We have been invited to demonstrate AlphaWoW and Mind the Sheep at the Researchers’ Night in Nijmegen this Friday. There will be interesting talks about BCI, neurofeedback, and brain research, and of course many cool demos. Entrance fee is 7,50.
Category Archives: Demonstrations
Every year there is an event called eNTERFACE. It is announced as a summer workshop, but it is a bit more. About teams work on different multimodal human-computer interaction projects for 4 weeks, and there are some tutorials and lectures. You can submit a project proposal yourself if you like, or you can join the team for the project of somebody else.
Last year Christian Muehl from our group was team leader for a project which resulted in the game Bacteria Hunt, in which you play an amoeba controlled by keyboard, SSVEP, and alpha activity. The goal is to eat as many bacteria as you can.
Finally, as promised, here are the photographs made by Bram at Disco’09.
With all the attention we’ve been getting lately, it is probably a good idea to tell a bit more about what it is all about: alphaWoW. AlphaWoW is actually a quite simple demonstration of how brain activity can be used in an existing computer game in such a way that it can really add to the user experience. One of the things that is quite unusual about this demonstration is that the user will still use mouse and keyboard for the standard interaction with the game. Brain-computer interaction (BCI) is used as an additional modality to control very specific actions.
For this demonstration, the user plays a character in the popular game World of Warcraft (WoW). Being a nightelf druid, she can shapeshift into bear form. Where as an elf, she is quite fragile, in bear form she is an enemy to be feared with big claws and teeth, and thick skin. This is not to say that she cannot fight as an elf. Elves can cast powerful spells that can kill an enemy before they can even get within hitting range. But perhaps more importantly: in elf form she can heal herself. So both forms have their own advantages and disadvantages. They each require a different style of play from the user.
Brain activity is measured with electrodes on the outside of the head (EEG) which actually register voltage differences which are the result of activity in different areas of the brain. These measurements are then analyzed for alpha activity, which brain activity in a very specific frequency range. Alpha is said to be related to relaxation. The higher your alpha levels, the more relaxed you are. As we just calculate this feature, no machine learning is necessary, so there are no lengthy training sessions. The user can start to play immediately. Because there are many differences in brain activity between users, and brain activity also changes over time, we applied a normalization function. This means that even if you have a stressful disposition, you will still be able to change into an elf, if you relax relatively to your general state of mind.
In World of Warcraft we show the user the inverse of this alpha as an orange stress bar. When the bar gets high, the player is stressed (low alpha), and their character changes into a bear. When the player relaxes and the stress bar gets below a certain threshold, they change back into their natural elf form.
There are many aspects which make this new way of playing World of Warcraft appealing. First of all the player gets a lot more into character, as this is suddenly required for the interaction. This increases the sense of immersion, which is also increased by the sometimes unconscious reactions like automatically changing into a bear when you are suddenly being attacked. Secondly it is kind of magical to watch the computer react to your brain activity. But there is more. Playing this way will also increase your awareness of your mental state. Increasing alpha has been shown to be related to intelligence and being more stress-resistent. So even though this game might make gamers even more sedentary, it might have some interesting positive side effects as well.
So far alphaWoW has been demonstrated at AISB 2009 (AI&Games track) in Edinburgh, open days at the university in Enschede, and at the ICT Delta conference in Utrecht, where visitors could really try this system in practice.
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Last week, the yearly BrainGain consortium meeting took place in Bad Boekelo. It was very exciting to see what all the other projects have been up to. As icing on the cake, we even won the best demonstration award with BrainBasher! And that’s not even all: our professor Anton Nijholt also won a prize, for the best press coverage.
A lot of pictures have been made. Unfortunately most of the are not available yet, so you will just have to do with this one in the mean time.
Fun and Games was interesting and entertaining. It is great to see what other people are working on — there are always more touching grounds than you’d think on first sight. And of course because of the theme of this conference almost everything that is talked about has some fun factor — can’t go wrong there.
Andreas Bulling from ETH Zurich was kind enough to make some pictures of our demo setup and mail them to us. Thanks Andreas!
Karolien Poels from the Eindhoven Game Experience Lab was positioned next to us, with her work on the Game Experience Questionnaire. Very handy, as we also used that same questionnaire to evaluate different versions of BrainBasher.
As I was the test subject, unfortunately I missed the presentations about affect. I’ll just have to read up in the proceedings, but there were many interesting presentations I did see, like the one on EyeMote which uses EOG-based eye gestures for wearable control, but also the rather strange one about project ALICE on cultural computing. The presentation I enjoyed most was the one by Roderick Murray-Smith (who worked on the BCI Hex-o-spell, but also on many other interaction projects like the Stane), which was really an eye-opener to me on how it is possible to break free of established interaction patterns and think up something new that could work just as well or even better. Especially in the case of BCI, which is still so open to possibilities, it is important to try to free the mind to a more abstract way of thinking about interaction.
Now we’re already busy preparing for the next poster session and BrainBasher demonstration at the BrainGain consortium meeting at Bad Boekelo next week!