Fluffy, overly large cat ears are twisting, turning and vibrating vigorously on the head of Helsinki Business Hub’s business intelligence researcher Maria Pukki. Surrounding group of smiling people is curious to find out more about the funny ears. Some even want to try them on.
Small sensors attached on the forehead, in the ear-lode and on the top of the head imply that this is not a traditional masquerade costume. The sensors are measuring brains’ electrical impulses and transmitting signals to this cat’s ear shaped machine that makes the ears move. You can judge by the position of the ears weather Pukki is concentrating, relaxed or both at the same time (ability demonstrated often for example by athletes).
The place is the University of Helsinki’s brand new open entrepreneurial community and co-working space Helsinki Think Company. It’s April 8th, the day before the official openings. The place is filled with people and the cat’s ears, or more accurately the person wearing them, won’t get a moment of relaxation in the hectic environment. In the event organized by Helsinki Business Hub the theme is neurogaming and the guest speaker is the pioneer of the field, Zack Lynch from the United States.
Neurogaming is an emerging field that connects gaming into brain research. The field utilizes new technologies that affect emotions, cognitive skills and behavior with an aim to create gaming experiences like never before. In addition to entertainment business, there are several other fields such as education, health care, pharmaceutical industry and marketing where the new technologies can be applied.
Neurogaming industry is still in its infancy but has already aroused interest in many sectors. There are unquestionably good chances for making big bugs with the new innovations and business opportunities are plenty. Helsinki is a natural location to contemplate the future of neurogaming as we have to showcase world-class success stories both from the fields of gaming and brain research.
In the matrimony of gaming and neuroscience Lynch sees a spark of revolution. Gaming industry has already outgrown movie business in entertainment play ground and brain-related illnesses burden economies heavily – not even mentioning the stress and sorrow of the people and their families affected by these diseases. A multibillion-dollar business and an opportunity to improve quality of life is an equation that certainly heats things up.
Lynch describes neurogaming to ”stretch the boarders of reality in way that has never seen before”. When video gaming is enabled to be combined with say for example sense of smell, you may picture yourself laying on the couch watching a football match and being able to actually smell the scent of fresh green grass. In some games you can even twist the plot by your facial expressions or with your voice.
Gaming experience becomes more real, more addictive and more entertaining. ”Your like in another reality”, Lynch assures.
The audience is interested in Lynch’s opinion on the currently hottest trends in the field. He doesn’t hesitate in his answer: The Google Glasses.
The United States is awaiting the upcoming spring and the release of the wearable computer with a head-mounted display that is being developed by Google. According to Lynch, this is a leap forward in the neurogaming field.
Playing is good exercise for the brains
Helsinki University’s neurobiology department ’s docent Matias Palva sees three interesting opportunities in neurogaming: improving the cerebration of a healthy person, treating brain-related illnesses and developing diagnostics.
”If game development truly takes on the physiological changes that human brains are going through when a game is played, it is possible to effectively modify games in a way that they develop brains”, he says.
There already exist games that have been proved to enhance visual acuity or working memory. Palva remarks that there isn’t however any clear evidence of the direct transfer of these features into an everyday life. ”We still need a lot more of clinical research”, he points out.
Nevertheless, Palva feels that playing – weather chess or video gaming – is a good way to increase brains adaptability. To put in simple terms, playing games builds better internal communication between different parts of the brains, which again improves both our memory and our ability to learn new things. These are important factors especially when populations’ life expectancy increases continuously.
But let’s try once more the cat ears. They are an example of how with the help of technology the emotions transmitted from the human brains can be transformed into entertainment. The only function of the ears is to get attention and arouse amusement. The little clip attached to the earl-lode pinches slightly and the sensor on top of the head presses gently. When the ears move you can hear a feeble buzzing of the engine.
”I wouldn’t wear those for a first date”, a gentleman passing by instructs.