When people think about Atari, they tend to think of a video game system like the Atari 2600 or the Atari 5200. Some others will bring to mind specific videogames like Asteroids, Centipede or Pong. Unfortunately, what was arguably their most impressive creation never made it into mass production… the Atari Mindlink.
In 1984 Atari introduced the Mindlink, which was a new controller for their game systems. Unlike traditional controllers, this one was wrapped around the player’s head. It measured the movements of forehead muscles, and triggered movement and button control based on the player’s facial expressions.
It never quite worked as designed. Surprisingly, it worked too well; after a short time to acclimate to the controllers, people attempting to use them often found the screen movement to be overly responsive. Attempts to tamp down the responsiveness, though, made getting familiar with the controls difficult.
Fixes were suggested. Some involved an eye monitor, which would attach to the headband and track eye movements. Others suggested a series of electrodes which could be connected to a player’s arms and thighs. In all of these cases, it was understood that precision would be increased with the sacrifice of playability. Sure, some people would happily play a game using only a cable-connected headband; far fewer would pay for the privilege of being wired up like a test subject in a vintage science fiction movie.
Still, Atari pressed on, certain that it had the chance to be on the ground floor for another revolution in gaming… and in medicine. The Special Olympics was particularly interested in the idea of using the tech to overcome physical handicaps. Then, not two months after the Mindlink’s unveiling, Atari’s financial difficulties – caused in no small part to flooding the market with cheap games in an attempt to emulate their early successes – caught up with them.
The company sold their Consumer Electronics and Home Electronics divisions to Tramiel Technologies, Inc… who saw Mindlink as nothing more than a science fiction toy, and an expensive one at that. The Mindlink died before being shipped to market, despite thousands of dollars spent on advertising it only weeks prior.
Question of the night : What’s your favorite science fiction movie?