Ich habe im Rahmen der NEXT12, die Co-Gründerin und Direktorin von MindGames, Deepa Iyengar, einmal zu dem Projekt interviewt. MindGames hat die ersten gedanken-kontrollierten iPhone- und iPad-Spiele wie z.B. 28 Spoons Later und W.I.L.D entwickelt. Wie die Spielhandhabung funktioniert und wie die Idee zu dem Projekt entstanden ist, erzählt uns Deepa in diesem Gespräch, welches wir heute einmal im Originalton in englischer Sprache veröffentlichen.
So, Deepa, you tell me a little bit about your background in cognitive neuroscience and how MindGames started.
Well, I took a masters degree some years back at MIT in their brain and cognitive sciences department. That's a good department if you have a wide interest in the area because they've got people all the way from psychology to going into monkey's brains. My field was cognitive neuroscience, which is interdisciplinary. But what I worked on was habit learning and trying to understand how habit learning works in the brains of rats. Not how the learning process works, but where is the brain activity that has correlates with habit learning.
How did MindGames start?
Well after MIT I went to art school (laughing) for a little while. I think that might have something to do with it. About three years back I first heard about these kind of technologies that were becoming commercial for ordinary people and these brain-controlling technologies. And it was really just a vision that happened. I thought, well, I'd really love to play a video game, maybe like Myst or something, but where I have to solve some of the puzzles say by relaxing to open up a new path or something. And that's really how I got the idea. It just came in sort of a vision after hearing about this technology. Then when I looked back I said, ok, but the idea of playing a game to learn something is about trying to learn a habit in a fun. And maybe that really connects back to school.
So you produce games for mobile platforms at MindGames. How do they work?
I should be clear, so far we've only done iPhone, we haven't done Android yet. But do you want to know how you are able to control the game with your mind?
The brain cells work electrically, so what we are recording is the sum of that activity from one point in the skull. So that is not at all very detailed information. It's like if you think about each brain cell like a drop of water, the sum is a pool of water. So definitely drops of water have influence on the pool, but it's not like you see each drop separately if that makes sense. But luckily because the technology is so old - since 1920, the EEG technology, there have been people working on it since then, so they've learned to parse the electric field to some extent. It measures the brain wave activity and different patterns corollate to different brain states. That information is the kind of stuff we take advantage of in our games. I think you'll see an explosion of learning about how we can get information from the electric field about what we are thinking and so on. You're going to see people trying really hard to learn a lot more about it really fast now that there seems to be a kind of a push to make it a consumer technology.
The idea behind it is that you are training your brain - maybe training yourself to concentrate better. How does that process work? That habit learning process? Are people aware, are they conscious of the process?
No, actually. That's a great question. So habit learning, the mechanism of habit learning is a completely different mechanism in the brain from the mechanism of learning, say history maybe ... I can teach you history at least to some extent - a great extent, by lecturing or having conversations with you about history and telling you, declaring to you. It's called declarative learning. And then habit learning. There are other words for it - one is procedural learning, so if you want to learn to ride a bike I guess I could tell you to sit on the bike and try to go forward and you'll fall off (laughing). That's all I can tell you. Music is another example. Yeah, OK it's declarative to the extent that there are some notes on the page and I can hand you the notes and I can say go practice piano with this if you already know which note is which button. However, you won't really learn it unless you practice it. That's procedural learning. You have to do it. So we discovered this around 1950. There was this poor guy who was having really bad seizures in his temporal lob which has to do with declarative memory as it turns out - they didn't really know that then. He passed away a few years ago. He's become known as HM in psychology literature and what they learned from HM was a lot of things about memory. But one of the things they learned was that after the surgery where they took out his temporal lob, he wasn't able to form any new memories. He only had his only memories. I met him once and the thing is as long as his attention is on one topic or something, he's fine. I mean, I didn't test the limits of it. Maybe he wouldn't be fine for a half an hour or an hour, but at least for a few minutes. But if his attention goes to something else, he's completely forgotten everything. It just doesn't go into his long term memory. On the other hand, they found that he was able to learn procedural learning tasks like tracing a shape without really being able to see it. What would happen is that every time they would bring him to do it, they would ask him: "have you ever done this before?". And he would say "no, I've never heard of this before. I've never done this before." But they could measure that he was getting better and better each time, so in other words his ability to form declarative memories was gone, but his ability to form procedural memory and do habit learning was undamaged.
So they realised it was two different processes?
Yes, two completely different processes, so the point though is with habit learning you're not really aware of it. I mean you know you're practicing, but you can't be like now I'm doing this in order for this to happen.
And that's the idea behind 28 Spoons Later, for instance, one of the games you've developed? You're practicing concentrating by bending the spoons with your mind so the gentleman Zombie won't be able to eat your brains.
Yes, exactly, but you see the thing is, practicing is boring. Usually anyway, you have to have some feeling of short term reward. So with a bike it's hard to remember. We all learn it when we are kids. But with a bike you are falling off, which is not fun, but I assume we keep doing it because we see other kids riding bikes around and it looks fun and least there's maybe not so much short time, but at least we can see what the end looks like. With something like learning to concentrate or learning to relax and maybe learning how to get into the flow of creation, wouldn't that be great? When you want to, it's not like that. Let's say if I meditated or something, if I meditate, then I will be able to relax when I need to or learn to relax when I need to, but you don't really have a good sense of what that outcome looks like or feels like. It would be like trying to learn to ride a bike without seeing ... where the bike is invisible and you can't see any examples of success in front of you. So then, there's really just no reward, no short-term reward, because sitting and meditating and failing to meditate is no fun, I can tell you (laughing) and you also have no clear vision of the outcome. Here you still might not have any clear vision of the outcome, but what you do have is hopefully, it's fun to try to bend the spoons to defeat the zombie.
So, it sounds like it really uses the ideas of mindfulness.
Very much, yes. Very much. I think if I could talk about the really big, hairy vision of MindGames, it would be mainstreaming mindfulness practices because there are so many ways which would benefit individuals and therefore society.
How do you see the applications of this moving forward? You mentioned in your Next12 presentation of using this with people or children with Attention Deficit Disorder. Are you working on that?
Yeah, so I mean our hypothesis is that if you have a kid who has ADHD, it seems like it would help them. I have no great clinical knowledge of ADHD, but it seems like it would help them with relaxing and focusing. So that's our idea, that at least for some kids it could work. It would be great to talk about replacing Ritalin but I wouldn't go that far, especially because we haven't proven anything yet. But at least for some kids, if this could supplement Ritalin or replace it, for kids who don't have a huge problem, we think that would be great. Basically replace medicine with a fun way to train, so that when they are in school or whatever the moment is and they need to do something and they need to regulate their attention, they'll do it. We've tried this out at exhibitions and things with a couple of hundred kids and there are always kids who have ADHD, who come to us and immediately start asking will this work for me? They are almost the easiest people to explain it to. They explain it to me. If I could have something like this to practice calming down and focusing then my life would be so much better. They'll go into detail about. But I have to emphasise there is still a way to go, for example, we're using for the headset a solution that is built by someone else that might be fine. But we are also using functions that they define and we don't know what's in there, because it's their trade secret. I can guess but I wouldn't know for sure. So a necessary step in developing therapuetic games would be to make our own recipes or least work with someone who makes the recipes for what combination of brainwaves means relaxation and what means concentration in a way that will be relevant to children. Because the problem is these words are so big - meditation, relaxation, concentration, attention - you can have two pretty different states and call them both relaxation.
Yes, I mean, that's quite a simple headset. It measure brainwaves at one point of the brain. Are there other headsets out there that might give you more data or be more useful?
There might be but the downside is there always more difficult to put on, so that's why I was talking about that we are going to need to develop headsets with fewer sensors, because even the one we use is hard enough to put on. It's not going to be a good therapy if the kid has to sit for half an hour and mess around with it. A kid without ADHD wouldn't want to do that. How much worse for a kid with ADHD?
How did you go through the process of developing the games themselves? Did you work with a developer or a team?
We basically have a small team and really good designers. One guy for example who does graphic design, animation and sound, which normally you would need three different people to do. It's pretty amazing. Because we are a small company still we can't have a dedicated game designer, so that means the game design is usually a collaboration between the graphic designers and programmer and sometimes mean. For example, with the spoon game, we made an earlier game where one level had to do with bending a spoon and people seemed to really feel that level. Then we decided to make a game around bending spoons. We said sure, but it helps if there is a bit of a story - why are you bending the spoons. In that case it was the programmer who came up with the game story and the title and also the difficult curve of how the spoons get more difficult to bend. The game design is really a collaborative effort.
The apps are available ... ?
On the app store. You can go to our site. Our site links to both the app store and to the headset company's site. We've made three games. One of which we took off the app store earlier this year because of some technical issues with another company who was working with us on the game. With all the games because we want to know what's fun and for whom, we've made our games pretty small productions. I'd like to think small but complete productions, but we'd like to make bigger and much longer games.
What other games do you envisage? Could you imagine maybe platform games?
Actually our first game idea was a platform game, which we would like to come back to some day. It was about a little creature who wakes up one morning and all the other little creatures like him have disappeared, so he goes on a quest to find out what happened to them. He communicates telepathically and he also has telekinetic powers, so the idea is that as he is going on his quest there are these things that he needs to do like get something out of a tree and he can do that by relaxing to float it out of the tree or something like that. There you have the same two controls relaxing and concentrating but because it's a narrative platform game you are always doing something different with the same controls. But also people tend to forget that the earliest video games had few controls. It wasn't like I need to have sixteen controls. You'd have to be a pretty hardcore gamer to master 16 different mind controls. (laughing) It's more playable for more people with fewer controls but also better for learning.
Über den Autor
Jennifer Collins kommt aus Irland und studierte Journalistik, Deutsch und Politikwissenschaft in Dublin, Berlin und Leipzig.Sie wohnt seit 3 Jahren in Berlin wo sie als freie Journalistin arbeitet. Sie schreibt derzeit für NPR Berlin u.a. und podcastet und twittet gern über die Städte, Politik, Technologie, Journalismus und digitale Medien.