Gadgets

The mind-controlled movie experience

The monstrous dragon is lining up for another attack. We scramble for a footing on the gravel, our sword out of reach. This doesn't look promising. As the formidable beast coils to strike, we focus ourselves for one last effort.

Suddenly, a blast of flame smothers Keanu Reeves. The ruins of Feudal Japan melt away, replaced by an abrupt message: "YOU LOSE". It looks like we're not going to find out how 47 Ronin ends after all.

No, we're not really fighting mythological monsters with Hollywood A-listers. We're in an office in central London, an EEG system strapped to our forehead. Blue lines now flicker across the TV screen that depicted our fiery demise, measuring our the shift in our concentration as our focus moves from the CGI action to the room around us. This is the high-concept world of Myndplay, an entertainment experience straight out of a sci-fi fantasy.

Sympathy is on hand from founder Tre Azam. "You nearly had it!", he tells us. We lost our battle not because of our poor swordplay, but because of a lack of mental prowess. "Your concentration leading up to that sequence was perfect, you just lost it at the last minute!" He produces a stats readout to help us understand where our samurai 'zen' credentials fell short.

By placing two electrodes on our forehead, the Myndplay technology is able to monitor your concentration levels: the more focused your thoughts on a single, unwavering point, the higher the readings of the EEG. This allows Azam to devise gamified experiences with the EEG readings - with 47 Ronin the first major movie to incorporate the system. By repurposing some pre-existing battle sequences between Reeves and the dragon, the Myndplay system can take viewers to one of three alternative endings to the scene, depending on how well they were concentrating at set stages in the battle.

We restart the process to see if we can do any better - focusing this time on the single thought of punching the dragon between the eyes. Each time the Myndplay system takes a reading, we crease our brow and strain our mind - eventually emerging victorious.

It's an exhausting, satisfying experience, albeit a brief one. The demo gives an effective insight into how action-heavy titles like 47 Ronin could gain an entirely different level of audience engagement, though Azam assures us that less aggressive titles could also work. "It's really up to the film makers as to how it could be incorporated," he explains. "You could have an entire audience decide the outcome of a film, as to whether the protagonist makes their choices, goes through the left or right door, joins one group or another."

Don't expect Myndplay films to start arriving in cinemas any time soon - the tech needs some serious uptake form content producers before that happens. But we wouldn't be surprised if we find ourselves comparing EEG scores in the next few years.

47 Ronin is available on Blu-ray and DVD with UltraViolet™ from 12 May 2014