Monday, June 24, 2013

We're gonna turn it on. We're gonna bring you the power.

Holy crap! Is that Morgan Freeman?

For those of you who absolutely can't bear to lose at videogames, you now have a new way to win.

For only $249 the company FOC.US is selling a headset that will run an electric current through your brain (specifically, the prefrontal cortex). Their website says it will "increase the plasticity of your brain. Make your synapses fire faster." They're marketing it as a way to improve your videogame skills for the "ultimate gaming experience."


It also comes with an iPhone app to control your jolts. And it's in your choice of red or black.

"Now I can kick my boyfriend's ass at Call of Duty."

Now, I'm not going to knock the uses of electrical brain stimulation. This is an area that's currently undergoing a lot of research as a way to treat disease and help people recover from strokes and other causes of brain damage.

But, on the other hand, let's keep a few things in mind:

1. This is electricity, for fuck's sake. It's dangerous.

2. We used to execute people with this.

3. If winning at Halo is that important, you need to get out more.

I'm sure people from FOC.US will point out that their gadget uses a low level of juice, which isn't going to hurt you (on the other hand, I have no idea if it will help. The last video game I mastered was Atari Adventure).

I have to be a bit skeptical about its benefits. I mean, the internet is full of people selling herbs, magnets, and who knows what else as ways to improve your performance at work, the gym, and in bed. Most have nothing more behind them than some half-assed data and anecdotal claims. While I think the jury is still out on cortical electricity, that doesn't make their claims true.

Another issue is that for many people, after you've plunked down a boatload of money for a game system, they don't have $249 to blow on this gadget. So what do they do?

Well, according to a recent editorial in Nature there's concern that people will start doing this as a do-it-yourself project. You could wire up with some batteries at home, or whatever you can find in the garage. There are even companies selling DIY kits for it online. This is where I think the editorial has its best line:

"That’s ‘could’ as in ‘you might be able to’, by the way; not ‘could’ as in ‘it’s a good idea’."

Granted, that's never stopped anyone from doing stupid stuff. Bigger, in the general perception, must be better. If a little battery can improve your score, then shouldn't plugging into your home's AC current be great? By the time you're playing an X-Box hopefully your parents have pulled those plastic things from the outlets that kept you from sticking a fork in them. The target audience here isn't known for being averse to risk.

What could possibly go wrong?

"Mario and Luigi, here I come!"

I also have to worry about how far this could go. What if electricity does clearly improve brain performance? Can't you just see pushy parents wanting to plug their kids in to get a better SAT score? Or a med school gunner wearing some shockware into a test, disguised as earplugs?

This could end up as the academic equivalent of athletic steroids. The next cheating scandal could be some guy tossed out of a math competition for illegal wiring.

Lance was stripped of his high school math letters when it came out he'd been "volting."

So, in closing, my point is this: low-level trans-cortical electrical may have medical utility (personally, I suspect it does). But if that "may" makes you want to shell out more money just to beat your brother at Grand Theft Auto V, then I've got some buildings in Rungholt to sell you.

"Superman warned me the electrodes would do this. Why didn't I listen?"

Thank you, SMOD!


Wendy at Taking the Long Way Home said...

Looks like a form of ECT! What would be really helpful is if this device actually helped video game addicts develop an aversion to playing. It could be one step towards curbing obesity. And now that obesity has been declared an official disease, maybe insurance would pay for the treatment.

How long does it take to become a surgeon said...

As you said, regardless of the possible uses of something like this, the fact that it is marketed toward gamers makes it look absolutely ridiculous. I can understand stimulants and so on for research, study, etc., things that are actually useful. I can even understand (to some extent) subjecting the body to steroids and other performance enhancing drugs to be the best at a given sport. But for video games? Ridiculous.

My brother, a gamer who sort of follows the scene, tells me that it's not uncommon for top players to use fairly large amounts of amphetamines to ensure top performance in competition. Again, ridiculous.

PediNP may be onto something with her idea, though.

Anonymous said...

I have to say, with this kind of technology your brain will be totally FOC-ed.

Mog said...

There's been tDCS communities doing homebrew stuff for a year or so. That thread has nice example of "Hey, that thing you build will probably kill you".

So yeah, is new (they say they're going to start shipping next month, and the /r/tDCS subreddit just went private. Wonder if that's related. Maybe the moderator's trying to hide evidence of scraping the homebrew community to start his own business?

Oh, from what I understand the effects of the electricity increase learning for a little while, hours to day, maybe? And the end effect is a permanent gain in skill level. So I'm guessing you're not going to find people wired up in tests, though maybe in class.

a.generic doc said...

The do it yourself builders are Darwin Awards winners waiting to happen.

gina said...

Just wanted to give a shout out for the Atari Adventure game. Woo!! :) (My personal wordpress blog is called The Enchanted Chalice, LOL)

Silliyak said...

Oh man! You mastered Atari Adventure? You're ahead of me bro

Anonymous said...

If its not ARTISANAL I'm OUT!

Moose said...

The first thing this always makes me think of is Niven's wireheads ( - although the "real life" versions are just as creepy).

Moose said...

p.s. and there's no way I'm gonna try this unless it comes with Easy Reader, and Rita Moreno yelling, "HEY YOU GUYYYYYYYYSSSS!!!"

Don said...

I don't know if magnets do anything or not,

But, basic electrical theory, if a magnetic field is placed near a conductor, and there is relative motion, an electrical potential will be induced.

Electrical potential = voltage

So place a magnet on your arm, you will induce a voltage in your body. How much depends on the strength of the magnet and the speed/quantity of the blood moving past it.

Whether this does anything medically, that is another question.

I don't use magnets personally

Nana said...

When my grandfather was a little boy in Albany, the tough / stupid Jewish boys and the tough / stupid Irish boys would dare each other to grab the free ends of electric circuits. This was in 1890 or so ... glad to see that some things haven't changed.

Ms. Donna said...

I'll remain cautiously optimistic. IF this can help people w/ stroke and other memory loss, I will be the first test subject. (I don't look like a Norway rat, but . . . )

But gamers? For Pete's sake! Get a life. And as for med school gunners, if the effects last permanently (I am guessing not right now) OK. In face if results are permanent, pts will be asking their MDs if they use electrode-enhanced memory.

Greg said...

It's actually Morgan Freeman *and* Bill Cosby...

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one that looked at "FOC.US" and split it into two words at the period?

Jaxxy said...

This may sound harsh, but if someone is stupid enough to attempt a DIY version of this and fries him/herself in an attempt to beat someone at Mortal Combat, then maybe that's just a modern version of natural selection at work. Just saying.

Anonymous said...

wait - wait - let me pull out my copy of

to check something . . .

Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

Patti Cadwallader said...

You know they'll come out in a few months and say it causes cancer.

Anonymous said...

area of stroke research is interesting, and very low voltage, however, there is soooo much room for DARWIN award "players"...

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