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VR Interfaces: Mindball


Overview of Mindball
Mindball is something of a novelty game. It has one main claim to fame: That it is operated by thought alone. It is a fairly primitive first generation brain-computer interfaces game that just so happens to take up a lot of room.

Well that is a misnomer, since it doesn't rely on thought, but rather the absence of it. Mindball is a relaxation game, two player. The victor of any match is the one who is the most relaxed and laid back of the two. Sort of a competition for relaxed and carefree.

It's a contraption about the size of a ping pong table, but all in one piece so it cannot be folded. The legs can however be folded under it for storage. In the middle of the table is a Plexiglas tube running from one end to the other. Sometimes this tube is recessed and covered with Plexiglas. Sometimes it stands proud on the table itself. It does not matter either way. In the tube is a small white metal ball.

This ball is controlled by electromagnets coiled under the tube. Two distinct sets, one for each player. Each set is capable of accelerating the ball towards the other person, or slowing it down and repelling it if it is already moving. It needs to be this simple, because the players only have one control - a Velcro headband they wrap around their foreheads.

On the headband is a single EEG array, spread over the forehead and around the head itself. This array detects the brainwaves of the player. What it is looking for is a strong theta wave pattern, indicative of relaxation, contentment, unfocussed bliss. This serves to drive the coils. The stronger the theta wave pattern,. The more power is fed to them and the faster the ball is propelled away from that player.

It would not be any fun if theta waves were the only type checked. The EEG net also checks for alpha waves. Alphas only occur during wakeful relaxation. So you cannot sleep and play mindball. Further, the two must be balanced. So, if you've had a coffee, your theta waves may well be strong, but your alphas, conscious indicators of relaxation, will be weak, due to the stimulant. As a result the mean of the two wave strengths will lower, and you will give less power to the ball. On the other hand, fall asleep, and the alphas will disappear, immediately eliminating all power to your magnets.

The goal then is to be awake but unfocussed, no stimulants, calm, and serene. Unfortunately, should you glide your eyes down to the ball to see how you are doing, your brain will become alert, alpha and theta waves will plummet, and the ball will move back towards you. Consciously willing it away only diminishes the waves further. In competition the process thus becomes an almost comical mix of competition and relaxation.

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