Mind-based gaming is all over the news lately. The concept is being met with equal parts excitement, skepticism and downright paranoia. Who likes the idea of Microsoft “reading your thoughts”?
Of course, to those of us in the EEG industry, “mind gaming” is nothing new. On this blog I’ve written many posts about EEGs being used to play games, or move online avatars. You’ve seen Canadian Idol judges spar at MindBall. You’ve read about light-sabers coming to life using the mind alone. In fact our latest product Mind WorkStation is even capable brain-gaming by controlling on-screen visualizations. For example, one game involves starting a fire with nothing but brainwaves!
But, what this area has lacked thus far is a brain-computer interface that avoids the messy paste and exhaustive setup that most EEG units require. We need something that can just be slipped on and off. The device that looks like it will spearhead this new movement is the EPOC Neuroheadset from Emotiv.
Mind Hacks has a great write-up about the Emotiv technology here: http://www.mindhacks.com/blog/2008/03/playing_mind_games_.html
He brings up some good points about EEG gaming. Gamers expecting this headset to instantly transform them into Jedi masters will likely be disappointed. EEGs are measuring very minute electrical signals that have to first pass through the skull, and other biofeedback technologies have delay issues that will render them useless for the fast pace of most games.
These issues have caused some problems already, as shown in a recent Emotiv demo in San Francisco, where they had to resort to using a handheld controller in order to complete the game.
You can get an idea of the problems involved by looking at some demos uploaded to YouTube:
Here is a better demo, but still illustrates how hard it is to use an EEG as a complex game controller: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxMux4uEkLI
Despite these problems, I do think mind gaming could be very successful if it is used in a way appropriate to the limitations of the technology. For example, it could easily be used to enhance the powers or abilities of certain characters in the game. In a Harry Potter game, the magic wand could be more powerful if the gamer produces a specific brainwave pattern. In a sports game, the team could run faster and score more if the gamer is in the “zone.” These types of uses, although less sexy than “moving things with your mind”, would actually be a much more realistic use of the technology.
Using neurofeedback-like technology for recreational gaming does bring up some concerns. Suppose, for example, a popular feature of a game – such as using objects or weapons – is triggered or enhanced by the production of theta waves. Given the addictive nature of games, I could easily see avid gamers developing “brain fog” or other problems associated with excess slow-wave activity.
It will be interesting to see what happens when this technology is released to an unsupervised mass market. Perhaps the algorithms used, and the way the games are structured, will help mitigate any problems that could occur. I admit that the geek in me wants to get one of these things immediately.
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