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Mind Reading Games

Mind Reading Games

By Emma Norman

Computer games are entering the realms of science fiction, as manufacturers introduce technologies that will enable gamers to have their brain waves read. Is this just the next craze to sweep the computer game world or the start of a devious crusade to read people’s minds?

A number of technology companies are developing the headsets, which read brain activity and then use the information to control the player’s moves. The technology has already been released and is available for some game consoles, however it comes at a price - around $600, and that’s without the console or games.

The designs consist of ‘biofeedback devices’ that are placed on the head and contain sensors which measure the wearer’s brain electrical signals, including signals linked to concentration, relaxation and anxiety.

As the wearer’s thoughts change, for example as focus wanes or intensifies, the headpiece ranks the brain signals that correspond to each category on a scale of 1 to 100. The rankings change as the person’s attention shifts which is then reflected in their performance in the game.

The technology behind these brain wave reading games is based on electroencephalography (EEG), which has been used in psychiatry for many years to measure the electrical activity of the brain via electrodes placed on the scalp. But the EEG hardware used by the gaming industry is fast becoming cheaper, smaller and simpler.

Gaming companies say that the technology will make video games more mentally stimulating and realistic. They are also hoping it will be able to improve mental focus, in particular for people suffering from autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and mood disorders.

However, research is scarce and even if biofeedback devices can induce relaxation and improve concentration, there is some doubt as to whether they will help improve users’ lives when not wired up to their computer.

Elkhonon Goldberg, clinical professor of neurology at New York University, is skeptical about the applications of the technology to games, arguing that although computers can be used to improve people’s cognitive abilities, it's more complex than simply playing a game. He remains unconvinced that the new technology can help to reduce the severity of major behavioural disorders.

But hang on a minute. Isn’t the reading of brainwaves for non health-check purposes not a slightly scary concept? Games is one thing, but if the technology is out there and being rapidly commercially developed, what next?

I for one won’t be strapping anything to my head that can read even a single brain wave. There are certainly some thoughts I’d rather keep to myself…

A fan of Emma's stuff?  Check out her page.

And on a similar note...
- News - Big brained bilinguals
- Strange - Head transplants
- News - Thought control for robots
- Interactive - A different kind of brain workout

Image: Francis Valadj

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07 Dec 2008
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