Two Players are Better than One? Neuro-interfaces and Gaming


Neural interfaces are an idea of science-fiction, and over at the University of Washington’s Neural Systems Laboratory, the concept has moving one edge closer to reality. A direct brain-to-brain communication in humans is part of a pilot study by Rajesh Rao and Andrea Stucco where one human can influence the actions of another through electro stimuli.

If that sounds too complex, then consider the analogy from the movie Pacific Rim. Two pilots are required to move one of those Jaegers. The reason is because there are too many mechanisms to make the robot fight, run and jump. Two minds are better than one when coördination is required to handle all the variables that happen when this robot is fighting it out with a Kaiju. But in order for two pilots to be able to work together, they have to be compatible in more ways than one.


They have to be able to complete each other’s thoughts. That is: be in sync.

In the real world experiments, one individual is watching a video game without the ability to press the fire button. He has to send the thought from the brain to his or her partner who has a finger ready to press the trigger button. The executive decision has to be cooperative if that button is to be depressed.

While this technology is far from being ready to being implemented for practical use, the mere mention that a video game is used as part of the initial experiments is important. Star Trek: Next Generation fans will may likely recall the episode, “The Game,” where the crew get addicted to a simply product where all they have to do is to ease an object into a black hole. The mental gymnastics required to make this happen was shown to be very difficult for the human brain to perform, and when victory is achieved, the feeling is euphoric. In the episode, the device actually injected a chemical stimuli to sedate the humans.


Fortunately the real world tests are nothing like that. Instead, it shows that a “psionic” connection is required to manipulate objects, virtual or not, or even another person’s mind. As scary as that sounds, perhaps the test for one mind to connect to another will become the forefront of a new type of technology so that it can manipulate physical matter too.

At the Neural Systems Laboratory, their goals are to build biological robots that can learn. But other goals include learning how to develop interfaces for controlling computers and robots using brain and muscle-related signals. Robotic controls and bionic limbs are a reality, but they’re nowhere near as elegant as a T-100 model Terminator. Skynet still has a lot to learn before it humanity can fear it.


Even the games and neuro-technology that exists to test a gamer’s meddle are nowhere near as fanciful. Neural interfaces like Emotiv’s EPOC, a multi-channel wireless neuro-headset, ships with a few games that are very simple in design. They are developed to exercise the brain more so than to challenge it. Most of these products are coming from the company themselves than developed by third-party companies. Until giants like Sony or Electronic Arts become involved, what is available now is hardly mainstream.

But to try some of these mental exercises can be both fun and frustrating because it is not all that easy to move a stone three-dimensionally in your mind and see it happen for real on a computer screen. Neither is the ability to imagine yourself in flight and going through hoops. While these products are not all that appealing to an audience more familiar with holding a joystick to move their virtual avatars around, a time will eventually arise where hand-held controllers will become a thing of the past.


The key to the imagination is with what powers the brain may yield. This dense muscle has yet to be fully understood, but when everything the brain can do has been tapped, the possibilities of “jacking” into virtual environments, or simply moving virtual objects with the mind may yield a revolution in robots and gaming overall.


About Ed Sum

I'm a freelance videographer and entertainment journalist (Absolute Underground Magazine, Two Hungry Blokes, Vivascene and Otaku no Culture) with a wide range of interests. From archaeology, popular culture, video games, movies, technology and paranormal studies, there's no stone unturned. Digging for the past and embracing "The Future" is my mantra.

Posted on September 14, 2013, in Nerd Explosion, Opinions And Editorials and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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