At least that’s what Gabe Newell, president and co-founder of gaming giant Valve, thinks, who touted brain-computer interfaces (BCI) as the potential the future of game control and more. And Valve is working on making powerful BCI tech a reality.
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Speaking in an interview with 1 News (flagged by The Verge), Newell said a lot of Valve's product design sounds “like science fiction,” but BCI tech could deliver better ways to experience games or digital environments.
Newell used sci-fi movie The Matrix as an example of using BCIs to effectively create experiences in one’s mind that will make the real-world in comparison "seem flat colorless, blurry compared to the experiences you’ll be able to create in people’s brains.” And he explained how you’d be able to effectively edit your mood to decide who you want to be in BCI-based experiences.
All this sounds like some navel-gazing tech speculation. But Valve is actually working with OpenBCI, an open-source community working on creating BCI software and tools, to find ways for developers to better understand the signals coming from a person’s brain.
“We’re working on an open-source project so that everybody can have high-resolution [BCI] read technologies built into headsets,” explained Newell.
How exactly this will play into gaming is tricky to predict. But if developers could better interpret brain signals then they could dynamically change what’s going on in a game, say ramping up the number of enemies thrown at a player if their brain signals show their attention is drifting. Or it could enable more finesse and control over a game, allowing players to trigger effects without pressing a button, letting them do more at once.
There are already peripherals that can interpret brain signals into game controls, but these are somewhat rudimentary. And they're also limited in scope, as Newell sees BCIs as a means to augment people's lives outside of gaming.
Reprogramming yourself with brain control tech
For example, Newell explained how a BCI could enable you to effectively program yourself to go to sleep, say on a long-haul flight. Then you could wake up with your circadian rhythm correct to the time zone you're in.
This might sound bizarre, but Newell noted it could be something to replace the need to take sleep medicines or even fluff your pillows in a certain way.
Newell said that anyone working on virtual reality headsets not at least looking into the application of BCI is doing it wrong. And he predicted that software developers working on interactive experiences will “absolutely be using” a VR headset modified for some form of BCI in the near future.
That's not to say there’ll be a consumer-grade BCI-equipped VR headset you’ll be able to pop onto your head anytime soon. But Valve wants to at least get the right tools and tech into the hands of software developers so they have a platform to build BCI experiences upon.
Various sci-fi movies and the likes of Cyberpunk 2077 make the whole idea of brain interfaces and augmentation a scary prospect, notably the fear of being hacked. And Newell acknowledged that BCIs present an unnerving concept for people to swallow.
However, he used the example of laser eye surgery as being something that many would balk at initially; the idea of searing one’s eye with beams of light used to be unfathomable. But people soon became used to it and now LASIK treatment is commonplace.
Newell said good experiences with BCI tech and applications will build up confidence in them, much like how the use of cell phones used to be seen as intrusive to privacy, but have now become commonplace.
With all that being said, you're not going to be able to control your PS5 or Xbox Series X with your mind anytime soon. But the idea of gaming, and indeed wider experiences, being augmented by the power of your brain might not simply be sci-fi fodder.
Give it five years or so and we’d not be surprised if some of our picks for the best VR headsets contain goggles with BCI tech integrated into them.