Come on! It's just a game...

Processed data from controller, top-to-bottom: Light-based pulse measurement, respiration rate, accelerometer, and related game activity. Credit: Corey McCall

Ever felt over-excited playing a video game? I no longer play "exciting" video games, although a still play from time to time, but mostly in a detached way to test what's new or a relaxing solitaire... but I still remember many, too many, years ago the Pong, Pacman and Loadrunner that sometimes made my hands sweat.

Now a researcher at Stanford has invented a system to monitor your emotion as you are playing.

Our "mood" is reflected by a combination of physiological signs, like heartbeat, respiration, sweating, tremor, eye movements. All these signs can be detected and interpreted with a sort of reverse engineering leading to the characterisation of the emotion we are feeling.

This is what had Corey McCall, a doctoral student at Stanford working in the lab of Gregory Kovacs, started to create a system that can tell a computer game how the player is reacting. This could make the game to adjust to the emotions created, either speeding up the game (if more excitement is the goal) or tuning it down a bit if the player starts to get angry and fed up of trying...

At the lab the focus is on studying physiological tell tale signs that can indicate the functioning of bodily systems for medical purposes. As an example, one of the research is about deriving information on the probability of the onset of an epileptic seizure monitoring skin temperature.

Corey decided to try using this information to adapt a game to the player. An interesting twist.

To do this Corey added a variety of sensors to an Xbox 360 controller. Metal pads on the controller surface can measure the user's heart rate, blood flow, the breathing rate and the depth of breathing. An accelerometer measure the subtle movement of the controller (these are disregard by the Xbox that actually integrates the tremors and shaking to get a solid signal indicating the command form the player) and a light operated sensors provides refined measurement on the hearth rate.

Corey measures also the intensity of the game and compare this with the physiological signals detected by the sensors to get the general status of the player's level of mental engagement. Based on this and on the preferences expressed by the player he can adapt the pace of the game.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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