The Somatic Vision Games
Peter Van Deusen
Somatic Vision offers what are clearly the graphically most sophisticated of the available options. Inner Tube, Particle Editor and Dual Drive Extreme. Each of these costs $395 on brain-trainer, but they are probably most like what your clients are accustomed to seeing. There are very good graphics, multiple options and levels and the ability to add interactive control through joystick or keyboard.
Inner Tube offers a series of levels of flying various designs of space ships (I guess) through a variety of environments that appear to be maybe alien intestines or weird tunnels. Depending on how the client does with the training challenge, the tunnel gets darker or lighter (or more or less transparent), the ship goes faster or slower and the steering works better or worse. Throughout the tunnel there are shapes hanging in space which give you points when you fly through them. At higher levels there are shapes you want to get and others you want to miss. There is, for old guys like me, the option of just letting the program handle the steering, but for many clients the pleasure comes in steering the ship. The few times I tried that, I alternated between scraping the ceiling and the floor and the walls of the tunnel, managing to miss almost all the points. You are timed on your flight, gaining time or losing it depending on your performance.
Dual Drive Xtreme is a racing game which offers a variety of cars and environments to race through, with the option of racing against the clock or against another racer. I never tried having two clients compete, but lots of kids like racing against the computer. You can set level of difficulty to make the computer racer drive like your grandmother up to the level of, say, a formula one racer. The cars can flip over, run into obstacles, etc. and, as in Inner Tube, you can have a sound track and/or music or turn them off.
Particle Editor is probably the most “adult” of the games, with colorful displays and mood music—not so much the race against time feel as the other two games. I haven’t used it personally, but I’ve seen clients use it and it has, like the other Somatic Vision games, a lot of options and great graphic and sound environments.
It should be pretty obvious what the benefit of the Somatic Vision offerings is: They look and feel much more like video games than most the other options. From the trainer’s point of view they offer nearly endless options for setting up the various elements of the feedback. In Inner Tube, for example you can set different measures to control the level of fog in the tunnel, the exhaust from the ship, the steering control, the brightness in the tunnel, level of transparency, speed, etc. In fact, if you spend the money for one of these games, be prepared to spend some time getting comfortable with implementing them in your designs (they come with a help manual.). They use the Server object as their interface to BioExplorer, so you can send a variety of signals (yes/no, like the pass/fail output from a threshold or percentage values from the Ratio output, percent scoring, etc.) into the server and then define in the game what each controls. This is very cool once you get the hang of it and have set up your server objects in a variety of your designs.
It also brings me to, from my point of view, the downside of the games: the relationship between the brain activity and the feedback is so complex and multifaceted that I never really got the feel for what I was doing that made the game work. There is a school of neurofeedback which says that doesn’t matter and that the brain can figure it out. I adhere to that school when I’m talking about raising or lowering, for example, temporal high beta and getting MIDI tone feedback. But I do find myself wondering how the brain makes the connections between the multiple feedback elements and the various signal measures that “control” them. I suspect trainers who have used the games more than I would have a better sense of that and probably would develop more or less complex strategies for setting up all the options (I often found myself using the same input to control various of the feedback options to keep it relatively simple).
These games are definitely for computers with solid graphics cards and plenty or RAM. The older processors may have difficulty keeping up with their demands, but most newer computers should be fine with them.
Bottom line, if you are working a lot with sophisticated gaming kids or young adults, the Somatic Vision offerings may well be worth their stiff price-tag because of the beautiful implementation of their concepts. Just don’t step into them with the expectation that setting them up will be like choosing PacMan in a Flash Player. They require a commitment of trainer time and attention to how clients seem to respond best to them in order to really work up to their potential, but my best guess with the experience I have with them is that they very likely reward the investment.