At the convergence of Adderall and Mountain Dew is a white squall of furious calm. In this state, I thought I could throw a truck into the thermosphere; crush the truck with my mind down to a dense little mangle and arc it right into outer space. This was, more or less, the promise made to me by Lat Ware, Crooked Tree Studio’s lead developer, in the weeks leading up to GDC.
I was locked in. I was prepared. But then, when I arrived to the booth, I had trouble mounting the apparatus onto my head so that the electrodes grounded properly, one behind my left ear and one in the center of my forehead, each spot freshly swabbed with an alcohol wipe.
When the headset icon on the laptop screen flashed green, indicating that Throw Trucks With Your Mind! had paired successfully with my brain, Lat, who was walking me through a demo, leaned in and stoically muttered something to the effect of: “Just try not to think about the fact that you’re playing a game that’s reading your mind, that you’ve never played before, in front of a bunch of people you don’t know.” Shit. Still, I noted with pride that the blue meter measuring my “calm” brainwaves barely flinched. I was a stone. But my “focus” brainwaves, measured by a symmetrical red bar just opposite the blue one, plummeted. I narrowed my field of vision down to a pinpoint.
As Lat explained the remaining controls to me (“cycle through the power wheel with the mouse” / “left click to activate the selected power”), I kept my focus resolutely on the red and blue meters, and on his first instruction: “The higher your calm and focus meters, the stronger your powers will be.” I then telepathically summoned a barrel hurtling end-over-end at my own face. My red and blue meters dropped and spiked like they were set to dubstep.
After, I glided around a junkyard level, feebly wobbling a parking cone with my mind, carefully scooting a dresser with my mind, and generally performing a series of disjointed activities with my mind, all with the thrust and force of a gentle tickle. “Once people get really good at the game,” Lat explained, ignoring the fact that I was clearly not one of those people, “I like to glare at them.” He demonstrated, flatlining both of my meters again. The tricky part of Throw Trucks With Your Mind!, it turns out, isn’t the trucks, it’s controlling your mind.
It is we, the cognitively labile, who Throw Trucks! was designed for. The game’s design and mechanics borrow from the field of neuropsychological research that has grown up over the past several decades around attention deficit disorders. But Lat is emphatic that his game hasn’t lived up to clinical standards just yet. “Before we make any claims about this game treating those disorders we need to validate it in a clinical setting, because we are not going to sell snake oil. But we have a long term grand vision of children who are diagnosed with [these] disorders being prescribed video games.”
If the science proves out, children with ADD/ADHD diagnoses could use the game as a sort of cognitive exercise, learning through repetitive practice how to increase brain activity associated with sustained attention and impulse control. A similarly gamified therapy, known as CogMed, has been shown to increase certain aspects of short term, or “working,” memory. CogMed, however, is more akin to puzzles, and can’t touch the gameplay of Throw Trucks! Even if research fails to show such direct benefits from exposure to Throw Trucks!, the competitive/cooperative aspects of the game could still incentivize kids to adopt the disciplined use of techniques that have been proven through peer review, like breathing exercises or cognitive behavioral therapy.
At this point, even I would have to agree that’s a more sustainable solution than Adderall and Mountain Dew.