Mattel launches thought-controlled circular ping-pong game

"Concentration" meets neuroscience.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
2 min read

This is really cool, and really dumb at the same time: Mattel's new Mindflex game lets you control the height of a floating ball with your mind as you navigate it through hoops, cages, and hurdles on a circular racetrack. The goal is to move the little orb around the customizable course as quickly as you can (you control the speed of rotation with a hand-operated knob). The device keeps score for several people.

Conentrate, Luke. Mattel

Control is by brainwave. A headset measures the level of your concentration, and the more you concentrate, the faster a little fan spins that's blowing the ball up in the air, which controls its height.

I tried a similar, experimental product at a trade show in Sweden about six years ago. It was a head-to-head (sorry) game in which two people at either end of a ping-pong-size table tried to move the ball to their opponent's goal line. The more you "relaxed," the farther the ball moved. As with the Mindflex, a headset read brainwaves. The trick with the Swedish game was that you had to relax to win--counterintuitive. With Mindscape, the more you concentrate the higher the ball goes. That makes more sense.

I asked Mattel Senior Marketing Manager John Ludwig if future versions will offer more axes of control--not just height, say, but speed or lateral direction. "It's all possible, it's just a matter of money," he said. Mindscape will be $80 when it ships this Fall. He also told me that future games might respond not just to concentration, but to fear (wouldn't want to to be the lawyer representing that one), anxiety, happiness, or frustration. "We're always looking for the newest way to control things," he said.

The issue I have with Mindflex is that it seems to me like a solution looking for a problem. It's cool to be able to spin a blower fan faster by concentrating, but is the game itself engaging? Once the novelty factor wears off, I'm not sure the replay value of this experience will be very high.

Mindscap was created using technology from NeuroSky.

Mattel is also announcing a new digital Web portal for its brands like Barbie and Hot Wheels. Currently, each toy or game brand has its own site. This makes sense--for kids loyal to the brands. But for parents and "gift-givers," it's too much to navigate, a Mattel spokesperson said. So a new portal, the Mattel Digital Network, is coming soon that lets grown-ups get the full Mattel marketing message no matter what Mattel toy they're looking for.