on the top screen as it flies downwards and tap it, preferably dead centre, when it reaches the right height on the bottom screen. There's also a boxing game where you hit an opponent's left and right gloves as he raises them and draw lines with the stylus to defend yourself. Other games include basketball, baseball, table tennis and football.
As mini-games go, neither the core nor the training exercises are the most fun we've played. They're designed to improve rather than entertain, of course. Whether they actually do that will be interesting to see; most of the games we played felt like a test of our memory or reaction times rather than visual skills.
But then we're not Hisao Ishigaki, professor of management and information science at the Aichi Institute of Technology, and he's confident enough to have put his name to the game. What we do know is Face and Sight Training are further evidence of Nintendo seeking to take gaming in a new direction and hook in a new group of consumers on the way. Here's hoping they succeed, if only so the sight of women playing videogames becomes utterly unremarkable and people stop stealing our souls at press events.