Materiality of Gaming/Learning

Slashdot has got around to linking to OCZ’s Neural Impulse Actuator (NIA) a brain-computer interface. Reviews of the NIA have been floating around for a while. The review on is interesting because in the introduction the impact of the device is framed in terms of existing interface devices:

When we first heard of OCZ’s interesting “brain-computer” interface a couple of years ago, we couldn’t help but have visions of The Matrix. The very notion of controlling a computer with the mind conjures up images of exotic, fictional technologies from sci-fi movies. We were also slightly skeptical about the NIA’s ability to improve our gaming experience, even if it were to work as advertised. Don’t get us wrong, controlling the computer hands-free with our mind sure sounds neat, but we really like our mice, keyboards and gamepads. Perhaps we’re old fashioned but there is at least one member of the HotHardware team that thinks the keyboard and mouse are the only input devices you will ever need, well at least for the foreseeable future.

I find this interesting because it indicates the emergence of a gamer habitus (albeit PC gaming). This section from the conclusion also reminds me of a section from Jennifer Daryl Slack’s essay on The Matrix and ‘becoming-adolescence’:

While we spent most of our time testing the NIA with fast FPS games where response time is of the utmost importance, it can be just as useful in other genres. In a RTS, you could use the NIA to bind build orders and unit commands. With a RPG, you can finally launch magical abilities the way they were meant to be cast, with your mind. The NIA is certainly not limited to games either. The highly versatile configuration utility and driver software allow the NIA to be used in any environment, including the Windows desktop. The NIA could become the center of your experience or it could just as easily act like a third hand, it’s up to you.

Unfortunately, the NIA isn’t without caveats. Before you can enjoy the unique gaming experience provided by the NIA, you’ll need to slog through day upon day of training to build up your skill with the device. Thankfully, training often involves nothing more than playing games. This is definitely the hardest game controller to master on any platform. The need to calibrate before each session is also a bit of a drag. However, if you persist, you’ll be rewarded with a truly unique experience. How many people can claim they won a game of Pong without using their hands or feet?

Training is not meant to be something that takes ‘days’. From Slack’s essay:

Learning With Eyes Closed
Resisting the prison of the everyday Matrix requires knowledge, information, and training. Education is generally acknowledged here to be crucial. One has to know how to fight, how to fly a helicopter, how to leap from one tall building to the next in a single bound, and so on. Members of the resistance acquire this knowledge plugged into a computer downloading programs. In his initial training session Neo is hooked up to learn in this fashion. In this fantastically speeded up and transformed version of neurolinguistic programming, a mind not only learns, but a body becomes something knowledgeable. In this way, Neo learns Kung Fu in a matter of mere moments. Then strapped into their chairs, he and Morpheus fight in virtual space. In this fight, we witness the transformation of Neo from a skinny, night-owlish computer hacker to a trim, muscular; and extraordinarily skilled Kung Fu artist. One does not need to learn the old way, where learning Kung Fu involved a lifetime of discipline and effort, of training and apprenticeship, of success and failure. One learns by sitting back and letting the machine do the work.
[Learning] in The Matrix happens to you, almost without exertion. You sit passively in a chair and the learning comes to you. What remains of exertion is slight. Downloading is exhausting, both on the mind and the body. Tank takes Neo through ten hours of “training” at his first session and is impressed by Neo’s endurance, declaring with delight, “he’s a machine.” But what we see is Neo sitting in a chair, eyes closed, getting “jolted” with knowledge. He has sort of a momentary hangover afterwards that doesn’t appear to be particularly taxing or to have any long-term effects. (pp. 18, 20)