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Mind games: why NeuroGaming is the future

Monday, 20 May 2013 07:59 GMT By Dave Cook

How far are we from fully controlling games with our mind? VG247′s Dave Cook speaks with neuro-technology expert Zack Lynch to discuss why sensory tools like Oculus and Google Glass are the future of gaming.

Back in 1991 John Carmack and John Romero formed id Software in the hope of one day turning the holodeck concept from Star Trek into a reality. As young, renegade coders that was their endgame, but here we are years later still working towards that dream.

It’s getting closer by the day.

A few weeks ago Zack Lynch, managing director at leading neuro-technology firm NeuroInsights orchestrated the world’s first NeuroGaming conference in San Francisco, which brought together leading names in sensory gaming, therapy and innovation under one roof.

Together academics discussed the evolution of control within the games industry and how when combined disparate sensory control methods including – but not exclusive to – emotion tracking, sweat monitoring, eye and head tracking, motion control, smell receptors and VR headsets will usher in a sea change across the board.

I recently spoke with Lynch about the state of innovation in console gaming today, and how studies in sensory control will spark the next big thing for the industry. Having published a seminal book called The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science is Changing Our World, he has seen the field of neuro-software grow rapidly over the years. He told me the sector is on the cusp of realising greatness in the way we design and control games.


Devices like Kinect have shown that home sensor tech needn’t cost the Earth.

“How I’d define ‘NeuroGaming’ is – and this is an evolution in process – but it’s really where the mind and body meet gameplay”, Lynch explained. “It’s about leveraging principles of neuro-science, but it’s also about taking advantage of all the new input and output technologies that are becoming available because of low-cost sensors.

“So on the input side we have a whole slew of new technologies that can drive gameplay in fundamentally new ways, and up the capacity for people to play using new game mechanics. Those include brain wave data, pupil dilation, hand and body gestures, facial expression analysis, as well emotional and cognitive state.

“All of those will drive and analyse how games are designed, and also drive gameplay. So that’s on the input side, but on the output side we’ve got a whole range of new technologies emerging like augmented reality in the form of Google Glass and other companies, virtual reality from Oculus, scent activators that are emerging, to tie more of our senses into the game and haptic technology.”

All of these emergent technologies may seem to detract from the old notion of sitting down to play games with a physical controller, but the margin for innovation – specifically in console technology – is arguably shrinking.

I wrote a piece recently about the danger of PS4 and Xbox 720 games delivering more of the same experiences as current rigs, but with enhanced visuals and dynamic effects thanks to an increase in processing power. This – to me – isn’t really innovation in the broad sense of the word, and what we really need is to reappraise the idea of play itself.


PS4 is certainly full of new ideas, but are they truly innovative?

Lynch shared his thoughts on this particular danger, and I asked if the emergence of a true sensory platform could pose a real danger to Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo if they continue to simply update their hardware without reinventing the wheel. On the other hand, reinvention is fraught with risk, so it’s likely we’ll only see such a format emerge from indie teams with much less to lose.

“These consoles were imagined a decade ago and then reimagined many times,” Lynch replied. “Even the latest consoles that are coming out; while they have the latest chip-sets and phenomenal, world-class graphics and engaging storylines – I mean, the stuff that I see always amazes me – but, there’s no way that any of these companies could take into consideration technologies that are just coming out right now.

“They had to start building these consoles four years ago based on technology trajectories, manufacturing capacities and getting game producers to build software. My vision is that you may see a parallel development – a convergence of cheap sensors – with an open API.

“I think some company is going to come along and figure out how to merge these different devices into a consistent, interactive experience – a plug and play, if you will – such that what we see are indie game developers who aren’t making money on mobile, switch over to this type of platform. They’ll play with it and make a living.

“So I think what you’ll see over the next two-to-three years is the emergence of an independent game platform community evolving, which will – not necessarily give the game consoles a run for their money yet – but in time the new game mechanics and new things that will be possible will really drive whatever this future platform might be”.


Is Valve preparing to unveil a platform that brings together several sensory mechanics?

Lynch believes that many companies are already taking steps towards realising a gameplay experience that functions on a range of sensory levels. You can see the signs all around you today, such as Valve’s tinkering with VR devices and wearable hardware, and other examples. The problem – Lynch feels – is that “Nothing has caught fire yet”, but whoever does ignite first may be met with failure for daring to innovate.

“It’s definitely risky,” Lynch stressed. “Many will fail. Look at how many mobile games fail each day. I can tell you that this IS going to happen, I know this area is going to take off, it makes too much sense from too many directions, and all the drivers are in place.

“Who’s going to win? Where’s that group going to come from? Is it going to be a group of 30 guys from Bombay, who sit down and get a hold of this tech and pop out with a $199 gaming device in three years, with some new content? Is it going to be a team from Belarus? I don’t know. It’s a big world out there and everyone has access to the technology now.

“I think Google Glass is going to help act as a gateway drug for people to begin wearing technology on their heads. It’s use of miniaturisation technology will allow new sensors to be placed on heads, and as that whole system gets smaller and smaller, that will act as a pretty detailed technology to watch and see how it emerges”.

We’re not that far into our discussion and already my mind is racing trying to picture what such a sensory gaming console – if it even ends up being a console – will look like, and how it might feel to play. So used are we to the notion of taking controllers, mouse and keyboard in hand that I don’t think any of us can accurately comprehend it yet.


The open platform nature of Oculus will result in much innovation in the indie circuit.

I asked Lynch to try and paint me a picture of what it will feel like to essentially jack our nervous system into the gameplay experience through these many facets of neuro-technology, and posed him the big question – ‘How far are we from being able to control games with our mind?’ This might sound ludicrous, but companies are working towards this goal as you read this piece.

“I think the problem with that question is that it assumes games will be driven by your mind, “Lynch clarified. “NeuroGaming is not just about having brain control over games. It’s about having your entire nervous system connected to the gaming experience, bringing together all of your senses as drivers and outputs through a gaming system.

“You’re not going to have a game driven by EEG (a method of recording brain activity), by a neuro-sensing device alone. You’re going to have that plus focus, eye-tracking software, facial analysis, heart rate monitors and sweat. You’re going to have all of these combining together to give the game designers new information from which to drive and develop fundamentally new gaming experiences.”

What’s interesting – and slightly nerve-racking – is that Lynch believes that sensory technology is already the focus of an emerging arms race in many walks of life. Much like companies sprinted to stake a claim in cyberspace as part of the ‘Dot Com’ boom of the early ’90s, he views the battle for our minds to be the next logical step in the world of technological research. He called it the ‘Knowledge Economy’, and it includes gaming.


Google Glass could spark real interest in commercially-available sensory experiences.

“There’s already a gold rush,” he explained. “The brain is the resource of the future. It’s the source of the knowledge economy, the source of creativity. Any way that individuals and companies can figure out how to improve the mind, and make it more productive – that’s just he story of human history.

“We spent thousands of years developing tools to improve our capacity to grow and distribute food, and then hundreds of years to develop goods and services to distribute them worldwide efficiently. We’ve spent the past 50 years working on how to distribute and make information extraordinary cheap across the planet, and that has ramifications for both the previous revolutions before it, and then the neuro-revolution will super accelerate all of those.

“You can already see it. Some of the technology is there, some of it is not. Where I’m feeling like it’s going to start taking off is in the gaming space from a non-regulated perspective. It’s going to make some absolutely fun experiences possible.

“I mean, we’re talking about new game mechanics, new engagement mechanics, highly immersive experiences, and experiences that aren’t highly immersive but that will fundamentally provide new ways of entertaining billions of people worldwide – and that’s a good thing”.

Although Lynch believes it to be a good thing, he realises that – as with all emergent technology – there will be an initial stigma attached to the idea of plugging ourselves into game experiences so intimately.


Tablets had their initial sceptics, but now they are a regular feature in many homes.

It’s intrinsic to the very concept of innovation as a whole, but just like we warmed to the ideas of touch, motion and even the Internet itself, Lynch believes NeuroGaming will become accepted into the fold over time.

Lynch concluded, “Any technology ever developed by humankind has both promise and peril. It’s a double-edged sword. There are interesting ethical implications as these technologies advance, and we need to keep that in mind as they advance.

“At the same time the promise, the pay-off, the value that can be created by these technologies is hopefully much greater than the downsides. It didn’t stop us from electrifying the entire planet with electricity, or developing intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“So neuro-technologyisn’t going to get stopped, and I think the pay-off for health, education and all sectors of the economy are interesting. If we can do intelligent, accelerated learning technologies – that will have a profound implication for the nature of competitive advantage – not just for individuals, but for firms, nation states, and that’s why I coined the term ‘Neuro-Competitive Advantage’.

“I believe neuro-technology is the next form of competitive advantage”.

What’s your view on the prospect of NeuroGaming, and the idea of games that utilise every facet of our nervous system to drive the notion of gameplay to new levels? Is it fraught with potential danger – addiction, the blurring of reality or fantasy – or is it the next logical step for the games industry? Let us know below.

We’ll have more discussions with other leaders in the NeuroGaming field on VG247 soon. Stay tuned.

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4 Comments

  1. viralshag

    Until the tech is as accurate and easy to use as a controller or keyboard it will probably always be treated in much the same way the Kinect was.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Da Man

    Neuro-gaming has been around since the launch of FF7 and MGS.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. umauj

    I think neuro gaming is pretty much awesome! Even more so as now new exciting games are going to support it! For instance Son of Nor did a pretty neat annoucement last week, which can be watched on youtube: Link!.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Dave Cook

    @3 Yeah the Son of Nor thing was ‘mind’-blowing’ (sorry).

    But yes, it’s a very interesting subject that I’ll be watching closely moving forward.

    #4 2 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    The early 90′s are alive and well in a new bid to bring back Toejam and Earl. Toejam and Earl released for Mega Drive (Genesis, Americans) in 1991, and the eponymous characters went on to count among Sega’s best-known characters. They appeared in a platformer, a light gun shooter and finally a 2002 Xbox game […]

  • New Wander trailer shows off Azertash form

    Wander is a collaborative, non-combat MMO in which you can take on a number of unique forms. Wander players begin as an ambulant tree called an Oren and can progress through several different bodies as they explore the environment, learning its secrets. One of these, which we’d not seen before this trailer, is the amphibious […]

  • SOMA approaching beta phase on PC and PS4

    SOMA, the new horror game from the Amnesia: The Dark Descent crew, is getting close to playable. Frictional Games has apologised for its recent silence over the project, but said it’s focused on reaching beta. Sorry all for the silence! We're closing in on Beta and everyone's working hard to get there. Once that's done, […]

  • Square Enix does not condone Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest HD Remaster

    Square Enix has said it’s not involved with a fan remake of Final Fantasy spin-off Mystic Quest. 1992 SNES game Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest is being remade by Dark Design as Mystic Quest HD Remaster. The developer is even taking pre-orders for the project. Unfortunately, it looks like it is in no position to be […]

  • New Hunger teaser released by LittleBigPlanet Vita co-developers

    LittleBigPlanet Vita co-developers Tarsier Studios have released a teaser trailer for Hunger, which was announced in May 2014 at the Nordic Game Conference. The game has been rumored to be the firm’s unannounced Sony project since 2010. Platforms are still to be announced, but the studio became a first-party SCE developer a few years back, […]

  • Here’s two Mario Party 10 overview videos, one featuring amiibo

    Overview videos for Mario Party 10 and the amiibo which work with the title have been released by Nintendo Japan. Obviously each one is in Japanese, but you get the gist all the same. Mario Party 10 releases on Wii U March 20 in North America and Europe. Thanks, AGB.

  • Clan Raids announced for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Companion App

    Activision has announced a new Clan Raids mode will be made available through the Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Companion App. According to the CoD community blog, raids are time-based challenges where success earns you a spot on the Clan Raids leaderboards and new Clan Raid-exclusive in-game gear like the Equilibrium set. Clan members will […]

  • Play Battlefield Hardline starting March 12 through EA Access

    Xbox One users with an EA Access subscription will be able to play 10 hours worth of Battlefield Hardline starting March 12. EA Access members will are being granted access to the game five days before the street date, with full multiplayer and all saves transferring over into the main game. It was announced yesterday […]

  • This video summarizes the contents of Destiny patch 1.1.1

    With Destiny patch 1.1.1 now available, here’s a video summary of what to expect. In the video above, Arekkz Gaming gives you a rundown of the important bits in the update. Subscribe to Arekkz Gaming for more Destiny tips and trick through the link.

  • Destiny 1.1.1 patch notes out, update is live

    Destiny’s 1.1.1 patch arrives today, so if you have been kicked from activities, it means you will need to download the patch now that it’s live. We will be pushing the 1.1.1 patch for Destiny shortly. Players will be kicked from activities and required to download the patch. — Bungie Help (@BungieHelp) February 25, 2015 […]

  • Payday 2 packs based on Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number coming

    Starbreeze has announced another collaboration with Dennaton Games which will see masks based on Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number appear in Payday 2. The collaboration consists of two free updates when you acquire Hotline Miami 2 or its deluxe version on Steam from February 25. The two updates, called Hotline Miami Mask Pack and Jacket […]

  • Velocity 2X making its way onto Linux, Mac, PC and Xbox One

    Velocity 2X will be released on Linux, Mac, PC and Xbox One Futurlab has announced. The developer is in charge of the port, which will be published by Sierra. According to Futurlab, the deal with Sierra came about when self-publishing proved to be difficult due to spending “more time doing PR and marketing on Velocity […]

  • Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number finally has a release date

    A release date for Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number has been announced, finally. The game will arrive on Linux, Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, PS4 and Vita March 10. It is now available for pre-order on GOG, Humble and Steam for 10% off for $13.49/£10.99. There’s also a Digital Special Edition available which includes tracks from […]

  • Warhammer 40,000: Dark Nexus Arena is a twin stick shooter MOBA for PC

    Warhammer 40,000: Dark Nexus Arena has been announced as a twin stick shooter MOBA blend from Whitebox Interactive. Set for a 2016 release on PC, the game’s beta will be on show at PAX East next month. An Early Access release is slated for Q2 2015 and you can already purchase early access for a […]

  • More information, videos for cancelled Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun surface

    A trailer for the cancelled Legacy of Kain: Dead Sun title from Climax which was reportedly set for an E3 2012 reveal, has surfaced. Along with the above video is another which is described as a pre-boss battle cutscene. It’s below. According to a source of NeoGAF’s Mama Robotnik, the game was being developed under […]

  • Three additional games added to Square Enix Humble Bundle

    Kane & Lynch Collection, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light and Startopia have been added to the Square Enix Humble Bundle. All three are made available when paying the average price of $7.69. Those who have already purchased the bundle will automatically be granted the titles. All three are available for PC only. The […]

  • Forza Horizon 2 gets Fast & Furious with standalone expansion

    A Fast & Furious tie-in and standalone expansion to Forza Horizon 2 will arrive for Xbox consoles next month. Titled Forza Horizon 2 Presents Fast & Furious, the downloadable title does not require the base game to play. “We’ve been talking with the folks at Turn 10 for a number of years and have always […]

  • The Evil Within: The Assignment has a release date, new trailer

    The Evil Within: The Assignment will be released on March 10 in North America and March 11 in Europe, it was announced today. Along with an exact release date was a trailer detailing more information about the first set of DLC. The Assignment is the first of two DLCs centering on Detective Castellanos’ mysterious partner, […]

  • Steam and GOG cross-platform multiplayer added to AvP Classic 2000

    Steam and GOG have announced Aliens vs Predator Classic 2000 owners will be able play multiplayer with each other across both platforms. With the recent online multiplayer update for for AVP Classic 2000, Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley has made good on his promise from June to offer cross-platform play between the Steam and GOG platforms. […]

  • OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood arrives on PS4, Vita next week

    Roll7 has announced it will release OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood next week. The developer announced the dates on Twitter this morning alongside the launch trailer. You will be able to download the game for PlayStation 4 and Vita March 3 in North America and March 4 in Europe.

  • Week 7: Play GTA Online with VG247 tonight at 8pm UK time!

    Heists got a date! Come play GTA Online with us to celebrate. We’re playing GTA Online on PS4 tonight with whoever else fancies it. That means you. This week’s playlist is Happy for Heists, because we kind of are. The six jobs involved will last about 45 minutes. Anyone can turn up. Here’s how. We’ll […]

  • Batman: Arkham Knight – first look into the story

    Batman: Arkham Knight has a new trailer available that gives us a peek into Scarecrow’s plan to unite all villains against Batman. The trailer below has a different tone to the ones showing Arkham Knight. Instead, we get a look at Scarecrow’s team of super-villains including new footage of Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn. There […]

  • Vita knocks New 3DS LL out of top slot on Media Create charts

    Thanks to four new titles, one of which was God Eater 2: Rage Burst, PlayStation Vita has knocked New 3DS LL out of the top slot on the Media Create charts in Japan. The handheld, which came in thrid place last week, moved 35,203 units for the February 16-22 period, compared to 10,901 units the […]

  • Dragon Quest Heroes coming west in 2015, PS4 only

    Dragon Quest Heroes will be making its way to west this year. Square Enix has announced that it’s bringing Dragon Quest Heroes to the west this year. The press release mentioned only PAL territories (Europe & Australia). Though it’s unlikely it will miss the US. The game will release on PlayStation 4, both digitally and […]

  • Destiny: how to make sure Crota stays down for longer

    If you’re familiar with the final encounter of the Crota’s End raid, then you know every second Crota is immobilised counts. Arekkz Gaming has a handy tip for anyone who’s played Crota’s End or anyone attempting it. The trick is simple to execute and will ensure Crota stays on his knees for longer, making for […]

  • NBA Live 15 added to EA Access just four months after release

    EA has added NBA Live 15 to the list of games available instantly to anyone with an EA Access subscription. NBA Live 15 has been added to EA Access’ Vault, EA has announced. As of today, anyone with an EA Access subscription on Xbox One can play it alongside other available games. NBA Live 15 […]

  • Deal: get Advanced Warfare Limited Edition Xbox One bundle + extra game for £299

    UK retailer GAME is offering a good deal on the Advanced Warfare Limited Edition 1TB Xbox One bundle and is throwing in an extra game. The retailer has reduced the price of the bundle to £299, which is the usual price for the standalone console. The bundle is of course Advanced Warfare-themed. The console and […]

  • That Metal Gear Rising 2 logo was for the second anniversary of the original

    Metal Gear Rising developer Platinum Games has confirmed, once and for all, that the “2″ logo we saw during Sony’s presentation at Taipei Game Show was definitely not for a sequel. Platinum posted this on Twitter earlier. デザイナーの趙&ニシイから、『MGR』2周年記念イラスト! ディレクターの齋藤( @PG_saito )が、開発スタッフブログでご紹介しています↓↓ http://t.co/IW1aOxAZQR #mgr pic.twitter.com/ZbNF3Jk1tF — PlatinumGames Inc. (@platinumgames) February 25, 2015 The illustrations were made by artist Yong-Hee […]

  • Resident Evil Revelations 2 is formulaic and I’m okay with that

    There’s something comforting about the lack of ambition and plain old gameplay in Resident Evil Revelations 2, says Matt Martin. “It’s locked from the other side.” Of course it is. What did I expect? I’ve been here before. So many times. Not just in Resident Evil but a million other games. It’s so familiar as […]

  • Battlefield 4: double XP event live now through Sunday

    EA is holding a double XP event in Battlefield 4 on all platforms. The publisher is celebrating Battlefield Hardline going gold by offering all Battlefield 4 players double XP in multiplayer matches. The double XP event is now live and through 23:59 UTC on Sunday, March 1.

  • BioShock Infinite, Tomb Raider, Rayman Legends free with March Games with Gold

    The list of free games coming in March as part of Microsoft’s Games with Gold programme has leaked. The leaked list of games include Rayman Legends and #IDARB for Xbox One along with Tomb Raider and BioShock Infinite for Xbox 360. In addition, Microsoft will be offering double the amount of games in April. The […]

  • Telltale’s new IP will be a “super show”, bridges the gap between TV and game

    Telltale’s upcoming mysterious new IP will be produced in collaboration with Lionsgate and will be a hybrid game and TV show. Entertainment Weekly spoke to Telltale CEO Kevin Bruner to understand what’s a super show. “A “Super Show” episode combines one part of interactive playable content with one part of scripted television style content,” said […]

  • Next Mortal Kombat X stream to show Brutalities, new character

    Brutalities will be making a return in Mortal Kombat X and we’re getting a look at them very soon. The next Mortal Kombat X live-stream has been dated and we know it will show Brutalities for the first time. Developer NetherRealm Studios posted this on Twitter. pic.twitter.com/ZJYN1FNRZ9 — NetherRealm Studios (@NetherRealm) February 23, 2015 Notice […]

  • PC version of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 does not support offline co-op [Update]

    Players who bought the PC version of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 have realised that the game doesn’t support offline co-op. Unlike the console versions, the PC version of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 can only be played in single player, with no offline co-op option. Capcom has not revealed this prior to launch. Instead, users on […]