Mouse plays Quake II, everyone wins

Princeton's David Tank just published a paper in Nature describing how he used the open-source Quake 2 engine to power a VR maze that he ran mice through in order to study their neurons while they moved. My wife, who played Quake on the British national team, wants to teach the mouse to rocket-jump.

Tank's team designed an apparatus in which a mouse, its head firmly held in a metal helmet, walks on the surface of a styrofoam ball. The ball is kept aloft by a jet of air, so that it functions like a multidirectional treadmill. Around it are sensors taken from optical computer mice, which read the ball's movement as the mouse runs.

Those readings were the input for the researchers' virtual reality software -- a modified version of the open source Quake 2 videogame engine, tweaked to project an image on a screen surrounding the mouse. Tank called it "a mini-IMAX theater." Mice in the study ran through a virtual maze designed in the open source Quake game editor, but rather than earning points or power-ups, they were rewarded with sips of water from a head-side nozzle.

Into the hippocampus of each mouse the researchers inserted a glass capillary just one micron wide at its tip and filled with salt water. Known as a whole-cell patch recorder, it detects electrical currents as they pulse through individual cells.

"It is difficult to overstate the importance of understanding how the dynamics of electrical activity within single neurons is related to firing patterns among collections of neurons that accompany the performance of complex tasks," wrote Douglas Nitz, a University of California at San Diego cognitive scientist, in a commentary accompanying the findings.

Scientists Scan the Brains of Mice Playing Quake


  1. In the future, instead of trackball mice, we will have live mice on trackballs, at which point a whole ecosystem of puns will flourish anew.

  2. “My wife, who played Quake on the British national team” – this is the strangest sentence in the whole post.

  3. They should create a level where the mouse is 200 feet tall and gets to rampage over a city and crush many humans.

  4. Work on the Matrix seems to be going along fine. in 10 years they can have realistic graphics and replace the mouse with a human.

  5. Awwww. I wish I could be held in a completely immersive virtual environment based on the Quake II engine. Stupid mouse.

    1. You know, I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize?

      Ignorance is bliss.

      1. I’d like to go to a place where Monica Bellucci thought I was attractive. I think Monica Bellucci is attractive. In my completely immersive virtual environment, Monica Bellucci would definitely think I was attractive.

        Hopefully, that’s what the scientists are working on. Godspeed, scientists, Godspeed.

  6. I never could get the hang of rocket jumping. Perhaps I’d make a better lab animal than a quake player…

  7. I’m not sure why so many are going for Matrix jokes. Flowers for Algernon feels more appropriate to me.

    Poor mouse. I wonder if you are in any pain or realize just how f*$#@d up your life is.

  8. “You are a mouse. You wake up to find yourself in a strange pixelated room. Your head is *firmly* held in place by a metal helmet. You are thirsty.

    What do you want to do?”

    “Sip water”

    “Your head-side nozzle is empty. What do you want to do?”

    “Walk forward”

    “You walk forward…”

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