Sci-Tech

Classic game Pong pings diagnoses of brain disorders

Technically Incorrect: Researchers from the University of Chicago say that the 1970s Atari game can help in understanding how eyes move and therefore whether there might be clues into diagnosing diseases such as Parkinson's.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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Pong isn't just a game anymore. Ruthe.de/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

It seems so simple, just as the game itself did.

Researchers at the University of Chicago put their brains together to wonder how they could better diagnose brain disorders such as Parkinson's and autism.

They hit upon Pong. Perhaps you remember the maddeningly simple Atari game that made little blip noises, as you watched a ball go from one end of the screen to the other, with only one means of batting the ball back.

Now, these researchers believe that Pong is an excellent way of tracking eye movement.

In presenting their work today at the Brain Research Foundation's Neuroscience Day, the researchers show how they have people playing Pong, while their eye movements are examined with the use of a Dual Purkinje Image eye tracker.

In this way, they hope to look at the eye's target, its gaze and the time it takes to register objects in motion. What they are already discovering is that when the movement of an object is predictable, then human gaze behavior doesn't necessarily work along normal decision-rule parameters.

If you wonder that such research sounds frivolous, here's just one sentence from the abstract: "If the target trajectory can be extrapolated into the future because its motion is predictable, then pursuit and saccades may be coordinated to maximize both visual information and tracking performance." (A saccade is a sudden, swift simultaneous movement of both eyes between two fixation points.)

The researchers aren't only interested in seeing how this might affect serious health conditions. They also believe that understanding this brain-eye coordination will help design better car dashboards and even Web pages.

They describe their work as "non-traditional." However, if classic games can suddenly gain a second life in saving a life or making one better, who could have even predicted that?