Biofeedback is not a particularly new idea, but less-than-$100 EEG devices that connect to our laptops and smartphones via Bluetooth have made it more accessible than it has ever been before. And with this new hardware comes new software—new games that allow us to throw trucks at opponents by becoming more calm and focused, fight off zombies by telekinetically bending spoons, or set off fireworks by blinking while directing their height and size with our level of attention.
Right now there’s a novelty value to all of this, but people who play these games consistently say that there’s a learning curve to them—that it’s possible to train your mind to become more calm more quickly, or more focused more quickly, at least by the standards of the EEG device. And if that’s the case, there are advantages to developing this kind of mental self-control that have nothing to do with winning a video game.
The technology is in its infancy, but last month’s 2014 NeuroGaming Conference and Expo reveals a new, growing industry that features both increasingly reliable hardware and increasingly sophisticated software. And if in a few years we are able to significantly gamify control over our cognitive states, the effect on our culture—and our identities—may be enormous.
One of the most common complaints about new technology is that it has shortened our attention span and given us a reactive approach to the world. What if the solution to this problem turns out to be, in effect, more technology—a new generation of games that helps us develop mental and emotional self-discipline? What if, thanks to these sorts of games, the children of 2030 have developed the mental conditioning of a Zen master before they’ve finished elementary school? This technology is unproven and its potential has been, for the most part, unexplored—but if the experiences of early adopters are any indication, it could literally change the way we think.