Engineers from Stanford University have developed what may turn out to be the next level in interactive gaming; an emotion sensing gamepad. The handheld game controller will measure the player’s bodily processes and then alter the gameplay to make it a more engaging game.
When you are deeply involved in a video game, with the atmospherics and in-game music almost fully engaging you, does there seems to be something missing that you just can’t quite put your finger on? The game maybe needs more interaction from you, the player. This is where the handheld game controller, which gauges your brain activity and determines if you are bored, would come into play.
The prototype of the controller was created based upon research that was conducted in the laboratory at Stanford. Gregory Kovacs, a professor of electrical engineering, in collaboration with Texas Instruments, worked on the product. The foremost area of research by grad students in Kovacs’ lab involves the development of practical ways of measuring physiological signals to determine the function of the person’s bodily systems.
Corey McCall, who is a doctoral candidate in Kovacs’ lab and is the leader on the game controller project, has been looking at the autonomic nervous system. This is the emotional part of the brain, the part that changes when you get excited or bored, sad or elated. This activity, in turn, influences different parts of the body, such as your heart rate, respiration rate, temperature, perspiration and other processes. By measuring these signs, it offers a way of reverse engineering what occurs in the brain.
“You can see the expression of a person’s autonomic nervous system in their heart rate and skin temperature and respiration rate and by measuring those outputs, we can understand what’s happening in the brain almost instantaneously,” said McCall. He said this method of sensing autonomic activity is particularly appealing, because it can be conducted by a non-invasive means. As McCall began to work out other ways to measure autonomic activity, he came to the realization that he could easily monitor people in various mental states as they played video games and that he could gather most of the data he needed directly from users’ hands.
McCall engineered a controller to suit his experiments. He took the back panel off an Xbox 360 controller and then he replaced it with a 3-D printed plastic module which was packed full of sensors; like small metal pads on the controller’s surface, which measure the user’s heart rate, blood flow and how deeply the user is breathing. Another sensor, which was light-operated, provides a second heart rate measurement and accelerometers measure how frenetically the person is shaking the controller. The team then need to custom-build software to read the data. This software gauges the intensity of the game. The game is a simple but fast-paced racing game in which the player must drive over coloured tiles in a specific sequence. The data was then compared to generate a complete picture of the player’s level of mental engagement in the game.
The controller received positive interest when it was presented at CES in Las Vegas back in January. Partly because of the next phase of the work; using the controller to supply feedback to the console, which then would be able to alter the pace of gameplay to better suit the player. “If a player wants maximum engagement and excitement, we can measure when they are getting bored and, for example, introduce more zombies into the level…We can also control the game for children. If parents are concerned that their children are getting too wrapped up in the game, we can tone it down or remind them that it’s time for a healthy break,” McCall said.