Monday, April 30, 2007

Brain games

Video gaming has really made a number of impressive leaps over the years. First, of course, was Pong, with it's amazingly realistic graphics and awesome soundtrack. After all, every time we've ever played table tennis, the ball was a bit more square-shaped, and it always made that cute little "plunk" noise when it hit the paddle. Of course, eventually people got bored with seeing that, and a new wave was started, with 8-bit graphics. Finally we all got to see Mario's mustache in it's slightly-less-blocky glory. Graphics continued to improve (we're not positive, but we think we might be able to see the individual hairs that make up Mario's face broom now), and, while the picture was getting more distinctive, a new debate popped up, ever whether or not gamers would be willing to try the new-fangled CD-ROM concept in their video game console. After all, it may have worked in stereos, but this is for gaming, people.

Well, when the dust settled on the format debate, and the current generation of video game consoles hit the market, a new debate was started. This time, Microsoft and Sony took their positions towards the old-fashioned (albeit many-buttoned) controllers, adding a wireless element, but still relying on a more sedentary gamer. Nintendo, with the Wii, decided that they wanted to try the wacky concept of getting gamers to move their own bodies to get their onscreen avatars to move. Before the Wii hit the shelves, people were skeptical, and many remained so. But the proof was in the playing, as the Wii was able to bring people over to its side through a fun gaming experience, and people got excited about being active again.

Of course, now that gamers are starting to become comfortable moving while playing games other than just Dance Dance Revolution, a new technology on the horizon could lead to another split. This time, developers are looking to incorporate biofeedback and brain waves into the gaming experience, causing gamers to exercise their minds, as well as their bodies. Imagine playing a game of golf, and not only moving your arms to make the shot (obviously, only with the Wii at present), but also needing to maintain a calm and focused mind to help ensure greater accuracy. That's exactly the type of technology that's being talked about.

Now, we'll admit, we were skeptical of the Wii at first. And, in some ways, we still are. Sure, there's some technique to the games, and the exercise gotten by playing them is definitely a benefit, especially to a demographic better known for resting on their backsides instead of standing up and moving. But even the Wii has it's own form of "button mashing", as exhibited by the "random flail" technique that works in some games. But overall, it's a fun system, and it expands on something that many gamers did previously (after all, the notion of turning the controller during a racing game is a common image). And where there's fun, you can find some CSM support.

That being said, we're a bit concerned about biofeedback and things like that in relation to video games. Developers are claiming that incorporating the new technology into gaming will make the games more realistic, and enhance the experience. But isn't part of the point of playing video games to step outside of reality? To be able to do something that doesn't touch on the real world, and doesn't need extreme mental accuity to do? At least, here at the CSM, we definitely enjoy our mindless gaming time. If we wanted to use our brains more while gaming, we'd play things like chess. Or, shock of shocks, we'd read.

So yes, the concept of incoporating devices that translate brain waves into the video game world is an interesting concept. It could be spectacular to be able to play through an entire game without once touching a controller, but simply being able to use your mind to control the characters. But what will we do to deaden out our brains when we just need some time to relax, decompress, and relieve tension? How will we, as a society, cope with playing a game to relieve stress, needing to keep mental focus, losing the mental focus and losing part of the game, only to develop more mental stress because you can't move forward, thereby causing an endless loop?

Oh, that's right. If we need to turn our brains off, we can always read "Garfield". That'll solve all of our problems.

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