It's all in your head.
Controlling a video game with your mind might seem the stuff of science fiction, but then again, so did the idea of motion controls.
While still a ways from being a mainstream phenomenon, mind-controlled games are already on store shelves -- and more are coming.
Leading the charge is Neurosky. The San Jose, CA-based company is the, well, brains behind Mattel's Mindflex (Buy|Search) 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 (Buy|Search), which basically does the same thing, only with a heavier
The company has slowly been branching out into the video game sector, though. At the recent Game Developers Conference, Neurosky showed off its MindWave headset, a gadget that monitors brainwave impulses from your forehead and categorizes them into different mental states, like relaxed or stressed. Using a device from tech company Puzzlebox, developers can learn more about how people play the game, seeing their levels of concentration and relaxation in real time.
For the player, that could mean titles with more emotional impact, as game makers can use the device to fine-tune their games.
Neurosky applies similar tech to MyndPlay, a custom video
player. While not exactly meeting the traditional definition of a game, the
intriguing system monitors the watcher's mental activity during critical points
in specifically designed films and offers multiple outcomes, depending on their
focus and relaxation level.
Neurosky is hardly alone in the mind games space, however. Rival
Emotiv has released the EPOC, a neuroheadset that costs $299 and ships with a
pair of games: Cortex Arcade, which includes Tetris- and Pong-like minigames,
and Spirit Mountain, which lets you control a
world's environment (among other things) based on your stress and concentration
levels. And OCZ Technology also offers a game controller dubbed nia, which it
says will let people play any PC game using only their facial expressions, eye
movements and brainwave activity.
Exactly how accurate are these systems? It seems to vary
from person to person, but most people who have tried them have walked away
fairly impressed. Still, it may be a while before we're playing games
completely through mental energy.
"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."
Surprisingly, the idea of a mind-reading game is not a new
phenomenon in the video game industry. As far back as 1983, Atari was toying
with the concept for the Atari 2600. That company's Mindlink controller was
never released, but the prototype let players control a game through the
movement of the muscles in their head. Though primitive compared to today's
technology (and ultimately something the company shelved when testers
complained of headaches), it launched the trend.
So it may not be new, but this sort of technology has
definitely caught the interest of game designers -- and could turn up in the unlikeliest
of places in the future.
"When you look at our games, more and more we have this
representation of player state, where we think we know how you feel,
essentially," Gabe Newell, co-founder of Half-Life hitmaker Valve
Software, told PC
Gamer last year. "With biometrics, rather than guessing, we can
actually use a variety of things like gaze tracking, skin galvanic response,
pulse rate and so on. ... If you're in a competitive situation and you see
someone's heart rate go up, it's way more rewarding than we would have thought.
And if you see somebody in a co-op game sweating, people tend to respond to
that way more than we would have thought."
Try this mind-sharpening game: Shape Inlay
- Gabe Newell
- serious games
- Atari 2600
- Game Developers Conference
- science fiction
- San Jose