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Plugged In

Atari founder predicts neural-implant gaming

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Nolan Bushnell (Getty Images)

Nolan Bushnell is a man with big ideas.

In 1972, he founded Atari, laying the foundation for the video game industry we know today. Five years later, he bought a pizza chain from Warner Communications and built it into Chuck E. Cheese.

Now, the serial entrepreneur and tech visionary says mind control could be the next big step for video games.

"I actually think that there's a good probability that we can [achieve] neural implants in 20 years," he told an audience at the ongoing GDC Online conference. "Be ready for the technology when it comes. I actually think parents are going to have a little pushback on this, so be ready when that comes."

Mind-controlled gaming is actually something that's already being experimented with. Companies like Neurosky and Emotiv both have experimental products on store shelves that let people play using nothing but the power of concentration. But they only go as far as the headgear allows.

Bushnell's known in the industry for making occasionally grandiose statements, so while his prediction of a neural gaming implant is one you might want to take with some salt, he had a few more down-to-earth observations about the future of the industry that seem less far-fetched.

Looking at the current console market, he noted "I don't believe there will be another major console." The benefits of incremental jumps in graphical quality, he continued, don't outweigh the costs. Instead, he's betting on the PC and mobile games short-term.

He also was bullish on cloud gaming, calling it a "powerful idea" with great potential for true episodic content, rather than the stop-and-go efforts gamers have been exposed to so far.

Still, at the end of the day, he couldn't get the stuff of science-fiction out of his head (which, seeing as he has a sci-fi novel coming out in December, is somewhat understandable). And while neural gaming may still be 20 years away, he already has some ideas on what the games may be like.

"Clearly The Matrix was the ultimate video game—designed by a machine," he said. "Clearly we want to be able to use this as the future of immersing ourselves into the world. If you can jack in using a good USB port, that may be the ultimate in body modifications."

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