Soon after I signed Gear Diary up for Google’s AdSense, I noticed a new advertisement for something called Art Dealer. I had already weeded out the totally irrelevant ads for Kangol hats, heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, a zen garden, and lingerie (don’t ask!), and I was tempted to weed out this ad, too. But instead I made note of the site’s name, and I visited to see what it was all about. After spending a little bit of time at Minds Refined, I was intrigued.
Art Dealer is a game where you play “an art lover who is given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: To attend a series of private sales where you have the chance to buy masterpieces by 20 of the world’s greatest artists including Monet, Matisse, Rembrandt, & van Gogh. There are only two problems: You have no money and the private sales you’re attending would just as soon sell you a masterfake as a masterpiece! Luckily, you have help from a rich friend with inside information. Coupled with your developing eye for art, you try to corner the art market. Along the way you get to learn about some of the world’s most acclaimed painters while looking at some of their most exquisite works of art.”
Okay, so at first glance it didn’t seem like Art Dealer would be too different from simulated, , and games I’ve played and enjoyed – only this time I would be buying art. Well, that’s true…but there’s much more to it.
According to the site, Art Dealer was “Inspired by research showing that memory and attention can be increased through training – and created by a cognitive psychologist with 15 years of experience studying memory, attention, and aging – Art Dealer combines lab-tested cognitive training techniques with the excitement of the high-stakes world of art collecting.”
So I shot off my standard inquiry asking if they would be interested in providing a review sample. I received the following reply from Jeffrey Toth, the games creator:
Thanks for the offer! I’m flattered that you’d be interested. I’m also a bit surprised because, relative to geardiary.com which looks pretty ‘cutting-edge’, Art Dealer was primarily designed as a memory trainer for older adults (senior citizens) with limited computer experience. Is that what you expected? Regardless, I’d be happy to send you a copy for review.
Our company is one of the few that is creating inexpensive games for older adults based on scientific research directed at how best to maintain memory and attention skills. Art Dealer is our first game, but we hope it will be the first of many, by ourselves and others, that integrate science-based training principles with gaming themes of interest to older adults.
His answer actually made me even more interested in the game.
It turned out that Jeff is a cognitive psychologist “with over 15 years experience studying memory, attention, and aging.” He is currently an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and “just prior to joining the faculty at UNCW, [he] started Minds Refined LLC based on recent advances in our understanding of age-related cognitive decline.” Jeff believes that “we have learned enough about cognitive aging to begin transferring scientific expertise to the general public. A number of scientifically-tested training procedures can be found in the literature; most, however, are implemented using relatively mundane (boring) materials and challenges (such as remembering word lists).” So Jeff created Minds Refined to “develop more compelling training games that can help older adults maintain their cognitive abilities. He also wanted to “make games that are affordable for seniors because most “brain training” software is pretty expensive.”
Art Dealer is Jeff’s “first attempt to accomplish these goals. The game is based on training principles that two published studies have shown to increase memory in older adults [Jennings & Jacoby (2003), Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, v13, 417-440; Jennings et al. (2006), Aging, Neuropsychology, & Cognition, v12, 278-298].” He is “currently in the process of testing Art Dealer itself with initial results being quite positive.”
Jeff further said that I would soon see that “Art Dealer moves at slower, more thoughtful pace than many contemporary games; however, we believe that what it lacks in flash (and violence!) it more than makes up for in scientific substance and the potential to change the lives of older adults.”
That was my introduction to the game, and I couldn’t wait to give it a try.
After loading the software and opening the game for the first time, I was prompted to enter my name. Doing so allowed the game to not only address me during play, but also allowed my game to be saved and re-opened.
Next Simon, my virtual art-world guide, arrived to tell me that he would be loaning me the necessary money to bid on the original works of art I’d be seeing presented at auction. He would show them to me first so I would know which to bid on. I was cautioned to watch for the forgeries that would certainly be there, and given hints on how to avoid falling prey to the fakes.
Without further ado, Simon showed me a portrait of Mary Cassatt with a bit of background information. I would soon learn that each of the thirty virtual sales would begin in the same manner.
I was then shown a series of pictures painted by Mary Cassatt. I could take as long as I wanted to study them, there was no time limit. But if I advanced to the next picture, there was no returning to the previous.
After viewing 15 or so paintings, Simon came back and said that my loan was in place and I was set to attend the sale.
And do I entered the auction auditorium…
…and the first sale began. As each painting would appear, the asking price would show in red with my balance showing in black. I had the option to “Buy this Painting,” “Skip this Painting,” or “Get a Loan.” If I purchased an authentic masterpiece from the previously shown set (like the picture shown below), a message would flash in the box saying “Excellent Buy.” Whether or not it was an authentic Cassatt, if it wasn’t in the set I had previously been shown, I would be told “Bad choice, that’s a fake.” And if I failed to purchase one of the original paintings I was supposed to, I was told “Bad Choice, that was an original.”
After all the pictures had been shown and after I had made my selections, Simon came back to let me know how I had done. For my first auction, I had purchased 14 of the 16 originals, and no forgeries.
It was time to enter my “Gallery” and sell some of the paintings so that I could settle my debt with Simon.
Hitting the “Bank Status” button showed my terrible debt…
…and hitting the “Gallery Status” button showed how much the artwork currently held by my gallery was worth.
Most of the masterpieces I had purchased were worth twice what I paid, so I chose the ones I wasn’t most fond of and sold them until I had enough in the bank to repay my loan.
After repaying Simon, it was time to learn about my next artist and then prepare for the next sale.
This time, I was bidding on paintings done by Thomas Cole.
This time I purposely bought a few fakes, and sure enough, after the sale I learned that Simon was less than pleased. Perhaps the extra $90,000 (or was it more?) that I had to borrow during the auction had something to do with it.
Now my gallery showed icons for the two artists I had purchased from…
…and my first order of business was to get rid of the ten forgeries I had purchased! As I had been warned, they were worth half what I paid. An interesting observation was that just as the forgeries’ prices would continue to fall if they weren’t soon sold, the authentic paintings’ prices would continue to rise.
After selling all of the forgeries, I still owed Simon quite a bit of money, so I disposed of some of the originals.
Now comes the part where you learn just how engrossing this game turned out to be. Instead of playing through a few auctions and then moving on to something else – like writing this review (which I had meant to post yesterday, ha!), I played through all thirty games levels!
After working my way through 20 artists, with double rounds for ten of them, I had reached the end of the run. Simon of course, reappeared to tell me that our arrangement was done and he could no longer get me into any more sales. I had a balance of almost $11 million in the bank, but I had amassed an art collection of 196 paintings worth almost $277 million; Too bad this was all virtual!
Although I can’t play as “Judie” again, I can create a new user name and replay the game.
So what did I think of the gaming experience? Here’s the thing: At first I was looking at the paintings, but I think I was just looking at the overall picture – the subject matter, classifying the artists by styles and subject, but not really the discerning the fine points of each painting. After a few rounds, I started to really see the things that stood out in each painting; things like the way someone had their head cocked, what they were holding, the colors the artist used, and the other unique points of each picture. Soon I was able to speed through each set and just as speedily weed through the auctions, clicking the “Buy this Painting” and “Skip this Painting ” buttons with certainty and speed. I would make an occasional mistake – usually by doubting myself and not purchasing an original, but usually not by buying a forgery. Overall, it was like I was beginning to recognize and make note of things in each painting that I wouldn’t have noticed before, things that would stay in my memory and instantly pop up when needed. It was one of those experiences where you suddenly feel like a savant or something, and I liked it!
I can totally see where playing a game like this would sharpen someone’s recognition and remembrance skills; I feel like it was already working its magic on me in the few hours I played. As a result, I would recommend it to anyone that wants to strengthen their memory functions…but that’s not the only reason I would suggest people try this game. Quite simply put, it was fun. Having fun while strengthening your mind is a worthy way to waste time playing a game.
The Minds Refined Art Dealer Game is available directly from the manufacturer as well as from other retailers.
What I Like: Great memory exercise, interesting subject matter, FUN to play, great game for almost every age
What Needs Improvement: More than thirty levels, please!