Handheld Devices

When dreaming and gaming collide

“I was hang gliding inches above tall grass on a mesa somewhere in a South America. It was so crazy real I could feel the grass tickle my belly,” wrote one individual on the lucid dreaming thread on Reddit. “All I have to say is... wow. I guess I underestimated how powerful lucid dreams are!” added another in a post entitled: “First fully-lucid dream... mind is blown away!”

Lucid dreaming is the state of very vivid dreaming where you know you’re not awake and can influence events. It comes naturally to some people, but works better when practiced, and the more proficient you get, the more control you have. Rebecca Turner writes: “Tibetan dream yoga is the original form of lucid dreaming”.  

This is like the ultimate virtual reality experience. So perhaps it is little wonder its community of practitioners is completely obsessed. The Reddit forum alone is teeming with threads and the web is packed with information and advice on how to reach a lucid state and maintain better control.

As a very involved series of articles and podcasts on LucidSage explains, this includes taking supplements, keeping a dream journal and practicing long-term techniques like meditation. Yet it is new technology that is really throwing all this wide open.

“I think the internet is largely responsible for the increased interest in lucid dreaming,” says Jared Zeizel, Creative Director and Manager at Dream Labs and author of A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming. He points to the numerous online communities which have never met in real life. And adds “movies like Inception and Waking Life have also contributed to its popularity”.

There are also a number of smartphone apps available on the market. Although these are mostly just digital updates of a pen and paper journal really. But the area which holds the most potential is tech enabled devices which should help you reach a lucid state more easily. 

NovaDreamer was the first lucid dreaming mask and was introduced way back in March of 2000. Yet it was another 12 years before Remee, a new and more affordable lucid dreaming mask, launched on Kickstarter and generated a lot of money, publicity and interest. Now, as crowdfunding and wearable technology has become more commonplace, a slew of new devices have emerged.

These are based on a combination of EEG monitoring and low-level brain stimulation. And have been supported by a range of high profile research on the subject. In 2014, for example, Nature published a study which showed that low current stimulation has achieved lucidity in 77% of subjects. 

“I love the new technology that is emerging to help facilitate lucid dreams,” says Zeizel. “What some of the new technology has promised – but not delivered – is that one can forgo the practice, strap on the device and have a lucid dream. That can occur, but it rarely does. If one has never had a lucid dream, strapping on the device will most likely lead to disappointment.” 

Interestingly, Jayne Gackenbach, a psychologist at Grant MacEwan University in Canada has conducted extensive research which suggests that gamers might be more prone to lucid dreaming than others. This is because dreams and video games both represent alternate realities and if nothing else gaming acts as practice for the dream world, she told Live Science.

“Lucid dreaming is structured around the ability to be aware of one's reality,” suggests Zeizel. “That is something that requires internal work and mental training.”

The real challenge faced by new devices though, is that they are very hard for developers to perfect. It is an extremely tough balance to create a headset that is comfortable to wear while you sleep, safe to use – after all you’re zapping your brain with low level electrical current - and actually works.

One that has been tipped to be a game changer is the Aurora by iWinks. This raised its target on Kickstarter in the middle of last year but is still yet to be shipped due to technical issues.  

“I don't know if it'll be a game changer,” says Zeizel. “[However] I think the hype is deserved and that out of all the new lucid dreaming tech, the Aurora will meet the expectations they've put out. All that said, I've never used the device, so my thoughts are pure speculation.”

IDG Connect tried to make contact with founder, Daniel Schoonover but had no joy. However, a decent audio interview on LucidSage from October includes his thoughts on the product along with his views on lucid dreaming in mainstream media.

“What could make the Aurora great, is that it's being built to be able to detect when your brain has reached the REM stage of sleep - the stage where lucid dreams happen,” says Zeizel. “This is big, because a lot of recent lucid dreaming masks, work off a timer only. If the Aurora can accurately detect REM and cue the dreamer that they're in a dream, than that will help with the biggest hurdle in lucid dreaming – realising one is in a dream.”

Other devices are also appearing in the space to tackle different aspects of this challenge. One interesting product which emerged on Kickstarter in May is a pair of the EEG headphones, Kokoon, which aim initially to help you sleep.

This is quite a clever idea as it is based around creating an extremely comfortable set of headphones which Bluetooth you soothing music in conjunction with your brainwaves. Then in phase two, the headphones will add in the features necessary to promote lucid dreaming based on the brain pattern information already generated.

And the benefits of all this should go beyond the ability to experience an exciting mind altering reality. Some research conducted by Jayne Gackenbach already suggests that gamers are less likely to be afraid in nightmares. This means video gaming could act as a form of “nightmare protection” and has implications for a range of psychological problems like PTSD.

At present, like a lot of brain technology, the lucid dreaming community is still quite DIY [excellent documentary on brain hacking from BBC R4]. New technology is appearing and disappearing left right and centre. Yet the people who already practice this are ridiculously enthusiastic… and so anything that makes this easier to achieve is likely to prove very popular indeed.  


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Virtual Reality (part 2): Where is it heading? »

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