Bio-Feedback in Gaming: How calm are you, really?

In a recent article, it was announced that Valve currently employs Mike Ambinder, an Experimental Psychologist to aid in game design. According to the article, he’s not helping in design the game itself, per-say, as much as he’s helping develop how the game responds to YOU.

That’s right. The game IS watching you!

First, we need to take a look at what the current state of gaming input consists of. Essentially, it includes a player (you) manipulating a physical interface (gamepad, touch screen, keyboard+mouse) to interact with the system (game). The interaction is mostly one directional, the gamer influencing the progress of the game. Sure, the game progresses in a way that may depend on the player’s input, but it follows a set script and sequence. As with some dialogue driven games, the NPCs react within a pre-described set of responses depending on choices made during conversations and interactions, more recent examples being Elderscrolls V: Skyrim or Mass Effect: 3. Depending on your choices, the NPCs respond in a predetermined way at fixed points in the game.

But what if the game responded to more than just the multiple choice selections at predetermined plot points? What if it also took in to account your anxiety level, your involuntary facial reactions, even your posture?

What Valve is setting out to do has the potential to be absolutely revolutionizing. In a presentation, Ambinder outlines how this can be done, and it’s as exciting as it is scary. They will be taking in to account all sorts of non-traditional types of input through cameras and sensors. Here’s a video of the man himself discussing the concept:

It is noted that these concepts are still in the experimental phase, but the fact that they were able to get measurable results successfully is remarkable!

Here are my final, overly excited thoughts/predictions/hopes on where this could go:

  • How intense of an experience would a HORROR game be if the (baddies) were influenced by you subconscious display of fear and anxiety? “Stay calm….they can smell your fear….”
  • Sure, you always gave the proper response to highly-influential NPC so they would give you the info you wanted to raid the (baddies) hide-out, but what if they really COULD see you roll your eyes as you gave them that obviously forced compliment?
  • If you thought you needed quick twitch reactions to survive in FPS’s now, imagine a game that allows you to make inputs by just focusing you EYES!
  • Aside from an obvious camera like XBox’s Kinect, I can’t imagine some of these input receivers being non-intrusive. Just exactly how are we going to detect the Ph level of my sweat? And what kind of headset am I going to need so you can read my EEG, and will it be available at general consumer level pricing?
  • How much of this can be translated in to sports games, Like Madden NFL or NBA 2K?
  • What if you’re replaying a game and you know what to expect, and thus you don’t react like you did before when the experience was fresh?

Lots of questions and lots of more development needs to be done! Regardless, it’s interesting to see a gaming company dig this deep in to the human psyche and use it as a tool. Has anyone ever used any form of Bio-Feedback? I’ve heard about it before, but I personally have never dealt with it.

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