Games consoles and accessories have loads of potential when it comes to scientific research; their technology is cutting-edge, and they’re designed to be both comfortable and affordable (which makes them much more appealing than cumbersome and extremely expensive scientific tools). You can safely bet that when a new console or peripheral comes along, someone at a university, somewhere is working on a way to get science out of it. Here are a few examples of this!

Consoles

One console that’s had an interesting role in science is the Playstation 3 (PS3). In 2014, The New York Times reported that a physicist, Dr. Gaurav Khanna, had been linking up PS3 consoles to make use of their processing power. In 2008, he had used 16 consoles to run calculations on the merging of black holes. In the years following, by linking 176 PS3s together, Khanna was able to create a ‘supercomputer’, at a fraction of the cost of a more typical machine, which he then offered up for use by other research teams.

There may be a similar way we can offer up our own consoles to science, without having to send them into the local university’s physics department. For instance in 2007, Nature reported that a number of PS3 owners were signing up their consoles to distributed computed projects, with the aim of devoting the processing power to scientific goals when the console wasn’t in use. This is one way we’ll all be able to use our computers, laptops and gaming systems to advance scientific research, and as we move into the next generation of consoles, the power of the “virtual supercomputers” we can create is likely to improve substantially.

Peripherals

Gaming peripherals are useful to many fields of research, like psychology. Their design is comfortable and easy for participants to use (a big help when trying to get people through your tedious experiments). Provided you don’t need very accurate response time data, it’s much easier to have participants respond to stimuli with a game pad rather than an awkward table-mounted keyboard or button box. With the rising popularity of VR and the Oculus Rift as well, many researchers are developing realistic environments to cheaply and safely conduct experiments that would be very difficult, dangerous or expensive to do in the real world.

One of the most useful peripherals is the Nintendo Wii-mote, which can be adapted to create an LED tracking device for various purposes, such as fMRI-friendly tracking of participant motion, and even apparently for monitoring the evaporation of water. This is all in addition to the many promising uses of the Wii as a tool for training and rehabilitation.

Software & Games

Researchers have been using existing and custom-built video games for ages (after all, isn’t an experiment just a really, really boring game?). They’ve used existing games to study all kinds of behaviours, such as attention, memory, and teamwork, or even to study video games themselves and how they change our behaviour (particularly whether they make us more prone to violent behaviour).

Further Reading:

Why Do Scientists Love Video Games?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/3325757/Why-scientists-love-games-consoles.html

Using the PS3 as a Supercomputer:

http://www.nature.com/news/2007/070326/full/news070326-15.html

That old playstation can aid science:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/23/science/an-economical-way-to-save-progress.html?_r=0

Tetris-like video game used to solve medical puzzles:

http://www.gizmag.com/foldit-scientific-discovery-computer-game/15957/

Eyewire (mapping the retina):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eyewire

Hacking Wii-mote sensors:

http://www.wired.com/2009/12/wiimote-science/

Wii-mote training:

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0057372

Brain implant to play guitar hero:

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/04/brain-implant-helps-quadriplegic-play-guitar-hero