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Consoles Turn To Emotional Gaming

Emotional and physiological feedback could shape the next era of video game play.

Lisa Baldini
Lisa Baldini on April 19, 2011.

Affective “emotional” gaming is the new frontier for game console development. Banking on being able to read the emotional state of its gamers through physiological and brainwave cues, the objective is to provide a more immersive experience. While its not an easy task, Valve Software is currently in research and development mode:

Valve Software, the developer behind titles such as Half-Life, sees a player’s emotional state as an important part of any game. Psychologist Mike Ambinder has been working with Valve on ways to add emotional feedback to Left 4 Dead 2, a game in which players cooperate to fight off a zombie horde. He spoke about his work at this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

In the regular form of the game, an “AI Director” responds to players’ actions by adjusting the game itself. Play well and you’ll face tougher opponents; play badly and the game becomes less intense. Ambinder is trying to go beyond this rough-and-ready response to the players’ behaviour by assessing their emotional state more directly.

“By recording the physiological responses of our play testers, we can get more precise estimations of their emotional state,” Ambinder says. This is fed back into the gaming environment, making the game easier if the gamer becomes too stressed. He says that gamers who tested this modified version found it much more enjoyable.

Affective computing is no new territory for exploration in technology. In fact, some of the very foundations of software and cybernetics are based on its principle. What’s new for the gaming industry, is the focus is to evoke emotional responses as the very objective. Although always tertiary to the development of the gaming value proposition, tailoring to user feedback requires a further shift from mass product development to individual user experience.

Valve Software

New Scientist: “Emotional video gaming makes the action real”

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Lisa Baldini is a regular contributor to PSFK.com. As a student of Graham Harwood, Luciana Parisi, and Matthew Fuller, Lisa's interest in technology lies in how culture is changed from the bottom up through history, materiality, databases, user experience, and affective computing. A student of social media marketing, she sees how people try to engage consumers through technology and how much failure is at hand by misunderstanding the medium. A teacher at heart, she writes and curates in an effort to link the knowledge derived between the academic, art, and business worlds.

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