Atari MindLink System
Atari MindLink was ambitious. Atari wanted to expand the versatility of how we play video games in ways that felt amazing and clever. The result was one of the first wearable technology devices created for the consumer market, and it looked like pure magic. Imagine conquering alien planets, blasting Galaxians, and racing in the Indy 500 – just by “thinking”.
Atari MindLink was a wireless game controller in the form of a headband that allowed users to interact with video games using just their “minds”. A $99 box set with game cartridge included was to be on store shelves in time for the 1984 holiday shopping season.
While MindLink couldn’t exactly read your brain waves, it did read the electrical impulses from your head and used IR to wirelessly transmit them to an Atari 2600, 7800, or computer where they moved objects on the screen. Race cars would turn, paddles would move and planets would be destroyed.
Concentration games, exercise, ESP and calming biofeedback programs would be introduced. A new series of fun and adventurous games would have followed soon after. An eye-tracking module was proposed as the MindLink system’s next big leap, so that on-screen objects could be moved merely by looking at them. Using your hands to play video games would have looked like a baby’s toy.
The MindLink grew out of Atari’s Bionics project to provide the medical industry with state of the art technology. Early prototypes proved too sensitive in its ability to read electrical impulses from the forehead muscles. Later prototypes improved accuracy, but users complained of headaches from using their eyebrows to play.
Years before Nintendo Power Pad or Power Glove, the Atari MindLink was well on its way to being perfected. With the right refinements, MindLink could have been part of an immersive gaming experience for a more powerful machine than the 2600, such as the Atari home computers or new Atari 7800. Ultimately, MindLink was killed when Warner Communications sold Atari Inc. to Jack Tramiel in July, 1984.
The mindset that led to the project illustrates the dissonance between Atari and Nintendo’s approach to video games at the start of 1984. Both were attempting to kickstart the industry and launch a new 8-Bit gaming revolution. Atari viewed itself as a high-tech firm focused on state of the art hardware like the MindLink, advanced computers, and AtariTel video phones. Nintendo viewed itself as a toy company and focused on simple, low cost hardware, with software that painted wondrous worlds for us to play in. One had to hope though, that Atari MindLink would have been used to play some really fun new games, because a state-of-the-art controller is pointless when all you need is two buttons, a D-pad, and something good to play. Things were going to look very different by the end of 1985.