Video Game Controlled by the Brain

If Descartes were alive today, his famous quote would most likely become “I think, therefore I game.” This weekend in New York, Governer’s Island held the Figment NYC. This annual art festival is the proud home of many different artists across a wide range of mediums. This particular year, Figment NYC reportedly showcased over two hundred art projects. Out of the many, it was a video game that thrilled those in attendance. It didn’t wow the crowd because they were surprised to hear video games counted as an artistic medium these days. Their minds were blown because this video game was controlled by the human brain.

Which game was the star of the event? Classic Pong displayed on a big screen LED light panel, featured by the program developer Hack Manhattan. Hack Manhattan, an establish New York not-for-profit since late 2011, is always searching for ways to innovate gaming and technology. They can also be found on KickStarter, hoping for enough funds to generate a larger LED board for future presentations.

As if taken straight from a science fiction novel, the equipment was supplied to Hack Manhattan by their sponsor NeuroSky. NeuroSky boasts a hefty resume on their website, cataloging their academic affiliations while advertising their unique game software named Myndplay. Their headset technology, MindWave, performs a type of gel-free electroencephalogram (EEG) recording of specific types of brain waves. The wave activity is captured and transmitted as data into a computer program. The data is analyzed by software, orchestrated by Hack Manhattan, and is designed to operate the paddle on the LED.

The player concentrates and brain activity flourishes. The software recognizes the fluctuating activity and quantifies the data. The game becomes more responsive and places the paddle closer to where it is needed in order to volley the ball. The player loses concentration, and the brain activity falters along with the mobility of the paddle. The object of the game is to concentrate, and the paddle moves. It isn’t quite the magic of telekinesis, but how can anyone argue with baby steps?

It wasn’t the first time something like this was displayed, but Brain Pong is still an unbelievably fun gaming concept. It’s an innovative reminder of what the future has in store. If developers allocated more resources to develop games like Brain Pong, as opposed to slapping a new face on regurgitated hardware like SmartGlass, then gaming could finally reach its next heyday. Standalone software using the likes of a Mindwave controller may not pass in the fast paced world of video gaming. However, couple it with the PlayStation Move and Eye, and the possibilities are endless.

The price of a console and complete hardware accessories already reaches well over $600. Could casual gamers afford the headset necessary to use Hack’s brainchild and other games like it? Surprisingly, NeuroSky’s Mindwave controller is one of the least expensive of its competitors. Who knew there was competition in the market of hands free EEG devices? The headset runs for $99.95 on their site, and includes a preset CD with sample software. It’s already less than the Kinect without the potential price drop applied to mass marketed products.

This is an important step in the evolution of video games. E3 showcased gaming juggernauts and their newest gadgets. At the other end of the country, small time developers with big dreams attempted to revolutionize gaming by associating a unique controller with an iconic game. Sony’s Wonderbook teaches children to use their mind. Hack Manhattan and NeuroSky teach children to use their brain. The end result of these new developments is cloudy, but the future is crystal clear. The next generation of gamers is sure to experience unprecedented reach, exceeding even the grasp.