Brain games

Jeff Nyquist, founder and owner of NeuroTrainer, stands outside his brain-training gym on Washington Street in downtown Marquette. (Photo by Erik Lennartson)

Jeff Nyquist, founder and owner of NeuroTrainer, stands outside his brain-training gym on Washington Street in downtown Marquette. (Photo by Erik Lennartson)

by Erik Lennartson

The human race has enthralled itself with escaping into other realities for hundreds of years. From parabolic tales told orally through generations, to pictures drawn, to novels written, to movies made, to video games played and now to virtual reality—there seems no limit to what the human mind is able to do.

Jeff Nyquist, who holds a doctorate in neuropsychology, believes virtual reality should be used to enhance life and make the world a better place.

“We’re all breaking the world just by existing; I want to be a part of putting it back together every day,” he said. “Technology is going to keep moving forward, and the bar is going to…”

keep going up. So I’d rather be a soldier on trying to use it for good.”

Nyquist, founder of new tech company NueroTrainer, believes the brain can be trained and sharpened like a muscle. To that end, he has created a “brain gym” in downtown Marquette, where he uses virtual reality to increase mental acuity in athletes, though he said people from many other walks of life could benefit from its use.

“Driver safety is one of the most obvious ones,” Nyquist said. “To get one or two more years’ experience could make the difference. And then there’s police and military training for situational awareness.”

Increasing the applicability of virtual reality training could also benefit law enforcement and military personnel by allowing them to strengthen their decision-making when it comes down to the wire. Remaining calm mentally, all while evaluating the situation at hand, could save lives, he said.

For now, however, Nyquist’s brain gym is being used on athletes to teach the brain to increase its ability to multi-task based on high-velocity peripheral and foreground reception. Athletes are the primary focus, given they are constantly multi-tasking physically and mentally while performing tasks in practice or in a game.

The primary virtual reality game he is testing right now incorporates Oculus VR goggles, a powerful tower computer and a dozen virtual ping pong balls. This game is used to train eyesight. It begins with a number of white balls in the person’s field of vision, along with two green ones. Once the game starts, the two green ones return to white like the rest of the balls. With erratic movement, these balls agitatedly fly around “in front” of the user, and after roughly one minute, they freeze. Two of those balls then change to blue and red; one was green to start with, one was not, and the user must pick the one that began as green to progress to higher speeds of ball movement and other distractions in their periphery.

“Imagine if Wayne Gretzky were to do this,” said Nyquist, alluding to entertaining the idea of how good the celebrated hockey player would be at the virtual reality test.

Regardless of the fact that virtual reality training is in its fledgling stage, the theories and ideas for its uses are mature beyond their years, said Nyquist. He believes that now is a “technological dark age,” and in about five to 10 years there will be major advancements in the way technology is blended into daily life. Wearing a bulky set of goggles tethered to a computer will be a thing of the past, and people will be able, deftly and more fashionably, to take their virtual life with them anywhere.

“Between wearables like smart watches, virtual reality, augmented reality and brain training technology,” Nyquist said, “we’re going to reintegrate entertainment and activity.”

Right now, Nyquist’s goal is to use virtual reality as brain training and mental therapy, but only time will tell how infatuated society will become with this new form of escape.

Albeit neutral, the technology holds an ethereal power that can be beneficial, or damaging, like most things in our immediate, tangible world, Nyquist said.

With the conception of this beautiful and seemingly delicate way of training, stress relief, and to some extent, therapy, an open mind is essential to welcome it into the little world that is Marquette—a realization that Nyquist has already come to terms with.

“When I was a kid, being a kid meant being outside—kicking the can, looking for snakes, riding your bike, exploring the world. It’s where you learned your independence and how to be your own person,” said Nyquist.

It seems that the middle-aged demographic was the last to have that “dirt time.” Nyquist said there is a saturation of young men and women who are holed up inside playing games on video game consoles.

Nyquist believes technology of the type he is developing could help motivate people to get off the couch. This technology, provided the right amount of accessibility to the general public, will allow for leaps and bounds in creativity and activity (getting out of the basement and away from video games) that will revolutionize the way people interact with other “realities” and even the way they interact with the physical world that surrounds them.

“We’re going to ‘gamify’ the world,” said Nyquist.

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