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Wednesday, 8 May, 2002, 09:30 GMT 10:30 UK
Video games to help you relax
Racing to Relax game
The faster you relax, the faster you go
test hello test
BBC News Online's Alfred Hermida
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology staff
Most video games tend to get the pulse racing, but researchers in Dublin, Irish Republic, are working on developing games to help calm people.

Gary McDarby and his MindGames team at MediaLab Europe are looking at using gaming technology to aid people suffering from depression or trauma.

In their latest project, called Brainchild, you try to unlock a door simply through your brain waves.

"You are playing a video game but hopefully over time you would learn what is it that helps you relax," explained Dr McDarby.

Child nightmares

Dr McDarby came up with the idea of using technology to help people with disorders about 10 years ago when he was in Liberia.

Gary McDarby heads the MindGames group
McDarby: Wants to help troubled children
He came across a 12-year-old child soldier who was suffering from nightmares after taking part in a firing squad.

"I had a Walkman with an Enya tape so I suggested that he go to bed and listen to it to see if it calmed him and it actually helped him sleep," Dr McDarby told the BBC programme Go Digital.

"It made me think, 'imagine if you could have some kind of technology that you would know the effect it was having on you'. Now, 10 years later, we have a group looking at what is called affective feedback."

Dragon racing

One of games is a two-player dragon racing game called Relax To Win.

The idea is simple. Two electrodes are attached to a player's fingers and as the person relaxes, their dragon moves faster.

System uses galvanic skin response
Electrodes similar to ones used in lie detectors
The game uses galvanic skin response technology which works measuring the ability of the skin to conduct electricity. This changes as a person relaxes or tenses up and forms the basis for lie detector tests.

"As you relax, your dragon will walk, then run and then fly," Dr McDarby said.

"If you can get it to fly, it means you have got into a nice relaxed state.

"The technology is trying to make decisions to improve or enhance your state of mind," he explained.

The game takes place in a virtual 3D world set aboard a starship in space. The environment is designed to immerse the player, drawing more of their attention and making the feedback more effective.

"We're looking at a medium that a lot of people are drawn to and how we can use this constructively," he said.

Brainy approach

His team are now working on their next project, a game called Brainchild.

This measures brain reaction as well as galvanic skin response.

The player wears a cap packed with tiny sensors that pick up changes to brain wave patterns associated with concentration and relaxation.

During the game, the player is guided through a relaxation technique to unlock a door. The system reacts to the brain waves, making the game easier or harder, depending on how relaxed you are.

Brainchild is still being tested out, as the team is researching how far it can be used to help children with concentration or attention span difficulties.

See also:

18 Mar 02 | Education
Video games 'stimulate learning'
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