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The future of gaming is all in your head. Literally.

neurogaming conference 2013 image7When people say things like “this is the future of gaming” it is generally framed with rhetoric. When the Kinect was released, you heard that a lot – and it was true, just in a limited way. The Kinect was the future of gaming in the sense that it used technology that wasn’t possible a few years earlier, so it was a technological jump. Still, the Kinect is viewed by most as just another peripheral, not something that redefines gaming on a larger scale. The same cannot be said for some of the things being discussed at the first Neurogaming Conference held this week in San Francisco.

If you look up the word “neurogaming” in the Oxford English dictionary, you won’t find an entry. “Braggadocious” managed to sneak in there somehow, but “neurogaming” is simply too new a word to have entered the lexicon – but it is one that is going to resonate for years. Unlike the term “gesture control” that describes the Kinect though, “neurogaming” is a much broader term that covers a huge array of devices, fields, and ideas.

Nike will one day happily brand your skull with a device that tracks your physiological response to certain things.

One day, we will sit down on the couch, jump online to join some friends, and put on our skullcaps that read brainwaves and translate them into control inputs. That isn’t science-fiction, it is science-future. God help us all when a competitive multiplayer game adopts this technology. After a few too many deaths in a match, you may see characters suddenly burst into flame and explode as their controller gets just a bit too angry to moderate their brainwaves. Forget rage quitting, the future is rage exploding.

The future of gaming will be more interactive than anyone has seriously dreamed of, and it is closer than you may think. It’s impossible to put a timeframe on it – there are too many factors – but the day when gaming becomes a cooperative event between a person and their machine is coming. And not in a creepy way.

That is what the Neurogaming Conference is all about. This week in San Francisco, engineers, CEOs, developers, researchers, and people interested in the future of gaming technology – and, really, technology in general – have come together to hear lectures and discussions from industry leaders. They are also here to check out some of the new technology that is cutting edge today, but will be remembered as the first step in something much more important.

Day one began with a discussion about where the neurogaming industry is and where it is going. The talk veered into the theoretical, but the consensus was that the technology currently used in neurogaming is the first stage of an evolution that will reshape the way we live. That is not hyperbole. Okay, maybe it is a little hyperbole. But only a little.

The same tech used to monitor EEGs – which is to say, the electrical activity in your brain – and translate them into commands to throw virtual trucks at people has therapeutic benefits as well. Studies have shown that neurogaming can be used to help people with autism, as well as soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It can also be used to help people of all ages learn. One day we may send our kids off to school where the adorable little tykes are expected to put away their book bags, take their seats, insult their teachers, and put on their neuro cap to accelerate their learning speed. It will be a glorious day, marred only by the jealousy of older generations as an 8-year-old shows him or herself to be much, much smarter than we are. Progress!

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The day continued with a look at how neurological tools can help tell new stories in gaming. It’s still just theory at this point, but imagine a game mechanic that tells how anxious you are. If you are playing as a sniper, your level of comfort could affect how steady your aim is. On the other hand, you may be playing a horror game that knows to send the unkillable zombies after you at the precise moment that you calm down, just to show you who is boss.

The same technology is also going to help Olympians be more Olympic and to help train athletes of all levels. Nike will one day happily brand your skull with a device that tracks your physiological response to certain things. It can help increase your concentration and result in a better mental state all around. If you think Nike Fuelbands are everywhere now, just wait for a mainstream device that can help you track the power of your brain. Nike will be printing money.

That is the point of this conference – not for Nike to earn another billion, but for ideas to be shared and the future to be discussed. The day also contained a session about fundraising, and you may soon see more individuals and companies follow the path laid down by Palmer Luckey, the Oculus Rift creator who Kickstarted his way to becoming one of the hottest companies in gaming and tech today.

Neurogaming and neurotech are still in their infancy, which means there is a huge amount of room for those who are clever and driven. Being utterly brilliant helps too, but reality TV has proven that where there’s a will, there’s apparently also a way to make millions even without possessing a lick of creativity or talent. The future is there for the taking!

Check back with us for more coverage from the Neurogaming Conference this week and next.

(Images © NeuroGaming’s Flickr photostream)

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