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Exclusive Interview with MindGames CEO Deepa Iyengar (Part 1 of 2)

We are proud to present an exclusive interview with MindGames CEO Deepa Iyengar who shared some of the secrets behind their innovative Tug of Mind game.

Tug of Mind, released in December, 2010, is the very first of the 140,000 iPhone apps to use real EEG technology. Indeed it is controlled by using a portable consumer brain-computer interface device such as PLX XWave and NeuroSky MindSet.

With Tug of Mind you can play with anyone you choose from real life. Take a photograph of someone, turn it into an angry, lifelike 3D head, and put words in its mouth by recording a phrase. Then turn that frown upside down using your mind. As you relax, the device on your head sends your brainwaves to the application and changes the mood of your opponent’s face from stern to smiling. The Reykjavik based MindGames states that thanks to Tug of Mind you’ll not only have fun but you’ll feel more relaxed and focused each time you play. And they could be right since it’s a science fact that meditation is healthy. Below you can read the first part of our interview.

Neurogadget: Tug of Mind is the really first game for iPhone that you can control by your mind. What does being such a pioneer in the gaming industry mean to you?

Deepa Iyengar: It is of course exciting to be “first in the world” at anything! But what means even more to us is that the concept of Tug of Mind strongly reflects the vision that drives us: “Change your mind, transform reality.” That is, people commonly perceive and react emotionally to threats from other people which are either not really that important, or not there at all, outside of their own heads. Therefore, a lot of our energy is wasted on short-term reactions. We can and must learn that our emotional reactions do not reflect reality, and that we can often change what appears to be an inevitably bad external situation, for example, a bad relationship, by changing our internal reactions.

Tug of Mind allows the player to make visible and external, something which previously was invisible, internal, and half-acknowledged – the negative emotional effect which another person has on them. We have been told by many people who have tried it, that it is the beginning of a new form of gaming, something personal and intimate beyond ever before. If this is true, then we are pioneers in more than just connecting a brain-computer interface to an iPhone to control a game. And we are grateful to be in this interesting and exciting position! After all, overcoming our own demons often presents us with our greatest challenges – and greatest rewards – in life.

Neurogadget: The basic idea of the game is to amend the opponent’s mood by relaxing, while watching his or her angry face transforming to a calm face. How did this quite innovative idea come?

Deepa Iyengar: When you have a less-than-ideal relationship with someone, you come away from interactions with them feeling stressed, uncentered, angry, and nervous. That is, either they, or your idea of them, has pulled your state of mind down to their level. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. You could instead pull that person’s state of mind up to match yours – what it takes, is the ability to remain relaxed under the pressure of the interaction. Tug of Mind lets you directly practice this ability, the ability to voluntarily control the level of your relaxation while playing out stress-inducing interactions on your iPhone or iPad. We thought that the central challenge of Tug of Mind would be something which is not only life-improving, but also a suitable game mechanic, because the true challenge, in games and in life, is to perform when the environment is against you!

Neurogadget: Tug of Mind can be downloaded from Apple AppStore only. Have you had any difficulties during the authorization process of Apple? We all know Apple is an innovative company, but was it easy to get them accept the mind-controled game concept?

Deepa Iyengar: Speaking practically, Apple didn’t need to accept the mind-controlled game concept, but rather to accept the peripheral, the brain-computer interface, which is used with Tug of Mind. PLX Devices took care of getting Apple to approve their brainwave headset, the XWave. When we submit to the App Store, we indicate that the XWave is the game interface. Approval probably takes a few more days than for regular apps, but not too many more.

Neurogadget: Which types of brainwaves can the game measure? And what mental states are these brainwaves related to?

Deepa Iyengar: Tug of Mind uses the “meditation” function defined by NeuroSky, whose hardware and software power the PLX XWave. The composition of that function is NeuroSky’s secret sauce, but based on independent studies, states of mind which are called “relaxation” or “meditation” are generally correlated with alpha, theta, and sometimes gamma activity. Alpha waves (8-12 Hz) are associated with a relaxed, but awake state, and easily elicited when the subject’s eyes are closed, or when he is watching TV. Theta waves (4-7 Hz), along with alpha waves, are reportedly correlated with practice of transcendental meditation. Gamma waves (30-100 Hz and higher) are reportedly elicited by Tibetan monks in “mindfulness meditation,” in which they concentrate deeply on one thing.

Neurogadget: How long did it take to develop your game? What’s the size of your team?

Deepa Iyengar: It took us 3 months to develop Tug of Mind, which included the learning curve of the development environment, the work with NeuroSky’s prototype iPhone API, and also the work with the Digimi team to adapt their head-creation technology for the iPhone. MindGames has six cofounders, including an MIT-trained professor of artificial intelligence, an MIT-trained neuroscientist, and a yoga and meditation educator.

The second part of this interview will be posted soon, stay tuned!



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