News Item

Mind-controlled Pong

Duke University students devised a Pong you can play with your brain

By John Teti • June 24, 2013

Researchers at Duke University have built a version of Pong that players can control with their minds. (This report from Raleigh’s News & Observer comes to me by way of Kotaku.) You put some electrodes on your head, sit back, and think “up” or “down,” and the paddle on screen moves accordingly. If it were me, I would have built a mind-controlled Skyrim, or perhaps Minecraft for the obvious pun opportunities. But for some unfathomable reason, Duke went with Atari’s 40-year-old tennis simulation. Didn’t anybody tell them that Pong is old and therefore lame? In any case, the setup sounds like fun:

The students first don headgear with spider-like arms, each containing a saline-soaked, felt-padded electrode. Some of the longer haired campers needed a bit of electrode wiggling and extra saline to make good contact. An onscreen diagram showed each electrode turn green when it was in the right place.

We all need a bit of electrode wiggling from time to time.

The technology raises the question of how important it is to have some sort of kinetic input for fast-moving video games. The Wii and the Kinect have advanced the idea of flailing your arms around like a goddamn idiot to play games, but even with a standard controller, the smaller motions of pressing a button and tilting a joystick are important. In fact, those tiny motions are underrated. There is a pleasing amplification effect that takes place when your button press—a mere twitch of the thumb—is magnified into a much larger motion (like, say, a fighter’s sweeping kick) on the screen. That amplification is thrilling, and it usually gets ignored when we talk about the glory of “one-to-one” correlation between our motions and our on-screen avatar. I wonder if this brain-control scheme, in which you don’t have to move at all, produces a more potent amplification effect, or if the sensation of motion is something else entirely. (I suspect the latter.)

While the Duke researchers should be applauded, my excitement is tempered by the fact that mind control is one of those technologies that pops up in the news every once in a while—always in pretty much the same form as the last time you read about it. It’s like electronic paper and jetpacks that way. I’ve lost count of how many mind-control contraptions I’ve tried out at trade shows. An extraordinarily geeky high school buddy of mine used to have a similar brain-wave contraption hooked up to his PowerBook Duo, and he used it to execute simple macros on the machine. What I’m saying is, wake me when it’s time to play Mindcraft. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

(Photo: Harry Lynch, The News & Observer)

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18 Responses to “Duke University students devised a Pong you can play with your brain”

  1. George_Liquor says:

    Feh. Mind control is sooo 1984.

  2. Kilzor says:

    For some reason, I initially read this as “tiny super-powered cybernetic arms,” and then immediately had a whole list of questions.

  3. Mike P says:

    I like the feel of the controller in my hand.
    It makes me feel like an artist (I can’t really do anything artistic except cook).
    So, this technology does nothing for me except remind me of the sex scene in Demolition Man. Yes, I was like 10 when it came out, and I loved it.

    • Andy Tuttle says:

      Remember the guy having virtual reality sex in Timecop? He was basically masturbating in public, that always bothered me as a kid. That’s why we have bedrooms, hello!

  4. indy2003 says:

    All this talk of “electrode wiggling” and “extra saline” is cute and everything, but I’m not interested until we finally get around to perfecting eXistenZ-style bio-ports.

  5. Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle says:

    “Stupid controller!!”

    *smacks self in head*

  6. ProfFarnsworth says:

    This is an interesting advancement.  I wonder how the use of MRI scans and SQUIDs (Superconducting QUantum Interference Device) Magnetometers will allow for better detection of brain flow.  I have a feeling that when MRI’s will be able to be conducted with hats THEN we will be able to really play mindcraft.

  7. Chewbacca Abercrombie says:

    Sometimes when my controller gets old it’ll pull a little to the left or right constantly like it’s kinda stuck there. If it’s doing it too much I buy a new controller. When I’m controlling a game with my mind and maybe I bump my head at work or something and after that it starts pulling a little to one side all the time, what then? I think brain surgery is a little pricier than a new controller. I guess I could always go with the no name cheap knock off brain surgery, but it probably wouldn’t feel the same as having the name brand mind control. These are the things I keep in mind when shopping for mind controlled gaming.

  8. Andy Tuttle says:

    “Would you ever put your mind in a robot body? You’d only be 5′ tall, but you’d have the strength of ten gorillas.”