I chose the title of this post as a tribute to John Lennon´s song but with a small twist… Now we have started playing with our minds! The first videogame I played was called Digger, it ran on a Dragon 32(K) computer and was loaded using a cassette. I used to play for hours and a part from the novelty (at that time) it presented, no adult would have though that videogames might improve my cognitive performance.
At a recent talk in LeWeb, Dr. Adam Gazzely mentioned that young adults showed improved cognitive abilities after playing regular video games (Choi et al. 2003). This means old school videogames already present great potential! Today the buzz is all around NeuroGaming!
…WHAT IS NEUROGAMING?
Well to start with NeuroGaming refers to combining a videogame with physiological (ECG, GSR, etc.) and neurophysiological (EEG, NIRS, etc.) monitoring. In this context the signals obtained affect the game specifically by moving objects or creating movement, or generally by adjusting the game difficulty and other general parameters. Additionally, recently, brain stimulation such as transcranial current stimulation (tCS) has been added to the NeuroGaming definition as it increases brain plasticity during game play.
…IS VIDEOGAMING / NEUROGAMING JUST FOR FUN?
During my childhood the answer was YES! However in the past decade more research was driven towards discovering the effects of video-gaming especially with the increase of violence in videogames such as in first person shooter (FPS) games. This academic attention towards gaming attracted other researchers to measure additional cognitive effects (not only the negative ones), which in turn led to the discovery of increased cognitive capabilities in gamers. Another step was NeuroFeedback (NF) that became a tool used by psychologists to mainly treat children with ADHD. The concept is to treat the brain as one would train a muscle. By measuring a combination of Brain Waves, for example Theta-Beta Ratio, one may track levels of concentration and alertness. This effectively, can be translated into games that move avatars according to changes in these measurements. In 2013, the American Pediatric Association placed NF as a first line of treatment for ADHD children.
But as Moore´s law proved itself in the development of microchips, we can see great advancement today in NeuroGaming due to improved wearable equipment. The fact that EEG devices have reduced in size such as the g.Nautilus from gTec or the Enobio Family from Neuroelectrics, new game technologies such as immersive VR goggles as the Oculus Rift or the Samsung Gear VR, and advanced motion sensing input devices such as Kinect and Wii, open NeuroGaming to a new levels of experience both on the entertainment level as well as the therapeutic one.
…WHERE ARE WE HEADING WITH NEUROGAMING?
In 2013, in a Nature publication (Anguera et al.) showed that the use of video gaming proved to recuperate multitasking cognitive functions of 60-80 year olds to the level of untrained 20 year old with gains persisting for 6 months. Another study by Roi Cohen Kadosh Lab in Oxford presented improved mathematical abilities in children with math problems by combining a Kinect controlled video game and tCS Neurostimulation. This is a new paradigm! We can actually start creating games that will fight against our natural cognitive deficits, and decline of aging.
As Zack Lynch noted in his article, “Let the NeuroGames Begin”, several video game companies like Akili Interactive, Blue Marble Gaming Company, LimbsAlive, are developing medical therapeutic videogames for health applications. More companies like Scientific Learning and Cognifit focus on improving cognitive performance through games.
But the real future enhancement or as some call ”cognitive optimization” may present itself in the “neuroplasticity revolution” that will be the combination of advanced video games, motion detection, Neuro and Bio feedback, and Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation.