Sunday, February 6, 2011

Mindlink With Your Atari!

Sometimes good old print media still rules when it comes to research.  This full-page image doesn't seem to be posted anywhere else on the web, so I'm sharing it here.  It's from a brink-of-the-crash Atari sales catalog in videogame journalist Chris Bieniek's archives, a tiny image of which he shared in the final issue of Ultimate Gamer magazine back in 1996 (hence the poor scan quality, for which I apologize):

If you haven't heard of this futuristic gaming controller, the hype at the time implied that one could put on the Mindlink headband, sit back, and play Atari games hands-free using only the power of one's mind.  This was not actually the case.

There are a few interesting details that can be gleaned from this sales sheet -- the controller was sold in one package for the Atari 2600 and 7800 (Atari's newest console, which went unreleased at the time, along with the Mindlink), and a separate one for the Atari home computers.  It was notably NOT compatible with the Atari 5200, except via the 2600 VCS adapter, and was to be shipped to retailers in case packs of 4.

It's also interesting that it was not meant as a simple replacement for the standard Atari joystick -- the description mentions that it "relies upon special software," also never released, which would have severely limited its appeal if it had come to market.

The device has surfaced as a museum piece at retro game conventions over the years, revealing that the Mindlink was not actually capable of reading brain waves (remember, this was the 1980s).  In fact, the cumbersome Mindlink headband picks up on electrical impulses generated by the muscles in the player's forehead.  So it was not simply a matter of encouraging the player to "concentrate and relax" -- a bit of a contradiction anyway.  Playing games with the Mindlink required considerable localized physical movement.

But if Atari had hyped it as the Browlink, it wouldn't have been nearly as interesting.

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