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It’s all in your head: Researchers demonstrate thought-controlled gaming

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Forget Kinect. Scientists have now found a way to literally make you the controller in video games.

A study on human-computer interfaces at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Emerging Technology Conference this week included visual evidence of test subjects controlling games via electrodes attached to the surface of their brains -- completely redefining the term "head shot."

The players, who (it's worth noting) were initially wired up for treatment of illnesses such as epilepsy, were given the chance to play the shooter classic Doom. The position of the targeting reticule was controlled with an external controller, but the command to fire came directly from a patient's thoughts.

Astonishing stuff, but even more amazingly, the shots were accurate.

"What I'm here to tell you is that this is not science fiction. This is an emerging reality," said Gerwin Schalk, a research scientist at the Wadsworth Center, a public health laboratory run by the New York state government.

The science gets pretty complicated, but basically researchers are looking at the brain's alpha waves as a way to speed up people's interactions with computers.

The goal, as you might guess, isn't to improve your Doom skills, but rather improve the way people interface with technology. Schalk also showed how a computer could tell the difference between someone thinking "Oooh" and "Ah" and a computer tracking the music you're listening to.

Pinching his fingers together, Schalk said "we're about that close to being able to play back the music just by listening to the brain."

The work shown at the conference was the most advanced look at mind-controlled gaming to date, but there are plenty of companies exploring the field these days.

San Jose-based Neurosky is the, uh, brains behind Mattel's Mindflex children's game -- which lets kids raise and lower a small foam ball solely by focusing their concentration -- as well as the Star Wars Force Trainer, which basically does the same thing, except it sounds cooler.

"I'd say it's coming in the next 10 years," says Tansy Brook of Neurosky. "Right now, the most logical fits for us are casual games and serious games, like helping with stress management. As far as the more hardcore gaming stuff, it's coming. We are working with a leading game console provider who's interested in integrating the technology."

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