Singularity

Experiment 626

Nov.29, 2012, filed under gaming, Geekery

avatarA couple of Christmases ago, my beloved brother bought us a Mindflex, knowing that I like that sort of thing.

For those who find clicking on links and watching videos too much tl;dr, the basic premise is that you wear a headband sensor that registers brain activity. If there’s a lot, power is increased to a fan, causing a foam ball to rise in the air (like balancing a ping pong ball on an air dryer — what do you mean you’ve never tried that?) and the player twiddles a knob to send the fan around the course. There are a variety of obstacles one can place around the course, with varying levels of ‘control’ needed to make it through them.

You’ll notice I put ‘control’ in scare quotes. The thing is, there is a reasonable amount of argument as to whether this thing genuinely reads brain activity or whether it offers the illusion of control. I’ve been playing with it for a couple of years, off and on, and I honestly couldn’t say. I know how powerful that illusion can be, and I don’t fall for the “lots of people think it’s real so it must be real” argument. If I did, I’d be scared of the giant sky pixie.

So we decided to do an experiment.

This is Stitch. Some of you will have met him.

Is sad

This is not the Stitch who ate all the pies, or travelling Stitch, or Warpig Stitch (don’t ask). This Stitch is relatively well behaved and not known for having high levels of brain activity. This is Emo Stitch (Sad Stitch Is Sad).

One of the games available on Original Mindflex is a time trial arrangement called, melodramatically, Danger Zone. This involves setting up an obstacle course and taking it in turns to try to get past all four lights within the time limit.

On this occasion, the players were:

Me (incidentally, MoC is seeking funding for Episode 5, so go and look at the cool stuff you could get for supporting them and lob a few quid their way): Minister of Chance is currently in need of funding. Go and donate.
Frood: Frood
Munky: Munky's game face
Emo Stitch: Stitch in a tinfoil hat

You will notice that Stitch is wearing a tinfoil hat. The Mindflex requires the player to have a crocodile clip attached to each earlobe and a small metal disc pressed against the forehead.

No, we’re not sure how that’s supposed to work, either. Hence the experiment.

Stitch needed the tinfoil hat for the various alleged electrodes to form a circuit and the game to accept him as a biological entity. Note that the game didn’t need any verifiable brainwave activity, merely a circuit. Plush gets in the way of circuit forming.

Our null hypothesis was that the Mindflex system was not designed to read genuine brainwave activity as the hardware supplied does not seem capable of measuring genuine brainwave activity; and that the apparent relationship between ball height and concentration was entirely a result of the illusion of control. Thus, to disprove the null hypothesis, our control Stitch would have to perform significantly worse than our human players, on the basis that he doesn’t have any brain activity.

Because he’s plush.

This was our experimental method.

We chose the Danger Zone game, as this would give us a quantitative measure of each player’s performance. A number of obstacles were used, including a maze cage with trap level and several hoop obstacles, to ensure a requirement for the player to vary the ball’s height (which, as explained earlier, is a measure of brainwave activity, APPARENTLY). I went first, then Frood, then Munky, then Stitch.

Experiment 626

The obvious flaw with this is that Stitch is plush and could not operate the twiddle knob by himself. Therefore I did it for him. Please also see notes below for future experimental proposals.

I completed 4 zones in 1 minute 49 seconds. Frood completed 4 zones in 2 minutes and 15 seconds. Munky completed 3 zones in 2 minutes and 48 seconds while Stitch completed 3 zones in 2 minutes and 20 seconds.

Yes. That is correct. Stitch beat Munky.

Sad Sackmunky Are Sad

There are some obvious problems with the experimental protocol. Ideally, an experiment would involve at least three repetitions (it was late, we’d been drinking, it was time to go to bed). Also, another round needs to be added, in which a neutral observer operates the twiddle knob for all of the players, to remove that factor from the timing. It would also be worthwhile checking some of the other games, to see if Stitch is better or worse at any particular type of game compared to a human, to at least identify the possibility of an inherent bias in the system.

And maybe give Pooh a go, and see if he’s as good as Stitch.

I think what we can definitely say, however, is that how well you do at Danger Zone isn’t necessarily related to how much control you have over your brainwave activity. As a biofeedback training tool, it’s not much use.

I’m obviously not the only one to want to test this, either:

What I like best about that are the people getting really upset in the comments because they believe it REALLY DOES WORK UR JUST DOIN IT RONG.

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