First we had to worry about competition from the younger generation — they’ve got plenty of time to practice and the reflexes to take out older gamers like us. Now we might have to worry about getting fragged by — animals? Dr. David W. Tank at Princeton has created a virtual maze using the open-source Quake 2 engine.

Tank’s team designed a contraption where the mouse walks on the surface of a Styrofoam ball held aloft by a jet of air, so it works like a treadmill that can move in any direction. Sensors taken from optical computer mice read where the mouse directs the ball. Instead of power-ups or better guns, a mouse might get a sip of water or a treat [via Boingboing]:

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DJOTEDBA2c&feature=player_embedded 425×344]

Researchers study the readings and input them in “virtual reality software,” which is actually the modified Quake 2 engine. The best part is the home-theater system that projects the images surrounding the mouse. Tank calls it “a mini-IMAX theater.” Some of us can’t even afford an HDTV at home!