Gaming with Brain-Computer Interfaces

May 11, 2023

Have you heard of Ready Player One? How about Sword Art Online? RoboCop, Total Recall, The Matrix? Surely one of those titles rings a bell, otherwise you probably clicked on the wrong link.

The common idea in the titles above is that the mind directly controls a body inside a virtual or physical environment.

We're not there.

You know how neon lights flicker a few times before they light-up the place?

We're still flickering now: there have been attempts to release Gaming products that make use of the technology.

We'll take a ride through some interesting ones, and get a glimpse into what and when is coming next. We saved the best for last.

If you at any time feel lost in the jargon or technicalities, scroll all the way down and you'll likely find what's missing from your knowledge.

Mind-controlled games

So, how did mind-controlled Gaming make its way in the consumer market until now? Some products were backed by huge companies, but most - by hobby engineers.

In the ascending order of excitement, let's see what tools are available for Gamers.

P.S. They're also called BCI Games, or Brain-Computer Interface Games.

Frequency Bands control

Frequency Bands refer to the general state of the human brain. Simplified, a higher frequency means more focused, while the lowest is registered while sleeping.

Mattel's Mindflex used Frequency Bands classification to control a ball in a physical game: calm down and the ball drops, increase your concentration and the ball moves higher.

At the time, it created amazement among children. And controversy among their parents: How can this work? Is it really working?

Perhaps the world wasn't ready to use "The Force" in 2009. The scientific community's general opinion on it was rather poor.

Neurosky has released a cheap Brain-Computer Interface headset with one electrode. It's in fact the same one used in the Mindflex device.

Along with it, came numerous mobile games, and even a drone-looking helicopter called Puzzlebox Orbit.

Given its limited technology, it won't do more than reading a bulk of electrical signals from the forehead and classify your concentration.

A lot of work is done by passionate gamers, engineers, neuroscientists, who adapt existing devices (such as Muse - which analyses your sleep and focus patterns) to existing games, as plugins.

Skyrim VR is a Role Playing Game, with magic, spells, skills tree and everything that RPGs have.

Real Virtual Magic created a Brain-Computer Interface plugin for it. What better use than this, to apply your state of mind to?

Perrikaryal uses a Brain-Computer Interface to play Elden Ring.

And guess what, she beat the game!

Event-Related Potential control

Another method of communication between mind and machine is by analysing the brain's response to sensory, cognitive or motor events. While it is reliable, it's limited by the delay with which it can be classified.

In this particular case we're talking about the Steady-State Visually Evoked Potential (SSVEP).

The electrical signals from the visual cortex will respond to flickering objects seen by the eyes, by adopting a similar frequency themselves.

The implementations are somewhat limited in both game mechanics and design because of the flickering objects.

Brainbuddy from gTec is one of the latest games to use this method.

Motor Imagery control

This is the heavy league. The scope here is to imagine yourself moving your hands, feet, or even tongue and thus control your game.

Recent progress in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence makes classifying imagined movements a more reliable method of control between the mind and the machine.

After all, we move a hand because the brain tells it to. Why wouldn't our virtual avatar work the same?

Washington University used a Brain-Computer Interface detecting imagined movements to play Space Invaders.

Another use-case in World of Warcraft, controlling the avatar.

The implications of Brain-Computer Interface control are endless, in current games and future games.

There is for a example a specific signal called Movement-Related Cortical Potential. The magic about it is that it starts and can be classified before a person actually makes the movement.

And so much more coming.

Decision making

We're getting into the future. The near future. Using Brain-Computer Interfaces to detect binary decisions, such as "Shoot" or "Don't Shoot" is already being implemented in laboratories. The delay of detection is greatly reduced when compared to the full action.

The gain in speed when deciding will make for that edge that wins the game, be it single-player or multi-player.

In the end, what will matter is who has the faster thinker in the team.

Thought detection

We're going a bit further, without overpromising. After all, the abstract idea of a lightbulb turning on has a specific electrical pattern. With the currrent state of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence models, the accuracy of detecting these patterns increases.

Wouldn't you want to think of reloading the gun, or readying a spell, and it just happens?


Now we're in the magic realm. Decoding thoughts to construct words or sentences seems far-fetched. But changing the point of view will shed some light on why we know it will happen: ever heard of ChatGPT? It's that AI model trained on immense data which shows intelligence in dialogue.

Until now we've been trying to decode specific patterns and match them to words, then sentences. Again, the advancements in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will help: matching electrical signals to trees of thought, to paragraphs, to concepts, is the way forward in telepathic communication.


This is what the Neurogamer is built for: all of the above.

If you want to know when it becomes available, rush over to The Neurogamer page and subscribe.


Electroencephalogram (EEG) device
Used in the medical field to record the brain's electrical activity. It can be invasive (implanted inside the skull through surgery) or non-invasive, sitting in contact with the scalp, on the head. It uses electrodes which are sensitive to electrical impulses to acquire the signal that neurons produce when they get activated.

Non-Invasive EEG Brain-Computer Interface
A device based on EEG that sits on or around the head, e.g. a headset, headphones; which reads brain waves and analyses them in order to interpret something meaningful for a computer to act upon.

Electrode (in Non-Invasive EEG Brain-Computer Interfaces)
A device the size of a finger-nail which is sensitive to electrical activity. In Non-Invasive Brain-Computer Interfaces usually a few electrodes are placed on the head, in specific areas based on the desired detection task, for the purpose of reading the electrical charge and transmitting the data further into the Brain-Computer Interface system.

Brain Waves (electrical)
Neurons communicate to each other by releasing electrical impulses - these in turn trigger the transmission of chemicals which signal other neurons. "Thoughts" as we know them will have multiple neurons firing together and in sequence. An electrical brain wave is the electrical signal that happens in time during such processes, e.g. recognising a friendly face.

Motor cortex
Is an area of the brain densely populated with neurons which trigger signals to the body's muscles, thus creating movement.

Motor imagery
The motor cortex not only generates electric signatures for all body movements, but also for imagined movements. While imagining the raise of the right arm is not intuitive, Virtual Reality and an interactive practice helps achieve the task.

Frequency Bands (in Brain Waves)
If we take electrical brain waves as a whole, without searching for specific brain wave signatures, we'll notice that different frequencies of the signal correspond to different general activites; it is theorised and somewhat proven that higher frequencies signal heavy brain processing, such as the Beta frequency (12.5-30 kHz) signalling increased cognitive engagement, while the Delta (0.1-3.5 kHz) frequency signals sleeping or activity in a new-born baby's brain.

Steady-State Visually Evoked Potential (SSVEP)
Somewhere in the back of the head rests the visual cortex. What comes through the eyes, eventually gets to this processing center for a "visual ingestion". When an individual is looking at a circle that is flickering 14 times per second, a certain Brain Wave response in this area is generated at the same frequency. This is called SSVEP. Have two circles flickering at different speeds and from the Brain Waves alone it can be detected which circle is getting attention.

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