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Quake Games Science

Scientists Use Quake 2 To Study the Brains of Mice 185

Posted by Soulskill
from the god-help-us-if-they-learn-how-to-rocket-jump dept.
An anonymous reader writes "In this week's issue of Nature, scientists from Princeton University trained mice to navigate around a virtual environment using a setup that resembles a combination of a giant trackball and a mini-iMax theater displaying a virtual world rendered using a modified version of the Quake 2 open source game engine. (Here's the academic paper, subscription required.) They hold the mouse's head still atop a giant trackball, which the mouse turns by running. The scientists use the rotations to move the mouse around in the virtual environment, and when he reaches certain places, he gets a reward. Because they are able to hold the head still, they can stick microscopic glass electrodes into individual neurons in the hippocampus of this mouse as it 'navigates.' They find the neural activity that resembles activity during real life navigation, and learned new things about the inputs and computations that are going on inside these neurons, which weren't known before. No word as of yet whether the scientists plan on giving the mice control of the gun. Wonder whether John Carmack ever envisioned this when he opened up the Quake code?"
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Scientists Use Quake 2 To Study the Brains of Mice

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  • FP (Score:5, Funny)

    by CrazyJim1 (809850) * on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:10PM (#29760213) Journal
    Yo dawg, I heard you liked mice, so I put a mouse on your mouse.
  • Quake Fit? (Score:5, Funny)

    by natehoy (1608657) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:12PM (#29760251) Journal

    If only we could do this with gamers who need exercise. They get a better immersive experience AND get fit at the same time.

    OK, so the open-brain surgery thing is going to be controversial, but...

    • by Interoperable (1651953) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:20PM (#29760379)
      Combine it with Google street view and you'll have a completely virtual mundane experience!
      • by clone53421 (1310749) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:37PM (#29760571) Journal

        You mean just like going outside and taking a walk in real life? But why would I want to do that?

        • by BobMcD (601576) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @04:56PM (#29762261)

          I can see numerous advantages to a virtual walk:

          1) Not impacted by weather
          2) Not possible to get run over by a virtual truck
          3) Few financially losses from being virtually mugged
          4) Fewer possibilities for disease when you virtually hook up with that virtually hottie you met on your virtual walk

          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Just one downside about that virtual hottie... his name's Stan and he's a 50-year-old welder. That would never happen in real life. No sir, not to me :-|

          • by vegiVamp (518171)
            4) will still provide you with interesting viruses if you're running on windows :-)
          • Wait another version, and we will add those things for "immersion".

        • by cjb658 (1235986)

          You mean just like going outside and taking a walk in real life? But why would I want to do that?

          Maybe you live in a bad neighborhood and don't want to get shot. Or perhaps if you go outside and are exposed to sunlight, your body will melt.

        • by X0563511 (793323)

          But, you (normally) cannot walk down the street doing horrible things to other people with weapons of your choice...

          Also - imagine the Portal Gun! Come on!

          Walks suck!

      • Well, add in the gun, a city with lots of 3D buildings and some physics and you have an experience that's anything but mundane. Heck, take out the person, add in a car which allows you to race through the city. Now put guns back on the car and make it multi player for a "Death Race" kind of experience. Even wilder, allow a player to roam a real city using their exported World of Warcraft character and mount for a crazy glimpse of what it would look like if you merged our modern cities with a magic world. No
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by hoggoth (414195)

      You can.

      See here: http://www.virtusphere.com/ [virtusphere.com]

      DO WANT.

      • by cjb658 (1235986)

        I just saw them get pwn3d on Sharktank yesterday.

        What a shame...

      • by lennier (44736)

        Oh man! That's it! Want indeed.

        (checks brochure)

        Exciting Offer For First Time Buyers!
        $10,000.00 Discount Off Retail Price.
        Minus $10,000.00 Discount, Net Price: $25,000.00 ... okay I won't be plugging this into my Wii anytime soon.

    • by lennier (44736)

      That sounds actually like a fun idea. I wonder how big the ball would need to be for a person to stand on it?

      A couple metres maybe? Hmm. That'd probably fall into 'amusement ride' level of safety needed.

      • by natehoy (1608657)

        A series of smaller balls that make up basically a "slippery surface" with the player suspended in some form of harness to prevent falling?

  • Online play (Score:5, Funny)

    by Xebikr (591462) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:14PM (#29760279)
    If I ever get fragged by a mouse, I hope no one ever tells me.
  • Damn! (Score:3, Funny)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:17PM (#29760321) Homepage Journal

    Fragged by a rodent! Damned thing was camping, too, the bastard.

    • Re:Damn! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by moogied (1175879) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:20PM (#29760363)
      I'd be interested to see what would happen if they provided some kind of negative feedback to the mouse when a player shot it, and then just let them run rampant in there. I'd imagine mice would have a far better reaction rate then people in it.
      • by Hadlock (143607)

        I was thinking something along the same sort of lines; there's no force feedback (tactile feeback/negative feedback) for when he runs into stuff. I would like to see how the neuro-map for a mouse just being placed into the simulator looks compared to a mouse who spent his whole life "on the ball". I bet my brain's neuro-map looks a lot different when I'm playing TF2 compared to when I'm mountain biking or paintballing.

      • Re:Damn! (Score:5, Funny)

        by Miffe (592354) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:41PM (#29760623)
        They need to hook it up to the device that gave mice orgasms at the push of a button, so that one frag is one orgasm. And then let them loose in quakelive.
      • Re:Damn! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by clone53421 (1310749) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:44PM (#29760663) Journal

        Hmm, yeah, and they should train the mouse to fire the gun by rewarding it – first, make it find a target and operate the "gun firing" switch (whatever that is). Then train it to find a person and target them and "fire". Finally, put it up against armed opponents, give negative feedback if the mouse gets shot, and see what happens. Will the mouse go for positive feedback (by shooting opponents), will it hide/flee from the opponents (to escape the negative feedback it learns to associate with being shot by them), or will it be intelligent enough to create a new self-defense mechanism whereby it learns that by shooting the opponents before they can shoot it, it can both avoid the negative feedback and at the same time get positive feedback?

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Compuser (14899)

          Once you have these smarter mice identified, give them two guns and see if they learn to choose the right one for the situation.

          • Re:Damn! (Score:5, Interesting)

            by clone53421 (1310749) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @04:11PM (#29761687) Journal

            I suspect learning to use the in-game offense/defense mechanisms would tax the mouse's brain far beyond its capacity already without adding the complexity of choosing between different weapons.

            Although that does make me think of another interesting thing. Mice are more of a foraging creature... they look for food and hide from predators, fighting back only when cornered. A FPS, on the other hand, lends itself to predatory tactics... seeking your prey and killing them without being killed by their defensive tactics. Is it even possible for a mouse to learn to exhibit predatory behavior using a reward system, if their prey tendencies to flee or hide are being simultaneously triggered as their target fights back? If a bunch of mice were put into such a simulation, would they all hide from each other? Would they actively seek and kill each other? Or would there be some of both, where some mice tended to behave in a predatory manner (aggressive personalities?) while others hid (passive/survival)?

            • by X0563511 (793323)

              These are some truly interesting conjectures...

              I hope someone with the grant money (or BS abilities to get some) and the expertise sees this.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by flyingsquid (813711)
              Mice are more of a foraging creature... they look for food and hide from predators, fighting back only when cornered. A FPS, on the other hand, lends itself to predatory tactics...

              The implication is that cats would be better FPS players than mice. The problem of course is that cats are sit-and-wait predators, sitting quietly and waiting for their prey to move before suddenly striking. In other words, campers. So playing on a server against a bunch of cats would probably suck. Dogs, which are pursuit predat

    • by popeye44 (929152)

      Nah, he was trying to find out Who Moved His Cheese.

  • Damn that would be awesome to have when playing Quake
  • Great. Now I have to worry about getting pwned by Frankie and Benjy.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Our whole planet has already been pwned by Frankie and Benjy.
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      I don't know, I'd rather be fragged by a couple of hyperintelligent pan galactic beings than some snotnosed 12 year old human.

  • mice or men (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ZenDragon (1205104) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:20PM (#29760371)
    I invision an army of mice farming gold in World of Warcraft, we could do it even cheaper than the Chinese!
  • Oh great (Score:5, Funny)

    by davidbrit2 (775091) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:21PM (#29760397) Homepage
    Catching mice that get in my house is enough of a pain, but now I have to snag the bastards while they're rocket jumping? Thanks, jerks.
    • Just fix your cursor on the apex, time their jump, and rail them. That's what I do. I'll grant you its a bit of a mess to clean up, but it's better than my experiments with rockets.

      Splash damage takes on a whole new meaning when you start spending the majority of your income on aluminum-based solid rocket fuel, semtex, and lots and lots of paper towels.

    • Re:Oh great (Score:5, Funny)

      by mcgrew (92797) * on Thursday October 15, 2009 @03:27PM (#29761167) Homepage Journal

      Catching mice that get in my house is enough of a pain

      Christ, now even my cat is posting on slashdot.

  • by Satanboy (253169) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:24PM (#29760431)

    This is a great example of open source really helping humanity learn new and interesting things.

    It's great to see that the tools provided by open software can really help speed up research.

    I wonder what would happen if old versions of adobe photoshop, 3ds max, or cubase were left to open source for research purposes. What kind of discoveries would scientists make with programs like these?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Korin43 (881732)
      They'd discover that the total size of all bittorrent swarms has suddenly decreased ;)
    • I wonder what would happen if old versions of adobe photoshop, 3ds max, or cubase were left to open source

      Probably not much.. Id released an engine to build on while those are just products. Old products that have better free alternatives, at that.

    • I wonder what would happen if old versions of adobe photoshop, 3ds max, or cubase were left to open source for research purposes. What kind of discoveries would scientists make with programs like these?

      The photoshop alone would lead to a wave of discoveries. Some of the discoveries might even turn out to be real!

      (like as in not just photoshopped "that cell should be red to support my hypothesis so I'll just use a little filter action...")

    • by 4D6963 (933028)

      Given how little Photoshop has actually evolved in the last decade, and the excitement generated by Photoshop, it would undermine GIMP, create a project dedicated to improving the old Photoshop and ultimately it would give Adobe a free competitor to Photoshop that's nowhere near as bloated and probably better.

      People keep telling me that I should have an open source scheme for my program (see Homepage link) but yeah, all it would do would help people make a free competitor. See it's fine to do it with a ga

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Helping humanity, needlessly torturing mice.

      Seriously, what did they really learn from this? The benefit to humanity here is disproportionately less than the cruelty involved. It just seems like an excuse to play around with Quake because "dude, wouldn't it be cool if we could train our mice to play?" I wouldn't let anyone involved in this kind of experiment date my sister.

      • by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @07:37PM (#29764203) Homepage

        Seriously, what did they really learn from this?

        They learned about brain structure and relationships between cognition and motor control.

        You may not think that's worth it, but we've done a lot worse to mice than non-lethal brain surgery in order to learn a lot less.

        I wouldn't let anyone involved in this kind of experiment date my sister.

        *puts down bouquet of flowers, scalpel, and bundle of electrodes*

        Man, you're no fun.

      • by icepick72 (834363)
        Um... I haven't made up my mind yet. Can you post a picture first?
      • by Larryish (1215510)

        Yeah, I wouldn't let him date my sister either.

        No telling what the sick bastard would do if he had a cardboard tube.

  • Free information (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dripdry (1062282) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:24PM (#29760433) Journal

    Someone is likely to say it, so I will:

    This is what happens when you have a free flow of information. Carmack got well paid for Quake 2 then opened the source up (eventually). If more people/institutions/corps did this it seems there would not only be more hearts and flowers (for all the open source hippies) but there would be MORE technology we could patent! The ability to make MORE money!

    If I have 2 innovative products and I decide to open them up to general use, and at least 1 new idea comes from that, someone out there will create something with it and hopefully create a net gain for the system as a whole in the long run.

    I know people are selfish, but for Science's sake, open up your information already! The economy is dying a slow, painful death (though the market might refute that this week), wouldn't the SOLUTION in The States be to repeal some copyright laws and let information flow freely so as to foster innovation like this? Even if it's a mouse on a ball in a hall at the mall, I have to believe only good could come from opening things up a bit more.

    • The economy is dying a slow, painful death (though the market might refute that this week), wouldn't the SOLUTION in The States be to repeal some copyright laws and let information flow freely so as to foster innovation like this?

      That kinda depends on what you mean, doesn't it? I'm not sure most software companies will be making too much money selling free software, which in turn won't help the market too much, I wouldn't think. Or maybe you meant to let "old" information flow freely, like Quake 2. That'd be different...

  • by Jeremi (14640) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:24PM (#29760441) Homepage
    1. Train mice on Quake 2 until they are really good at it
    2. Outfit mice with miniature rocket launchers and rail guns
    3. Turn the armed mice loose
    4. Rule the world!
  • by Saishuuheiki (1657565) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:26PM (#29760461)
    Beats a console controller any day, even lab scientists agree
  • Frame rate? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 192939495969798999 (58312) <info@NoSpam.devinmoore.com> on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:28PM (#29760491) Homepage Journal

    So what was the frame rate on the mouse's brain? Could it run crysis/linux?

  • No word as of yet whether the scientists plan on giving the mice control of the gun.

    ...they'll be training, I mean, "testing" sharks next.

  • Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?

    The same thing we do every night, Pinky—try to take over the world!
  • by DieselPup (1657569) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:39PM (#29760597)
    They initially tried this study using managers, but there was no evidence that the managers were learning anthing or that they even perceived their environment
  • The world was shocked today when the World Cyber Games championship was taken from fragu4life, champion for the last several years, by a newcomer, sirsqueaksalot. Information is sketchy as to the newcomer's origins, but it has been stated that he greatly enjoys cheese.

    News at eleven.

  • by wowbagger (69688) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:42PM (#29760641) Homepage Journal

    "Are you pondering what I am pondering, Pinky?"
    "I think so Brain, but how can I bunny-hop over the lava when I'm a mouse?"

  • Ideas (Score:3, Informative)

    by lymond01 (314120) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:50PM (#29760705)

    No word as of yet whether the scientists plan on giving the mice control of the gun.

    Just whisper this when you say it. Rodents have unnaturally good hearing.

  • by reverseengineer (580922) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:55PM (#29760787)
    The researchers originally wanted to use Half-Life instead of Quake 2, but they could never get the mice to do anything in the game other than murdering the scientists.
  • Rats (Score:5, Funny)

    by hoggoth (414195) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @02:56PM (#29760789) Journal

    Just thought I'd point out that
    despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage.

  • Acknowledgements (Score:3, Interesting)

    by interkin3tic (1469267) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @03:08PM (#29760945)

    If anyone is wondering, the authors did thank Carmack and id software:

    Acknowledgements We thank E. Chaffin for help with mouse behaviour,
    J. Carmack and id Software for providing the Quake2 code

  • New definition (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SnarfQuest (469614) on Thursday October 15, 2009 @03:12PM (#29761007)

    Gives you a new definition for a head mounted display.

  • by Darth_brooks (180756) <clipper377@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Thursday October 15, 2009 @03:22PM (#29761115) Homepage

    I wondered why the last arena I logged in to had the quad damage replaced by a wheel of cheese, and why the rocket pickups were shaped like little smudges of peanut butter.

  • Mice already know how to interface with computers, having built the greatest computer in all space and time. The mice are running this quake experiment just so that they have a bit of fun "decommissioning" the hardware later.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by aicrules (819392)
      I'll take a computer than runs Quake 2 at a reasonable 60 fps over a computer that takes millions of years to say "42".
    • Mice already know how to interface with computers, having built the greatest computer in all space and time.

      Nonsense. The mice just paid for it and operated it. The second greatest computer in all time and space designed it, and the Magratheans built it.

  • Late breaking news: Mice researchers use Internet Porn to study brains of humans.

    Squeeked one Mice professor, "This humans have seem pretty drecky thoughts tumbling around in their little minds."

  • But can they teach a robot to love?
  • by Cycon (11899) <moc.ruetamAlanoisseforPeht ]ta[ evets> on Thursday October 15, 2009 @06:39PM (#29763649) Homepage
    ...they need to hook up the screen to a camera feed from the flying beetles earlier this month. [newscientist.com]

    Let the mice steer the beetles!

  • I'm no PETA person, by any stretch of the imagination, but, I think some of these experiments they perform on animals are barbaric.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Care to volunteer for open brain surgery instead?
      • Care to volunteer for open brain surgery instead?

        It's all about intent. Researchers who study living systems by killing and mutilating other creatures without awareness and compassion do so at their own expense. I've met researchers who kill animals without having adequately made peace with themselves or the creatures involved. Instead, what often occurs is that they shut parts of themselves off and try to believe that "it's all for the greater good", (usually a lie). Some are better at convincing thems

      • Care to volunteer for open brain surgery instead?

        Your argument is might makes right. Because you are stronger than someone else, and need something exploitation would provide, that exploitation is ok.

  • by Samah (729132) on Friday October 16, 2009 @12:30AM (#29765803)
    Konami presents: "Quake Quake Revolution", coming to a mouse-accessible game arcade near you!

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