Music, Nintendo Wii, Rhythm Games

Over on Wyymi I have an article on how dancing, the cerebellum and language are linked: The Dancing Brain.

Whilst we have found creatures in the animal kingdom than exhibit human like behavior from tool use to waging war, we have never found an animal that makes music and dances to it. Why is this and what part does it play in making us human?

Balance & Coordination, Rhythm Games, Wii Fit

A while ago I mentioned Audiosurf, in an article called Rhythm Games Are Taking Over The World

One of the award winning games is Audiosurf. Its not strictly a rhythm game but it music is an integral part of the game play. Its a simple premise, steer a spacecraft down a twisting, turning track collecting some coloured blocks whilst avoiding others. The twist is that the race track is generated from the music you choose to play from your MP3 collection. So you can have a fast and furious race course by selecting some thumping guitar or a slow, easy route if you choose a crooner like Frank Sinatra. What’s more, every time you race, the track and your score is uploaded to a server on the net and you can compare your music and your scores with others around the world.

I’ve have also mentioned the Wii Balance Board a few times, most recently in the article The Future of Cerebellum Training

However, the Wii Fit balance board can also be made work with PC’s and Macs. At the moment the software is a hack, a quick & dirty solution, but over the next few months these will stabilize and become easier to work with. Now, any one with a bit of programming skills and a good knowledge of cerebellum training could create a great dyslexia / ADHD orientated training program. One that personalises the training plan every time it is used, not once every six weeks.

Now I get to mention these two great ideas in one go with Bodysurf. Using GlovePie as an interface, the balance board is connected to a PC and used to play Audiosurf. You can see it in action on this video clip.

For a different hack of the Wii balance board, check out this video of German researchers using it to surf over the word using Google Earth.

ADD / ADHD, ADD / ADHD Diagnosis, ADD / ADHD Medication, ADD / ADHD Treatment, Digital Fitness, Dore Achievement Centres, Dyslexia, Dyslexia Testing & Diagnosis, Dyslexia Treatment, Dyspraxia, Medication, Memory, Music, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, Rhythm Games, Wii Fit

One of the reasons I started this blog was because I was interested in creating a cerebellum training program that was quicker, more effective than Dore. Myomancy was my notebook of interesting technology and relevant science. Over the years I’ve examined many different approaches to the treatment of dyslexia and ADHD. Some were simply nonsense, others had promise but were lacking the scientific, technological or business resources to make them viable. Some lacked the ethical honesty necessary when selling products to parents desperately worried about their children.

Slowly overtime I refined my ideas about how cerebellum training should work and how a independent company without much in the way financial resources could develop and sell such a product in an ethical manner. One main stumbling block has been the cost and availability of the technology necessary to track a user’s limb movements and balance. So I’ve been watching the progress of the Wii and latterly the Wii Fit with interest. The technology needed for cerebellum training was finally cheaply and readily available. What’s more many people already own it.

Originally I intended to make an announcement after slowly develop a proof of concept over the next few months but with the collapse of Dore and the shadow that will cast over the cerebellum training field, I’ve decided to move my plans forward. So I’m pleased to announced the creation of WyyMi, a project to create a free, open-source, open-science cerebellum training program.

What is WyyMi?
WyyMi is a project to develop a cerebellum training program to help people with dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia and similar educational problems.

Project Goals
To develop a system that cost nothing (or as close to nothing as possible) to use; to do it using open-source software; and to make freely available as much scientific evidence on its effectiveness as possible.

How Will It Work?
The idea is to use cheap and easily available computer hardware that can monitor and assess gross motor movements and balance. At the moment the Wii Remote and Wii Fit Balance Board seem the best candidates but they need to be adapted to work on PCs and Macs because the Wii console itself is difficult to develop for.

Using this hardware and software on the website, users will be perform a series of exercises. The amount of time spent training and the accuracy of the user’s movement will be logged on the server so that the user can track their progress and so the server can inform the user which exercises to do next. This data will also be aggregated, made anonymous and published so that it can be analyzed by any interested 3rd party. Ideally, symptom specific measures (e.g. spelling tests) will also be included so that the training programs effectiveness in treating educational problems can be measured.

Other than a broad statement of goals and the planned route for achieving them, there is nothing else on site at the moment. Progress is likely to slow, not least because I am working on another project at the moment as well maintaining my existing portfolio of web sites. If you wish to help in anyway, please see the announcement for ways you can contribute, not matter what your skills are.

Myomancy will be continuing to report on anything and everything I think is relevant to dyslexia, ADHD and autism. Obviously as I am planning to create my own training program, that might create a conflict of interest when discussing other people’s approach. I will try and be as unbiased as possible and make my conflict of interest clear.

Music, Rhythm Games, Sports

Apologies for another quick post but work-related project combined with the death a family member is leaving very little time for the in-depth examination I want to do.

Run to the Beat is an interesting example of music and its role in psychology. Its a half-marthon where music is part of the run. Taking the idea of running whilst listening to an iPod to its logical conclusion, Run To The Beat plan to have live music playing along the course but carefully chosen to fit the needs of the runners at that point.

1. During sub-maximal running, music can narrow attention and, as a consequence, divert your mind from sensations of fatigue. This lowers your perception of effort and is a technique known as dissociation. This phenomenon can promote more positive mood through encouraging you to avoid thoughts that relate to the physical symptoms of fatigue. Also, music increases positive aspects of mood such as vigour and happiness but reduces negative aspects such as tension and depression.

2. Music alters emotional and physiological arousal and can therefore be applied as a type of stimulant or sedative prior to competition to ease your nerves and curb your anxiety. In such instances, the music is used before running to help you achieve the right mindset. Some athletes use very upbeat music to psych-up while others use slow-tempo music to psych-down. Music is considered by some athletes as a “legal drug” with the added advantage of no unwanted side effects!

3. Numerous studies have shown that the synchronisation of music with repetitive exercise results in increased levels of work output. This applies to activities such as rowing, cycling and cross-country skiing as well as running. Musical tempo can regulate movement and reduce the energy expenditure or “oxygen uptake” required during running. Recent research shows that during moderate intensity exercise synchronous music can help to reduce energy expenditure by 6%.

4. The rhythmical qualities of music emulate the pattern of some physical skills. Therefore, music can enhance the acquisition of motor skills and create a better learning environment. Essentially, the performance of running drills can be improved by the presence of background music while, during a long run, music can enhance your technique and make you a more efficient athlete.

Digital Fitness, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, Rhythm Games, Sony PSP

The 10th Annual Independent Games Festival has been a treasure trove of rhythm games and examples of how games could be included in education.

One of the award winning games is Audiosurf. Its not strictly a rhythm game but it music is an integral part of the game play. Its a simple premise, steer a spacecraft down a twisting, turning track collecting some coloured blocks whilst avoiding others. The twist is that the race track is generated from the music you choose to play from your MP3 collection. So you can have a fast and furious race course by selecting some thumping guitar or a slow, easy route if you choose a crooner like Frank Sinatra. What’s more, every time you race, the track and your score is uploaded to a server on the net and you can compare your music and your scores with others around the world.

Audiosurf introduces a couple of interesting concepts. It allows the user to completely control the level of difficulty through their song selection. A recording of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star will be vastly easier than anything by Motorhead. To see an example of this, watch this video of Audiosurf for Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. The beginning is slow and mellow but later on (about 4:15 mins Wayne’s World fans) it kicks into serious headbanging guitar and everything gets much harder.

The other interesting aspect of selecting your own music is the possibility of Mozart Effect. I don’t refer to the much hyped and oversold Mozart Effect range of products but the more general principal than music, particularly complex classical music, has in the neurological development of children. There is good, but not overwhelming evidence, that music can help calm and mentally stimulate children. I’m willing to be that if the Mozart Effect is real, it will be enhanced if the children are exposed to it as part of an interactive game.

Winner of the Best Student Game at the Independent Games Festival was Synaesthete. In this free-to-download PC game, the player explores an abstract landscape populated by monsters and other dangers. To destroy the creatures you can fire a variety of attacks at them. The twist being that to attack them, you need to press keys in time with the backing music. What sets this game apart from rhythm games like Guitar Hero, is the level of choice the player has. With Guitar Hero, to score point you must play all the notes in time with the music. In Synaesthete, you can choose which notes to play, e.g. just the back beat, and your choice will effect which attacks you make. You can also simply explore the enviroment, avoiding the monsters.

What sets Synaesthete and Patapon (which we covered a couple of weeks ago), apart is that the rhythmic aspect of the game have been shifted from being the aim of the game to a simple game mechanic. The difference between these two points is subtle but important. In a traditional rhythm game, you score points by playing in time with the music so getting good at the rhythm is everything. When rhythm is reduced to a mechanic, the aim of the game is to explore the level, defeat the enemy tribe or rescue the princess. To do this the player has to learn rhythmic skills but these are combined with other skills and tactics in order to achieve the game’s objective.

Reducing the rhythmic element to the game to a mechanic makes the game more appealing to those with poor rhythmic skills. To use an analogy, if you asked people to learn to climb a cliff for the sake of climbing a cliff, some people would set out and learn how to climb because it looks fun. However, most will simply walk away because the reward for all that effort of learning to climb is not worth it. But, if you told people that hidden on the cliff face were a variety of prizes: money, computer games, cars etc, then far more people will learn to climb because of the rewards are worthwhile. Even people with a fear of heights would learn to climb if the prizes are ones that appeal to them. Climbing has now become a way of achieving a goal rather than the goal itself.

This distinction is lost on many educational game makers. Take for for example the traditional game of Hangman. In this the objective is to spell / guess a word and it certainly helps develop language skills. But those with weak language skills, who would most benefit from it, will be put off. They are being asked to learn to climb, simply for the sake of climbing a cliff. To reach those who most need this help, the spelling aspect must be something they learn on the way to a goal that interests the child. For more why and how games attract and keep players, see Raph Koster’s Theory of Fun. For an strange looking word game (its not clear exactly how it works) from the IGF have a look at Poesysteme.

The next rhythm game from the IGF is Cinnamon Beats. Its a puzzle game more than a rhythm game but rhythm is a key ingredient. It is not available yet and hard to describe as I’ve not played it but it involves bouncing balls off musical instruments and other objects so that they make the right noise at the right time.

One last rhythm game is Fretnice. I cannot find much about it other than the game is controlled using the guitar’s from Guitar Hero. The limited blurb suggests its a rhythm game where you are “playing the game as if it was a rock song”. Watch this trailer:

Finally, there is Crayon Physics Deluxe. Its a puzzle game using 2d physics similar to Phun except whereas Phun is just a sandbox for experimentation, Crayon Physics is a game with an objective. It looks a great way to teach problem solving skills to young children.

All these games show the possibility of teaching skills through inventive game play. The holy grail is to develop a game that teaches something obviously useful (e.g. spelling) in such a way that even those with poor language skills will want to keep playing it long after the lesson has finished.

Digital Fitness, Dyslexia, Music, Rhythm Games

An interesting example of how technology is changing music, except this one is aim at small children. Imprint Talk

Japanese magazine for the first graders, “Shougaku Ichinensei“, covers popular Mangas and some educational stuff. Every issue, there is a special supplement to the magazine, but the latest issue’s supplement was way too cool “Finger Piano”.

The original article has video of a child trying it but more impressive is this video of an adult using it to play When The Saints Go Marching In.

The quality of sound the device makes is poor but this is a toy given away on the cover of a magazine. For $10 or so it would be possible to manufacture a device with better sound and include an LCD display that teaches the user how to play a tune.

Such a device would help dyslexic children and other children with sound sensitivities who can be overwhelmed by typical classroom teaching. Even one-on-one teaching can be futile because of the demands it places in the child. To play a piano the child has to listen to what the teacher is saying, find the right notes on the keyboard, press them in time and in the right order, and listen to the sound of the notes they have just played. All this is needs to happen at the same time. A difficult task for someone with an underdeveloped cerebellum.

A device that allowed the child to learn one their own, at the own pace, and gives feedback or score as to how well they are doing would make learning music so much easier.

Digital Fitness, Nintendo DS, Rhythm Games

Guitar Hero on the Nintendo DS

It seems the Nintendo DS was made for music. Not only does it have its own classic Korg MS-10 Synth but it will soon have Guitar Hero. In case you’ve missed it, Guitar Hero is a rhythm game with special controllers shaped like guitars. Play the game is somewhere between play the air guitar and play a real guitar. Its great fun with friends and a great way of learning rhythm.

Full details can be found on Guitar Hero Comes to DS

Digital Fitness, Rhythm Games

Typical. You wait ages for one system to control computers by brain power to come along and then two come at long at once. Following hot on the heels of Emotiv’s brain scanning headset there is the Neural Impulse Actuator (or NIA for short). Details are still sketchy but it looks like the headset is of a simpler design than Emotiv’s and costs about the same ($300 is being suggested). There are a couple of videos of NIA in action on YouTube but they don’t show you much. Here is the best one

From brain to body for the next bit of future technology. I wrote a few days ago how the technology in the iPhone can change education because the possibilities for a great device to teach rhythm and memory skills. One aspect of the iPhone I forgot is that it has a movement sensor so that it can tell when its being tilted or turned. Some dedicated hackers have used the accelerometer as a game controller. Have a look at this video.

By tilting the iPhone he is controlling the way the blocks fall. Its easy to see how this technology can be expand to train people’ss spatial awareness. Rather than torturous exercises where you have imagine if shape X can be rotated to fit in hole Y, the player simply rotes the iPhone until they can get it to fit. This combine mental skills with their physical counterpart and can it be wrapped up in a good game design that encourages people to train their brain.

Interview: The Next Big Puzzle Game Wave? iPhone + Accelerometer!

ADD / ADHD, ADD / ADHD Treatment, Digital Fitness, Nintendo Wii, Rhythm Games, Wii Fit

A couple of days ago I posted about a theoretical iLearn device based on iPhone technology. The main point being that cheap, powerful technology can be used to teach small children basic skills such as rhythm. Today a firm called Emotiv Systems have announced a cheap ($300 is cheap for this technology) headset that monitors brain activity for controlling games.

Biofeedback using devices that monitor brain activity has been tried to treat a number of neurological problems including ADHD. Play Attention are the market leaders in this area with their $1700 dollar system. Good scientific research in this area is thin on the ground (see this for more detail) but the idea is sound in principal. If you can learn to clam your mind, the problems of impulsiveness and hyperactivity should be reduced.

If there is some way combine Emotiv’s headset with the electronic balance board in Wii Fit then you have the basis of a very effective brain and body training system. With well designed games and a gradual progression from easy to hard, such a system should be able teach children to calm their minds and control their bodies at the same time. This would bring the same improvement in control as, say, learning a martial art to a high level but in a form that is easier to learn, with better feedback and generally more convenient. For the company that gets this right, there is a multi-billion dollar market to be taken from the drug firms.

Source: Brain control headset for gamers