The future of mind-controlled video games looks very much like the past of arcade games.
I'm sitting in a leather chair facing a television. I'm wearing loops of plastic on my head like a crown. I'm told that this device, the NeuroSky Mindwave, can trace the electrical impulses shooting from my earlobe to my forehead and somehow use this information to measure brain activity. It can tell, they say, when I'm relaxed and when I'm concentrating.
I'm not sure I buy it, but it certainly seems to be sensing something.
On the television, a man rushes out from a home in the middle of the night to the car that I am sitting in. I'm looking through someone else's eyes, watching a movie that I'm a part of. The man is worried about his girlfriend, she'a acting strange, she won't let him into the house. It seems that i am some sort of paranormal investigator, an exorcist.
Inside, the door slams shut, locking the hapless boyfriend out of the house. The woman shows all of the movie-signs of being possessed. After a bit more watching I have to concentrate, focusing my mental acuity to, I guess, exorcise the demons.
I furrow my brow, I raise my eyebrows, I think, think, think. Then I get a notion. Maybe I should try losing, if this were faked they surely wouldn't program it to have you lose over and over again.
So I look around instead. I stare up at the ceiling. I think about dinner, about Trish. I try to be scatter brained. I'm being Brian Crecente. On screen, the little interface showing my concentration levels start to wane. It knows I'm not paying attention. That the demon is winning. So I snap my focus back to the TV and the meter rises again. I've beaten her, by accident.
A second session of staring results in my winning the full-motion video game. But the game says I did average, a lower rating than the last two people I watched. It is aware of my lack of interest.
Later Tre Azam, founder and CEO of MyndPlay, tells me that he had to tweak the game's settings to account for the noisy, distracting environment of the Game Developers Conference show floor. He didn't want to make people mad by having them all lose, he confesses to me. But you can lose and it's not that hard to do. When you do lose, he says, the movie gets a little bloody.
The MyndPlay games on show at GDC were really a sample of what he hopes could happen in the future: Feature-length movies played in theaters with multiple paths that are selected by the collective thinking of the audience.
That's a neat idea, one perhaps packed with problems, but what I saw at the show made me think more of Mad Dog McCree than the future of movies.