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09 10-29 video-games and brainwaves


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09 10-29 video-games and brainwaves

  1. 1. VIDEO GAMES AND BRAINWAVES – USAGE AND IMPACT|Video Game interface technologies now include brain-wave controlSince the dawn of civilisation, the physiological structure of our brains has been shaped in anevolutionary way by our societies and our roles within society. Human male brains have been honedby the need to provide for the family and have focused on mono-tasking and specialisation as a wayof competing. These vestigial instincts are responsible, it is argued in popular books such as “Whymen don’t have a clue and women always need more shoes”, for common and regularmisunderstandings, friction and even relationship breakdowns between the sexes. Women fail tounderstand why men go into a world of their own when trying to solve a problem and don’t alwaysappreciate their helpful suggestions.My relationship with my partner is littered with examples of how the female mind seems far morecapable of multi-tasking than my own, not least in the contrasting ways in which we set aboutmaking meals for each other. We both research dishes and recipes that we hope will please theother but the similarity in process ends there. I need to be locked away in the kitchen free from anyform of distraction so that I can concentrate on exact preparation and perfect timing. I don’twelcome any form of conversation or intrusions of other household tasks whereas my partneralmost demands that I talk to her whilst she is simultaneously cooking and attending to a myriad ofother tasks. There is medical evidence, apparently, that men’s hearing becomes impaired when theyare concentrating.Shopping also appears to be a totally different experience for men and women and whereas a man’sdesire is to obtain goods as quickly and efficiently as possible, shopping for a woman is a far moresocial experience which does not require a successful acquisition to be fulfilling. These mentalprocesses and preferences seem to be borne out by our experiences and whilst the E-Commercesolutions of today are structured to meet the capabilities and preferences of the male mind, the
  2. 2. virtual world technologies which the Serious Games Institute at Coventry University is involved in arematuring to the point where the richness of immersive virtual world shopping malls creates anexperience of virtual commerce which should prove more attractive to the opposite sex.The Serious Games Institute (SGI) is an international centre of excellence for the use of video gamesand virtual world technologies for non-entertainment purposes such as training and simulation. Thehealth sector has been a fertile space for piloting the use of games-based learning for a wide rangeof applications designed to bring health benefits from training first responders in the emergencyservices to deal with a city centre explosion, through tackling MRSA training for nurses and ontopublic health awareness initiatives for a diverse range of modern conditions such as obesity and aids.The inherent ability of games to provide a risk-free immersive environment in which to learn bypractice without serious real-life consequence is well suited to the health arena.The SGI is also exploring both the potential usage of innovative games interfaces which utilisehuman physiological process to control computer technology and their impact on users. The gamesindustry has introduced many new devices in recent times such as the Nintendo Wii and GuitarHero. These interface devices have succeeded in attracting whole new generations of users of allages to become engaged in video games which produce health benefits. “Wiifit” and the “BrainGame” are two obvious examples, but it is in advanced devices such as Neurosky that the SGI ispioneering the use of brainwaves to control video games to generate serious benefits.Neurosky (see picture) is a commercial headset whose consumer version will cost around £40. Theheadset is able to filter and resolve the alpha and beta brainwaves associated with our levels ofconcentration and relaxation. Neurosky uses small electrodes on the forehead and neck to capturethe signals that are then processed in the headset before acting as an input to the computer and/orgames console. At a trivial level, Neurosky has already been used to develop a version of the classic“Space Invaders” game where success is influenced by the player’s ability to concentrate.Whilst these casual games are interesting and arguably do offer serious benefits in training the mindto concentrate, the SGI’s involvement in the development of serious games which help to addressconditions such as autism and ADHD and human emotional problems such as anger management islikely to have a greater impact on health.To make these devices seriously practical in training and simulation applications, they need to beable to demonstrate :- • Affordability (Under £50) • Reliability and repeatability of results (To get consistent benefits) • Auto-calibration (No need for different set-ups for individual users) • Wearability (Don’t make you look like a geek) • Useful applications (Demonstrable benefits in learning applications)The SGI’s work so far has focused on using levels of attention to control serious games which rewardthe player for high levels of attention and/or relaxation. It is this technique that could be applied toADHD to bring some control over their attention levels and also benefit people with high stresslevels by training their minds to relax. There is already evidence that the use of “off the shelf” video
  3. 3. games by children in hospital can provide more effective pain relief and recovery processes thandrugs, and devices like Neurosky could take these applications to a whole new level.Video games and the communications technology used by today’s youngsters often demands newlevels of multi-tasking capability and there is research evidence that these technologies are causingDarwinian changes in the brains of so-called Digital Natives – those youngsters who have been bornsince the invention of the internet and have never known a world without digital media. Thesechanges are the subject of great international interest as physiological changes in the brains ofwhole generations of humans is likely to have a profound impact on global social and economicdevelopment and the health and wellbeing of future generations.For myself, I am focusing on improving my multitasking capabilities so that I can at least have aninteresting conversation with my partner whilst cooking the Sunday roast.David WortleyDirectorSerious Games InstituteCoventry University