This Mind-Controlled Game Trains Your Brain With Mental Parkour

I used brain power to control a character in a parkour game, and face planted repeatedly.

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Sep 9 2014, 5:10pm

'Parkour Heroes' screenshot: MyndPlay

The hooded avatar on the computer screen before me jumps across a cement abyss, slides down a wall, and lands with a perfect commando roll. I'm finally getting the hang of a game that could be like any other action title, except there's no handset to be seen. There's no need: I'm controlling the game with my mind.

I'm playing Parkour Heroes using MyndPlay technology. A small headband around my temples is picking up my brainwaves by EEG. As I focus and relax, the readings are sent via Bluetooth to the laptop before me to determine my character's next move.

Image by the author

In the MyndPlay games, the avatars are not animated graphics; they're real-life actors. But the direction the film takes is down to the player. From directing an archer's arrow to completing fight manoeuvres, you push the character through the action using your brainwaves. The idea is that, in doing so, you also train your mind to be faster, sharper, and more resilient in the face of real-world adversity and stress.

The game is the creation of Tre Azam, who I met when he gave a talk at the latest 'This Happened' event in London last month. Azam agreed to let me try out the tech at the MyndPlay offices. 

It was like waking up a long-forgotten muscle. I used alternating states of mental focus and relaxation to chase a parkour villain, stave off a mugger in an underground car park, and play a round of archery. Initially I thought I was brilliant; my archer hit a series of bulls eyes and I saved a girl from a vicious attack, but just when I was getting cocky my focus let me down, and in the parkour game I face planted on the concrete, repeatedly.

The headset used is the MyndPlay Brainband XL, which contains a chip provided by Neurosky. As neurons in the brain interact, brainwaves of various frequencies are produced. A sensor on the headset picks up the frequency produced in the prefrontal cortex, the area associated with emotion. 

Alpha brainwaves (8-12 Hz) are associated with calm relaxation whereas beta waves (12-30Hz) are associated with focus and concentration. Azam explained that, "By controlling them, you can take advantage of that particular state, apply it to those kinds of different tasks, and achieve higher results."

I saw the collated frequency information in the form of a dial at the bottom of my screen. Different types of brain activity required at each point in the game were indicated by colour. When the red dial appeared at a crucial moment in Parkour Heroes I knew that unless I could focus enough to push the dial into the top 10 percent I wouldn't make the crucial jump before me. With immense effort I just made it. A blue dial appeared. I  then had to ignore all the distractions and put my brain into a state of relaxed calm in order to keep up with a villain. Just as the dial moved up towards the marker I noticed a sound coming from outside. The dial dropped and my character fell; the villain had escaped.

Image by author

Of course, applications of these kind of headsets go beyond just gaming and interactive film. Azam reeled off a list of projects he's involved in, which included working with advertising agencies and athletes.

Myndplay is also being used as a tool for researchers studying emotional response. Azam told me it's even being developed into a dating tool to help you control first date nerves.

It could additionally help prepare people for extreme situations they may have no previous experience of, such as soldiers before combat. I tried out MyndGuardian, a game aimed at teaching self-defence, and was relieved to find that with some serious focus I could stave off my attacker. But just in case it didn't work, the moves that I used to disarm and outwit my attacker were replayed for me in slow motion. Experience, then watch and learn.

And similar to virtual reality, perhaps the most important application of these kind of "brain training" devices could be their use in mental health therapy. Devices that aid mental calm and focus could be used not only in recovery but also prevention. My Jedi training begins.