Flex your muscles, sit up straighter – feel that? The nerves, the tension, the release, the way you move, the way slight shifts in your posture trickle down your spine, into your self-awareness, perhaps even easing or aggravating some soreness. This is data – a lot of data, and until recently, outside going to the doctor’s office, we’ve relied mainly on a combination of our own instinct, wives tales and hunches to interpret it.
Through the advent of bio-feedback technology, we’re theoretically no longer relegated to such flights of fancy when it comes to mining the information from our own bodies. While the technology is still nascent in the consumer space, companies are already venturing into a world where our own bodies can interface with the interactive experiences we take for granted.
Let’s look at some of the projections for the near future of how we’ll be understanding ourselves better through the window of tech.
Games as Life
The age of peripherals fluctuates like a strangely undulating wave between innovation, excitement…and boredom. What once blew minds and brought people together becomes commonplace or even tacky, sitting unused on a shelf sometimes only a few months after its peak allure. Think of every plastic guitar, digital bongo drum, or Mario Kart steering wheel gathering dust today.
It’s pretty simple to assume that humans play the way they’ve always played – sure, the devices have changed, but rarely have we used our own physical information to affect the gameplay (well, unless we’re playing a sport).
So, does an additional piece of plastic truly add to the experience in any sustainable way? Well, it almost depends on whether it’s giving or taking. Despite a video game history littered with the skeletons of unsuccessful peripherals –the one unlikely greatest survivor of them all is the now-ubiquitous rumble pack. A simple and relatively underwhelming concept at the time of its introduction into homes by Nintendo in 1997, the haptic feedback, however subtle, has become an unmissable part of shooters, racing games…really every genre of current-generation games.
Yes, the most interesting promise of peripherals occurs when they not only allow us to affect the game, but allow the game to affect us back. Now we’re dealing with real interaction, not just a fancier way to control your character.
In a companion article to this piece, The Terror Within, we sit down with the creator of Nevermind, a horror game that uses bio-feedback to not only measure the player’s stress levels, but also affect what they experience in accordance with that information.
These peripherals act as a first step to the real upcoming revolution – the inevitable influx of wearables and the mining of the most minute data from our bodies.
Welcome to The Inner-Net
In a way, managing one’s own body becomes the game beyond the game: suspense through self-improvement; action through analysis. Put another way, becoming a more resilient version of oneself is the real ‘win state’ of these devices – the interactive elements acting more as a gentle distraction to the user, allowing their normal thought processes to be put aside through immersion in another world, a world of data and rewards.
All eyes are on the wearables market, going simply beyond the existing FitBits and upcoming Apple Watches, but onto true pieces of
wearable clothing – not just for athletes, but for everyday people. Though the projections are positive for a world of interconnected fabrics and smart pieces of clothing that are equally fashionable, we’re currently not there yet, and only have examples of the outliers making use of self-tracking for their own benefit.
A great place to start is by looking at the self-proclaimed “most connected man in the world”, Chris Dancy. Fitted with a plethora of tracking systems (around the ballpark of several hundred running at any given time) he set out become better aware of how his environment affected him and his health. 100 pounds thinner after a few years, Danning has tweaked his surroundings to provide haptic feedback such as automatically playing classical music if he loses his temper, or flickering the lights in his home if he needs to slow his breathing. It’s the real-life version of your health meter blinking on screen in a video game, which causes you to duck behind cover for a moment.
Dancy, and a sufficient amount of experts, believe we’re only a few years out from this kind of self-tracking becoming a reality for everyone, and Chris serves as a case study, partially to encourage others to begin taking stock of how much personal information they’re already sharing online. To get there, however, will require a behavioral leap for many consumers – a leap into a world where it’s fun and rewarding to spend time learning about your physical processes.
That’s the idea behind Muse, a $299 meditation headband that reads your brain waves — and trains your mind to calm itself. It’s one part yoga guru, one part “Star Trek” tricorder.
“Muse helps you slow your mind,” says its co-creator, Trevor Coleman, whose company InteraXon received some seed money from the notably laid-back celebrity Ashton Kutcher, no less.
Here’s how it works: Download the app (called Calm), put on the centimeter-wide headband, and begin to meditate as you stare at a calming beach scene on your phone. Brain-wave readings, taken from five points on your forehead and ears, are transmitted from the headband to your phone — turning your device into an implement supporting a peaceful state, rather than a provider of stress.
If your brain waves are calm, you’ll hear a light breeze. If your mind wanders, the breeze turns to a tempest, and a cool female voice instructs you to focus on your breathing and count down from 10. If you heed the voice of the tech-guide, the light breeze returns. And here’s where it gets fun – the more you play, the more your charts fill up, and the more enriching the experience becomes. Stay calm for a while, and ‘Bonus Birds’ begin landing nearby, adding even more to the serene atmosphere, and reward badges begin to accumulate.
While we may be a few years out from being able to read and react to your girlfriend or boyfriend’s emotional state through their scarf, the writing is on the wall, and we’re about to know a lot more about ourselves than we ever imagined.
Through the advent of bio-feedback technology, we’re theoretically no longer relegated to hunches and WebMD when it comes to mining the information from our own bodies. While the technology is still nascent in the consumer space, the technology behind it is improving at a rapid pace, and generations to come will soon be asking themselves how they ever lived without it.