Sync players’ brains, even remotely

Collaboration in video games goes beyond what one might think.

If you’ve ever scored a great team goal in Missile Leagueacquired a site with surgical precision in counterattack or wipe out your enemy with a combination of relentless collaboration Multi-meetingyou know very well that coordination is essential in team video games.

And if you sometimes feel like you’re one with our playmates, it’s not just because you’re used to playing together; according to the Finnish researchers, it is also because the players’ brains are physically in tune with each other.

The brains of living beings, including humans, exhibit rhythmic electrical activity. When the intensity of these signals is measured, they can be broken down into different patterns that repeat over time; we’re talking about brain waves.

Their research is of great interest to clinicians. This neuroelectric activity, in fact, is an excellent indicator of the patient’s physiological and psychological health. In particular, by analyzing it through an electroencephalogram, it is possible to identify some neurological disorders such as epilepsy.

Brain waves, the mysterious ‘language’ of the brain

But the importance of these waves is not limited to diagnostics. The processes involved remain rather mysterious; but it has already been shown that they are directly related to numerous phenomena not necessarily related to a pathology.

More than a decade ago, for example, researchers showed that the brain waves of different subjects tended to synchronize during certain social interactions. Since then, other studies have shown that this synchronization is relationally significant. The more the neuroelectric activities of two individuals are synchronizedmore they can show empathy together or work effectively in a team.

Until now, all this work had a common denominator. They were always based on interactions between subjects who were physically present in the same place. However, this new study was based on a different approach. It made it possible to demonstrate for the first time that this phenomenon was absolutely not dependent on the physical proximity between the two partners.

Remote synchronized brain

To reach this conclusion, they selected 42 Finnish students who were asked to play a game where collaboration was essential. They had to drive together; the first member of the duo was in charge, while his colleague had to control the speed. After each round, the roles were reversed.

This is typically a situation that favors the synchronization of certain brain waves between the two players. Or at least they do when they play side by side. But here, the researchers were curious to see what would have happened on a neurological level if the players had engaged in the same activity while they were apart.

Each player was placed in a separate, soundproofed room. They were also not given headphones and therefore could not discuss verbally during the experiment at all. The only form of communication they had access to was the behavior of the car they were driving at the same time.

And it turns out that despite this separation, the researchers observed significant synchronization of some brain waves (the alpha, beta and gamma waves). The more synchronized the gamma waves were, the more impressive their short-term performance was. Statistically, it was the teams that showed strong alpha wave synchronization that achieved the best overall performance.

However, they had to make sure that it was not an anomaly in the procedure or a statistical bias. The researchers then formed new pairs with participants of similar skill level, but who had never played together. The timing here was not or was very weak.

video games
© JESHOOTS – Unsplash

Implications still unclear but already fascinating

These elements show that a team gradually builds this brain synchronization over the course of a common experience. So it’s not some kind of “innate understanding” between two players of the same level.

This study shows that brain synchronization also occurs in the context of online cooperative games and can be reliably measured says Valtteri Wikström, a neurobiologist at the University of Helsinki and lead author of the study.

According to the researchers, the concrete implications of this discovery are still rather vague. But if they knew the profound implications of this synchronization on social relationships, they could be quite advanced. Scientists think their work is a promising start; could allow the development of technologies with a positive impact on human bonds. And this even outside the context of video games.

If we can build interactive digital experiences that stimulate fundamental mechanisms of empathy, we can lead to better social relationships, well-being and even better online productivity. explain the authors.

We are not there yet; it will now be necessary to determine exactly which precise mechanisms facilitate this synchronization and under what conditions. But at least it’s a fascinating research horizon in our time where online social relationships have become the norm. Above all because science still lacks the perspective to adequately study the psychological and relational impact of these technologies.

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