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Sunday, May 11, 2014

What Is NeuroGaming And How Will It Impact The Future Of Gaming and Fitness?

I attended a Neuro Gaming Conference in San Francisco recently to get an understanding of what this sector of gaming was all about and if it was relevant to my two business ventures Gameinlane and FitCentrix . The first question I had  when I entered the conference  was what exactly is NeuroGaming? On the surface it appeared to be a sensationalist futuristic label designed to entice people into and engaging in the conference.  After cruising the product and service booths of the companies commercially involved in the space and listening to the lectures and speakers it became clear that  the term "Neuro"  gaming is very broadly defined encompassing a number of disciplines, products, services and aspirations.
Biologic Sensors - There were a host of vendors that manufactured sensors that could acquire a persons body vitals and state. These sensors acquired EEG, EKG, body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure,etc. to be used as indicators of how someone was reacting to an external stimuli  such as a game. These indicators could also be used to direct a game and personalize it for the state that a person was in. For example, if someone was engaged in a multiplayer game with   other opponents  they could  see and react to another gamers biological reaction to a game and potentially modify their strategy based on that state.  An example of this  would be a poker game where a person's vitals and other bio indicators would be made  aware to other players. This bio signature could be used to change one's strategy or perhaps verify a strategy being taken by a player. In a virtual world game each character in that world could have bio attributes that would establish how they are reacting to the world and the software itself could change or morph based on that bio-feedback.

Kinesiology - Sensing body movement such as hand and feet and leg motion is  also a part of NeuroGaming. Although this is somewhat outside of the pure realm of brain patterns and body chemistry it was a big part of the conference with demonstrations of  sensors on one's arms an legs to see how and where they were acting in space. This type of action could be used in Virtual Reality and  Augmented Reality games  to draw a player's motion and actions into the game.

Bio-Feedback To Determine Emotion, Joy, Fear, etc. - Knowing the state of mind and emotional state of someone playing a game to allow the game to react to a player's "state" was also discussed. The relationship of body markers and these historically fuzzy human attributes appear to be getting closer to being  mapped  and understood from a biological perspective edging closer to the day  when machines/games will react to a stimulate these emotions to enhance the game experience.

Cognition and Learning - There was much discussion about learning, memory and classic cognitive science with many panelists having emerged from the academic world having worked on  a thesis project addressing these topics. Games were discussed that could improve or detect the state of a person's cognitive ability and their memory. The primary focus for most of these games was the aging baby boomer generation and the onset of dementia and  Alzheimer's. Games, with the aid of sensors,  could potentially slow the process or  alleviate these ailments. Governments around the world are funding these projects and treatments emerging from game design that could impact the onset and management of these diseases.

Fitness,  Health, VC's  And The FDA - Although the conference was designated as a "gaming" centric conference there was much discussion of the use of bio feedback devices and sensors for the purpose of getting and keeping people fit. Several references were made by venture capitalists  about this sector and the state a  biofeedback venture(or any venture for that matter) needed to be in to receive VC funding.
They specifically  addressed the FDA certification hurtle as a major concern  in the use of biological sensors for  medical  and health "recommendations.". They saw FDA certification as a danger (really long and expensive process) and as an advantage (barrier to entry). They were very keen on the fitness business model in respect to the  integration of game mechanics and bio sensors to improve engagement and monetization.  They  unanimously  encouraged  the "subscription " business model as a favorite for both the  fitness and health sectors  for its recurring revenue attribute.
The Hardware - Many vendors were promoting their hardware either for bio sensors, feedback or just plan game play. Of  course Oculus Rift (VR) was a headliner given its recent affiliation with Facebook. Augmented (AG) as apposed to VR was also on stage acknowledging the potential impact of Nuero Gaming on the future of digitized reality.
There were a number of EEG, EKG, body movement, body temperature, etc. units on display as well. Overall, the format of these devices was somewhat daunting given there placement on your head, in front of your eyes and attached to the body. Given the rather obvious and somewhat cumbersome nature of these sensors/devices it is unclear what the acceptance and integration potential they have. This is especially true if serious movement is expected to engage in a game or a fitness routine.
Overall, it was great to see the merger of academia, medical device manufactures, and gamers  coming  together to discuss the future of   the merger of these disciplines. It reminded me of the great promise of AI(Artificial Intelligence) back in the day. As with AI we have to see what is actually applicable to the consumer world as opposed to the government/military/academic universe.  However, everything must start somewhere and the merger of machine, game mechanics and biological systems is clearly a focus that is on the of edge  commercial adoption.

Kevin Flood is the CEO of Gameinlane, Inc. Kevin writes  about online games and their impact and integration into iGaming and E-commerce environments. Kevin is a frequent speaker at online game events and conferences in Asia, Europe and the US. Kevin and his Gameinlane team are currently working with online gambling, social gaming and e-commerce companies integrating social gaming with online gaming operations and integrate game mechanics into e-commerce applications.

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