Mind-Control Toys: The Force Is With You

Mind-Control Toys: The Force Is With You

This fall, the Force can finally be with you — for a suggested retail price of $129.99. Put on a headset, focus on a small ball in a cylinder, and use your mind to make the sphere rise. It’s cool, not to mention a little strange.

Stranger yet, Uncle Milton’s Force Trainer wasn’t the only levitational gadget at this year’s American International Toy Fair, the four-day trade show that brings a gazillion manufacturers and retailers together every February in New York City. Also on display was Mattel’s new Mindflex, which has players move a tiny foam ball through a mini-obstacle course with their thoughts. Or, more precisely, with their brainwaves.

Both toys employ EEG, or electroencephalogram, technology. EEGs measure electrical activity in the brain and have been used to diagnose seizures, assess head injuries, and explore sleep disorders, among other conditions. In other words, the science behind these toys is legit; there’s no magic trick involved. “The fact that you can use EEG, that you can modulate it, that you can control it, it’s well-known, it’s true,” says Dr. Ronald Emerson, a neurology professor at Columbia University. Upon hearing about the new toys, his colleague, Dr. Catherine Schevon, said: “Our fellows would go ape for this!”

Each toy includes a wireless headset equipped with forehead and ear sensors that read two kinds of brainwaves — alpha and beta, naturally — then relay signals to the bases of the toys, triggering fans that cause the balls to rise. Mindflex’s headgear comes with earlobe clips, which significantly increases the I-look-like-a-fool factor. The game also requires players to move the ball sideways as well as vertically. There’s a knob on the base unit that players must turn while focusing to get the ball, for example, through a tiny hoop. At the toy fair, a Mattel spokesperson jokingly referred to Mindflex requiring “mind-eye coordination.”

Just think of it as a drinking game, an onlooker said during the Mindflex demo at the Toy Fair, which, irony of ironies, does not allow any kids inside. The $79.99 game, like Uncle Milton’s Force Trainer, is intended for ages 8 and up.

The Force Trainer — which is limited to moving a ball up and down in a tube — may not be as complicated as Mindflex. But it does, however, have Star Wars branding, which possesses a magical retail power all its own. The toy features 15 levels of training, i.e., increasingly difficult challenges involving how high to raise the ball and how long to hold it steady before changing its height. Along the way, Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi offer words of encouragement as hopefuls try to attain Jedi Master status. May your limited discretionary-spending power be with you.
See pictures of the best animated movies.
Read “The Army’s Totally Serious Mind-Control Project.”