Left, A, down, down, B might hack intelligence

A new genre of “non-game” games may help you get around in France, or slim down your face

There’s probably nothing about me that connects to a crocodile who survives on floating apples, or a fair-haired elfin boy on a mission to unlock stones and save his sister. Sad but true. I was also not cut out for memorizing maps of the interior of alien spaceships, nor has any creator given me skill at navigating a flying car. I’ve been forced to look at the increasingly convincing and occasionally seizure-inspiring graphics of video games, and feel that they just were not meant for me.

Little did I know, those resourceful developers of the Nintendo DS had found a niche for non-gamers like me. Some call their products “edutainment” and some call them simply “non-game games.” Either way, they were slowly but surely hollowing out a market demographic for not-quite-gamers like me. Hours of “Halo” may or may not improve the part of your brain that keeps you from getting lost on a road trip, but these designers found a way to make learning explicit and bizarre. Even math games can be addicting if they’re bundled up in the spirit of competition.

My gateway into this world was a daycare job, where I spent a lot of time watching 9-year-old girls dress up their Nintendogs. Taken in by the shiny pink color of the Nintendo DS, and the fact that it opened and shut in a way that was mildly reminiscent of a book, I decided to buy one. With the attention span of a walk/don’t walk sign, I chose “Brain Age 2” as my first game, betting that Japan’s self-improvement-promising videogame would captivate me for longer than digitally scrubbing a Chihuahua four times a day.

Hosted by an animated doctor who claims to hate cilantro and periodically forces you to write acrostic poems, “Brain Age 2” brought me back to elementary school, a time when I took odd joy in finishing sheets of multiplication tables and practiced memorization problems for tests that have been long lost to the sands of time. It became apparent that my brain had already begun the dreaded process of “crystallization,” which is psychology’s euphemism for “getting old and slow.”

After about a week of play, I swore that my thoughts were beginning to flow more like a river and less like an ice-skating pond; my brain age had lowered from 79 to 32.

Hopeful, I purchased a game called “My French Coach.” It was hosted by, who else? a willowy woman in a beatnik turtleneck who chitter-chattered about her love of fine cuisine. I played it endlessly in the backseat of my friend’s car, and her sweet pronunciation of “peut-être” (maybe) inspired everyone in the car to walk around saying “Spaghett!” all afternoon. After two weeks of play, I could even make out the first couple of pages of “L’Etranger” by Camus. Being somewhat of a wannabe polyglot, I was sure that I had found a use for my shiny pink toy. If Nintendo decided to make a game about a monk who is on a mission to learn Latin case declensions, you can bet I’d be playing it between classes.

The fact that I’m too nerdy to even fit into the traditional gamer demographic doesn’t get me down. For now I hang out on blogs, reading excitedly about games in the motherland of edutainment, Japan. Some of those games probably won’t make it to the states, like one that coaches you on moving your eyebrows (although Tyra Banks would eat it up) and another one that is an encyclopedia of different kinds of bugs. But the wave has arrived, and designers here are beginning to philosophize about other ways to make the old gaming consoles into futuristic brain-shaping devices.

“Inchworm,” a program designed by illustrator of “Waking Life” fame, Bob Sabiston, allows you to create your own animated videos on your DS. Maybe I’ll use that game to design the next RPG star, who knows. But at least I’ve found my own place among the realms of screen-starrers and button-pushers.