Critical issues about EEG in gaming

An article in The Economist about brain-controlled devices and games. What is good here is that it shows a critical viewpoint on a topic that it not so easy. It's basically about Emotiv Systems and NeuroSky, two Cal-based companies, which aims at measuring brain-wave activities and turn them into actions in a computer game (using a technique called electroencephalography: EEG). Both seems to get rid of existing problems (lower number of electrodes, no use of gel) and they claim that they can mimic facial expressions. For people who happened to put electrodes on one's head, this seems to be an achievement; back ten years ago it was really a pain to put this dirty gel in people's hair and the possibles actions were quite low. Neurosky even want to have only one electrode!

So what's the connection with games? it might be close to the current market:

"According to Nam Do, Emotiv's boss, those applications are most likely to be single-player computer games running on machines such as Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3. In the longer term, though, he thinks the system will be ideal for controlling avatars (the visual representations of players) in multiplayer virtual worlds such as Second Life."

More interesting are the problems that prevent designers and developers to create such systems:

"First, although human brains are similar to one another in general, they are different in detail, so a mass-produced headset with the electrodes in standard locations may not work for everyone. Second, about one-third of the population is considered “illiterate”, meaning in this context that not even a full-fledged medical EEG can convert their brain activities into actions. Third, electrical signals generated by muscular activity such as blinking are easily confused with actual brain-wave readings. Wink at a fellow player at the wrong moment, then, and you might end up dropping that sarsen you have lifted so triumphantly from the fields of Salisbury Plain on the toes of your avatar's foot."

Why do I blog this? interesting material about the progress concerning the use of EEG in HCI and gaming, there are lots of projects in the field (e.g. targeting "augmented cognition"), things evolve slowly. In addition, this brings me back to my cognitive/neuroscience studies, playing with this sort of material.