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THE BRAIN GAME > MAGNESIA - Interactive installation

The installation is a result of a collaboration between Karina Smigla-Bobinski, Tatiana Vilela and Kati Hyyppä while “The Brain – Open Lab”, a temporary creative work and exchange hub in Berlin for digital artists, game creators and forward thinkers. It was initiated and funded by the Polish Institute Berlin and the Institut Français Germany in partnership with A MAZE. The keywords for the project are human brains, digital/virtual networks, rational and emotional memories, collective intellegence, perception, digital archives and open knowledge. Curated by Thorsten S Wiedemann, festival director of A MAZE.

This installation is inspired by discoveries of Mental Map (brain GPS) by Nobel Laureates John O'Keefe with May-Britt Moser and Edvard I. Moser.

How do we know where we are? How can we find the way from one place to another? And how can we store this information in such a way that we can immediately find the way the next time we trace the same path?

John O’Keefe discovered, in 1971, that certain nerve cells in the brain were activated when a rat assumed a particular place in the environment. Other nerve cells were activated at other places. He proposed that these “place cells” build up an inner map of the environment. Place cells are located in a part of the brain called the hippocampus.
May-Britt & Edvard I. Moser discovered in 2005 that other nerve cells in a nearby part of the brain, the entorhinal cortex, were activated when the rat passed certain locations. Together, these locations formed a hexagonal grid, each “grid cell” reacting in a unique spatial pattern. Collectively, these grid cells form a coordinate system that allows for spatial navigation.

Grid cells, together with other cells in the entorhinal cortex that recognize the direction of the head of the animal and the border of the room, form networks with the place cells in the hippocampus. This circuitry constitutes a comprehensive positioning system, an inner GPS, in the brain. The positioning system in the human brain appears to have similar components as those of the rat brain.

The aim of the game is to move the balls over disc-shaped goals on the sides of the playfield, half of which are color-coded in red and half in blue. Two teams can play with steel balls using magnetic controllers. When one team manages to get a ball in all of their goals, light effects occur. Alternatively, it possible to just explore the playfield and discover light effects triggered by the magnets and the balls.

The game was built in a large box, which has on the top a transparent acrylic glass surface. Under the surface are the steel balls and the playfield comprising of rectangular acrylic sticks. When a player moves a steel ball with a magnetic controller across the field, the sticks near the ball light up. This effect is based on a reed switch and an LED below each stick: magnetic field closes the switch and lights up the LED. Furthermore, when one team manages to get a steel ball over all of their three goals, the inside of the box starts to blink in the color of the team, thus in red or blue. This “winning effect” is due to the goals acting as switches that are connected in series. When a metal ball is on one goal, it connects two halves of an aluminum disc and thus closes part of the circuit, and when all the three balls are on the goals, the circuit is completed. All the electronics for the light effects reside below the playfield and are visible though the acrylic glass, which together with mirror-coated walls adds visual complexity to the installation akin to a metaphorical brain.

At the end of the residency a prototype of MAGNESIA was presented at the Polish Institute where visitors could play and test it. Some weeks later, the final version of the installation was available for a bigger audience at the A MAZE Festival, while the INTERNATIONAL GAMES WEEK BERLIN 2015.

dig deeper

"The cognitive map"
John O'Keefe

"An internal map in the brain"
May-Britt and Edvard Moser


> A MAZE Festival oder: Was sind eigentlich Indie-Games? > Emma Guerchon - ARTE TV Creative

(...)Von den gängigen Video-Game-Klischees sind wir hier weit entfernt, und ich entdecke einen Aspekt, der mir bislang gänzlich unbekannt war: Wie spiele ich? Warum spiele ich Videospiele? Wie äußere ich mich durch Games? Warum nehme ich teil? Wie können wir ein Spiel gemeinsam entwerfen? Fragen, so komplex wie die kreativen Ebenen und Persönlichkeiten - und alles immer unter dem Motto: Mitmachen und Spaß haben!

Gaming ist eine Kunst, die Aktivsein verlangt. Du musst hinschauen, zuhören und interagieren, das ist für mich die Quintessenz dessen, was ich verstanden habe. Egal ob aktuell oder einfach nur schrill und skurril, hier geht's drum, dass all diese Spiele gespielt werden, und beim Spielen versteht man sie... (...)

Radio interview (polnisch) > Moderation: Maciej Wisniewski - FunkHausEuropa - Polski Magazyn Radiowy

Technical Specifications

description > interactive installation
components > large box, acrylic glass, mirror, rectangular acrylic sticks, steel balls, LEDs, magnetic switches, controllers with Neodym
dimensions > 1m x 1m x 1m
Try out > 2015, Polnische Institut Berlin
Premiere > 2015, A MAZE Festival Berlin

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