Instant Guide

The video games you play with your mind

Companies like NeuroSky Inc., and Emotiv Systems are developing consumer-grade headsets that read the brain's electrical signals to control onscreen action

The gaming controller of the future won't have joysticks or buttons; it'll wrap around your head. A number of companies like San Jose-based NeuroSky are developing affordable, consumer-ready controllers that takes cues from the electrical signals in a wearer's brain to dictate onscreen action. Here, a concise guide to the new smart technology:

How does it work?The head-mounted controller reads the brain's electrical activity much in the same way that an electroencephalograph, or EEG, works. It then beams that information via BlueTooth to a connected smartphone. NeuroSky, Inc., which has made news with a Star Wars-based children's toy called Force Trainer that let children suspend a ping pong ball in the air using a fan and their brainwaves, sells a mind-control headset called MindWave Mobile.

Does it read your thoughts?Not exactly. The technology only differentiates between between two states: Relaxed or concentrating. The controller can't track "specific, purposeful actions," says Timothy Hay at The Wall Street Journal. "Some players of mind games might be underwhelmed that they don't have total control in the same way they could with a joystick."

What are the games like?The NeuroSky controller comes with an interactive movie called MyndPlay, an immersive experience that's like the popular line of "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, says Edwin Kee at Ubergizmo, because it allows users to make choices that steer the movie's plot in different directions. Another company called Emotiv Systems, which offers a similar multi-sensor device, packages a variety of popular titles like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, retinkered to work with their brainwave-sensing headset.

What else can it do?Some psychiatrists think the technology could help improve mental health for patients suffering from conditions like anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. The attention required to use one of these brain controllers actually has a calming effect on the mind, game designer Jane McGonigal tells The Wall Street Journal. Another game called FocusPocus helps players "become smarter" by using concentration techniques commonly used to fight ADHD symptoms, says Ben Kersey at Slashgear.

Are the headsets and games available now?Yes. You can order the MindWave Mobile headset from the company's website for $130. Compatible games can be downloaded at the site, and a few are already available for Android and the iPhone.

Sources: Slashgear, Ubergizmo, Wall Street Journal

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