Not Your Average Game

Video gamers have a new challenge to face—something that may be just as strong or as weak as they consider their selves to be.

Avid fans of videogames are often stereotyped, and to an extent, with good reason.

Put in a decent couch, a big enough screen, your choice of gaming console, the right HD game and you’re all set. For some, there are even headsets involved, jeers intended for good and clean fun, included to mimic what group play would typically involve if one where in real-life battles. All of these are done usually within the comforts of one’s own room.

Well, despite other portable gaming handsets, for the average video game nerd, there IS one huge discrepancy that puts portable game devices at a disadvantage.

Compared with the good old-fashioned game controllers that boast vibrating mechanisms that activates to let you know when you’re up against an enemy, or when you’ve been hit or in the process of dying, research from a German institute have come up with a newer force to be reckoned with, even for the fiercest of video game nerds.

Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS), also known as neuromuscular electrical stimulation, is a process that elicits muscle contraction by means of applying machine-generated electrical impulses onto the target muscles. Such results are achieved by attaching electrodes onto the skin directly, as the impulse sent through mimic the very signals that the central nervous system uses to control muscle groups.

And although EMS has many other uses—such as those used in training and therapy for athletes—what perhaps may be a bit more unlikely purpose has now been set up for the avid gamer.

From Hasso Plattner Institute, researcher Pedro Lopes and his colleagues have decided to utilize EMS as the new dare for the gamers. Foregoing the more traditional vibrating controllers, electrodes instead are attached to a player’s forearm that sends the electric stimulation needed to garner a “contradictory” response. This response thus challenges the player to go against the impulse and gain control of the game. This “fight” reaction basically means that as the EMS stimulates a certain muscle—for example, your palm flexor muscle that compels one to tilt the controller one way—other muscles allow you to “fight” this response and tilt the controller the other way.

After all the advances in graphics and sounds that satisfies two of the major senses employed in playing, perhaps Lopes’ team found a better way of catering to the third and crucial part of providing the best virtual experience that today’s advances can put together—without compromising the size and mobility of game devices.

According to Lopes’ website boasting this research, typical video games depend upon the mechanics of providing the “reality” component of a game through stunning visuals, life-like sounds, and at best, a grumbling sort of controller to let you know when you’re at a crucial point of your virtual life. However, that grumbling device requires a certain physical bulk to accommodate the mechanics of such force feedback.

“We propose mobile force feedback by eliminating motors and instead actuating the user’s muscles using electrical stimulation,” Lopes quotes in his site.

In this manner, it is no longer just us against the machine. In fact, the machine is using our own system against us. In a more efficient and energy-saving method, we can forego the size and bulk of a game console or controller. This implies a better future for games and their “masters” when complicated gaming consoles can now be miniaturized in a way that emphasizes mobility without compromising the ultimate gaming experience for avid players.

~M. A. Gumapac

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