Beyond the fun factor

The combination of neuroscience and computer gaming is still in its early stages. But why should people from gaming industry care about cognitive psychology and neuroscience? If you want to go beyond the mere „fun factor“ of games and aim for positive training effects in terms of health, cognitive performance or education, you definitely need to acknowledge the role of the human nervous system. We know that the human brain has an enormous capacity for plastic changes throughout the whole lifespan and this is where you want to make a difference.

One example of an emerging alliance is neurofeedback, where participants are trained to control specific aspects of their own brain activity. Hitherto, neurofeedback training is mostly applied in therapeutic settings, for example improving symptoms in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, epilepsy etc. However, there are some promising approaches that used neurofeedback in everyday situations for healthy participants.

Though conventional neurofeedback trainings generally use quite simple visual feedback modalities such as two-dimensional moving bars on a computer screen representing brain activity in real-time. However, for successful neurofeedback training very many training sessions are necessary to achieve positive effects on cognitive performance and/or behaviour.  In this context, games or game elements offer a motivating, entertaining, innovative, and sensory rich alternative to conventional feedback modalities.

But not only neuroscience can benefit from (serious) games. Serious games may also benefit from neurofeedback: Physiological parameters of users can be recorded during gaming or interacting with a digital learning environment. The signal can then be fed back to the user. For instance, brain activation patterns can provide the user with feedback about one’s current affective or arousal state, so that the user can determine whether he or she is in the right mood for learning.

In a journal paper and a book chapter we explore the opportunities offered and challenges posed by neuroscientific methods when combined with serious games in more detail.

alt@ManuelNinaus

Ninaus, M., Kober, S.E., Friedrich, E.V.C., Dunwell, I., deFreitas, S., Arnab, S., Ott, M., Kravcik, M., Lim, T., Louchart, S., Bellotti, F., Hannemann, A., Thin, A.G., Berta, R., Wood, G., Neuper C. (2013) “Neurophysiological methods for monitoring brain activity in serious games and virtual environments: A review”, International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning, in Press.

Ninaus, M., Witte, M., Kober, S.E., Friedrich, E.V.C., Kurzmann, J., Hartsuiker, E., Neuper, C., Wood, G. (2013) „Neurofeedback and Serious Games“ in Psychology, Pedagogy, and Assessment in Serious Games (edited by Connolly T.M. et al.) IGI global, in Press.

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