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June 5, 2006
Games That Feel You
This post came in from a Brain Waves reader, Alexandre Carter. Seemed good enough to share.
While listening to Weekend America yesterday on NPR I came across the following story I thought you might find interesting. They report that the “next big thing” in video gaming is the development of “emotionally adaptive software” or games that can tell what the player is feeling and respond accordingly. The technology to make this possible requires being able to input changes in emotional/brain state to the program via a small headset/simplified electroencephalograph (probably with additional information on your vitals, galvanic skin response and pupillary reaction). While I think that getting a simple EEG (as opposed to the 19 electrode standard used in medicine) to provide enough specific information to accurately reflect anything but changes in level of arousal may be a monumental obstacle (EmSense thinks they have a solution) this would allow for games that involve a lot more than point and shoot. For instance what if “…the mother in the Sims could sense that [you were] upset that she yelled at her daughter?…” What if you could design a video game that was as much about the drama as about the action? The show’s guest implies that this technology could even promote the maturation of emotional intelligence by holding up to us a kind of mirror.
Of course, this harkens back to all of the as yet unfulfilled promises of computers to improve relaxation, focus and most importantly education. What if this technology could be used to tell if a student is understanding and retaining what they are reading, and change the lesson if they are not? This would be an important step toward developing the computer as a personalized tutor. It would surely also be of interest to the entertainment (neurotainment?) and advertising (neurotizing?) industries to create more appealing if not addictive products and shopping suggestions. There is something to be said however for being exposed to things we don’t like but I guess you could dial in that preference too. While I think the potential is enormous, I fear that this Neurosociety is still far off as neuroceuticals/prosthetics/stim devices remain in the hands of the neuro-elite. Furthermore, I would not look to the established fields of medicine, academic research, or education for the Prometheus who will bestow that fire upon the people. They are too entrenched and lack vision. So, who knows, maybe we will need to rely on the playful spirit of the gamers and the less pure spirit of the advertisers to finally kick in the door that leads to this brave new world.
I believe Alexandre is on to something.
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