Valve looks to the future with Brain Computer Interfacing


Let’s jump right into our topic. Valve owner and co-found Gabe Newell says that wearable brain-computer interfaces (BCI) are the future of gaming. In an interview with New Zealand’s 1 News, Newell reveals that Valve is working with OpenBCI on an open-source BCI software. This caught my attention because it sounds like a development straight out of a science fiction story. Even Newell admits that interfacing directly with a computer sounds “indistinguishable from science fiction.” He insists that developers would be making a silly mistake ignoring the area.

The first idea behind the software is immersion. Using a BCI, gameplay will adapt and shape around a user’s emotions at any given time. The example given is a difficulty increase if the BCI detects that players are feeling bored. I’m intrigued by the level of innovation that would bring to a video game. Imagine a video game that piles on the horror as it feels your brain screaming, “This is terrifying!” 

The headsets will, in theory, read our body and brains and communicate whether we are excited, sad, amused, among a wide range of emotions.

Valve dives deeper into science fiction territory

Valve - Logo

If it stopped at merely reading the signals in my brain, I might want one. However, Newell intends to figure out how to write signals to a person’s brain rather than reading them. Talking about our ability to experience video games, he says we are limited by our physical body – our “meat peripherals,” as he puts it. “The real world will seem flat, colorless, blurry compared to the experiences you’ll be able to create in people’s brains,” Newell says. Visual fidelity is a huge selling point here. We do experience the world through our eyes, and Newell wants to remove that limitation. 

He goes on to add, “Where it gets weird is when who you are becomes editable through a BCI.” Newell hypothesizes that BCIs can help us in areas like sleep. “One of the early applications I expect we’ll see is improved sleep – sleep will become an app that you run where you say, ‘Oh, I need this much sleep, I need this much REM,” he says. Beyond that, 1 News says another benefit could be reducing or total removal of unwanted feelings or conditions from the brain.

Will we trust brain-to-computer interfaces?

Newell knows that people won’t readily trust something like this. Developers will need to make sure the software is secure. From what? Oh, that’s another can of worms. He points out that modern-day handlers of our financial and personal data screw up, driving consumer acceptance off a cliff. In one chilling hypothetical, he says, “Nobody wants to say, ‘Oh, you know, remember Bob? Remember when Bob got hacked by the Russian malware? Man, that sucked; is he still running naked through the forests?’ 

I’m not one for opening my mind up to hackers, should this become a reality. While Valve won’t release this technology to consumers anytime soon, Valve isn’t the only company looking at making a headset. Elon Musk is working on Neuralink, a product that begins with a microchip connected directly to the human brain. 

That’s a no from me.

Will Valve deliver a .Hack experience?

.Hack//GU Recode Game

The more I think about BCIs, the more I wonder if we’re heading toward a .Hack (pronounced Dot Hack) scenario. The .Hack series spanned anime, manga, novels, and video games and centers around a VR location called “The World.” Players enter as avatars they create, they choose their class, and then they interact on servers. The players wear headsets in the real world, but some fall into comas and cannot log out of the game. Their consciousness remains in their avatar, of course. I’ve heard Sword Art Online is similar, but I’m old school.

dot Hack Sign
.Hack//Sign Anime

As unrealistic as that is, I’ve always wanted the .Hack experience to be real, minus a virus causing a blackout that traps me in a game. BCIs may or may not help push us in that direction, but I’m not as eager to give it a try. It all sounds invasive – I don’t want people I know inside my head. Don’t expect me to let a video game shape itself around my feelings or an app to edit who I am. 

I could use a sleep app, though.