Category Archives: Musings

Thoughts, opinions about physiological computing applications both real and imaginary

Physiological Computing, Challenges for Developers and Users.

I recently received a questionnaire from the European Parliament, or rather  its STOA panel with respect to developments in physiological computing and implications for social policy.  The European Technology Assessment Group (ETAG) is working on a study with the title “Making Perfect Life” which includes a section on biocybernetic adaptation as well as BCI as other kinds of “assistive” technology.  The accompanying email told me the questionnaire would take half-an-hour to complete (it didn’t) but they asked some interesting questions, particularly surrounding the view of the general public about this technology and issues surrounding data protection.

I’ve included a slightly-edited version of the questionnaire with my responses. Questions are in italics.
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Biometrics and evaluation of gaming experience part two: a thought experiment

Recent posts on the blog have concerned the topic of psychophysiology (or biometrics) and the evaluation of player experience.  Based on those posts and the comments that followed, I decided to do a thought experiment.

Imagine that I work for a big software house who want to sell as many games as possible and ensure that their product (which costs on average $3-5 million to develop per platform) is as good as it possibly can be – and one of the suits from upstairs calls and asks me “how should we be using biometrics as part of our user experience evaluation?  The equipment is expensive, its labour-intensive to analyse and nobody seems to understand what the data means.”  (This sentiment is not exaggerated, I once presented a set of fairly ambiguous psychophysiological data to a fellow researcher who nodded purposefully and said “So the physiology stuff is voodoo.”)

Here’s a list of 10 things I would push for by way of a response.

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Biometrics, Game Evaluation and User XP: Approach with caution

This post represents some thoughts on the use of psychophysiology to evaluate the player experience during a computer game.  As such, it’s tangential to the main business of this blog, but it’s a topic that I think is worth some discussion and debate, as it raises a whole bunch of pertinent issues for the design of physiological computer games.

Psychophysiological methods are combined with computer games in two types of context: applied psychology research and game evaluation in a commercial context.  With respect to the former, a researcher may use a computer game as a platform to study a psychological concept, such as effects of game play on aggression or how playing against a friend or a stranger influences the experience of the player (see this recent issue of Entertainment Computing for examples).  In both cases, we’re dealing with the application of an experimental psychology methodology to an issue where the game is used as a task or virtual world within which to study behaviour.  The computer game merely represents an environment or context in which to study human behaviour.   This approach is characterised by several features: (1) comparisons are made between carefully controlled conditions, (2) statistical power is important (if you want to see your work published) so large numbers of participants are run through the design, (3) selection of participants is carefully controlled (equal number of males and females, comparative age ranges if groups are compared) and (4) counterbalanced designs, i.e. if participants play 2 different games, half of them play game 1 then game 2 whilst the other half play game 2 and then game 1; this is important because the order in which games are presented often influences the response of the participants.
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Moodscope, subjective ratings and body blogging

Admin: Please welcome to the site our new Physiological Computing blogger.

My name is Ute Kreplin and I am a new PhD student at Liverpool John Moores University under the supervision of Dr Steven Fairclough. My PhD research topic is on Neuroaesthetics with a focus on “interest” in the aesthetic experience and its psychophysiological underpinnings. I am also very interested in positive psychology, which I am pursuing through studies at the University of East London. I am combining my interest in positive psychology and physiological computing in this blog, which will hopefully be my first of many.
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Will the Wii Vitality every reach 99% of all customers?

At a recent investor conference, Nintendo was rumoured to of stated that the reason the Wii Vitality has not been released was because it only works for 80% of players and before they release it they want it to work for 99%. If this issue concerns the physiological game mechanic (i.e. only 80% of players can control their physiology according to the requirements of the game mechanic), then the product will be on hold for a very long time.

Note: For the purposes of this post I’m going to assume Nintendo are experimenting with a heartbeat (HR) rate based biofeedback relaxation game which they’ve alluded to previously at E3 2009. However what I’m going to say applies equally to all physiological game mechanics I know of and should be borne in mind when developing your own physiological game.
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Time Keeps on a Slippin

Most people I know who work in the field of physiological computing purchase off-the-shelf sensors for their research. There’s nothing specifically wrong with this, most of us are not engineers and nor do we have the time to become one as our interests lie elsewhere. At LJMU all our equipment is off-the-shelf and we have some damn fine devices which we’ve used in our work (e.g. see my review of the BM CS-5 cheststrap). However I’ve noticed we place a lot of faith (and money) in these devices to do what they say on the tin (e.g. see the issue I raised last year about the software bundled with BioHarness). Personally I like to know the limitations of any equipment I’m using, and if I find anything outside the spec I’ll try to figure out why (sometimes to my detriment as you’ll see below). Its not that I’m particularly troubled if a sensor has any defects as I don’t expect them to be perfect, the problem I have is with defects I don’t know about as they can make things, problematic to say the least. For example the first off-the-shelf sensor I ever worked with was the WaveRider Pro a 4 channel biofeedback device which had a slight problem with counting time.

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Road rage, unhealthy emotions and affective computing

From the point of view of an outsider, the utility and value of computer technology that provides emotional feedback to the human operator is questionable.  The basic argument normally goes like this: even if the technology works, do I really need a machine to tell me that I’m happy or angry or calm or anxious or excited?  First of all, the feedback provided by this machine would be redundant, I already have a mind/body that keeps me fully appraised of my emotional status – thank you.  Secondly, if I’m angry or frustrated, do you really think I would helped in any way by a machine that drew my attention to these negative emotions, actually that would be particularly annoying.  Finally, sometimes I’m not quite sure how I’m feeling or how I feel about something; feedback from a machine that says you’re happy or angry would just muddy the waters and add further confusion.

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Predictions for 2011

Well there goes by another year I don’t get to spend the holidays playing with the Wii Vitality. I’m beginning to think Nintendo have given up on the whole idea of biofeedback adapted gaming given the lack of noise they’ve made since the platforms original announcement in June 2009. I originally bought my Wii on the premise that Nintendo was going to start the ball rolling on integrating biofeedback interfaces into mainstream games, and to that effect have speculated several times on the type of experiences we might see and how they would work (e.g. action games, lie-detection, relaxation and fitness). However it looks like this device will remain vaporware for the foreseeable future. Continue reading

Emotiv EPOC and the triple dilemma of early adoption

The UK version of Wired magazine ran an article in last month’s edition (no online version available) about Emotiv and the development of the EPOC headset.  Much of the article focused on the human side of the story, the writer mixed biographical details of company founders with how the ideas driving the development of the headset came together.  I’ve written about Emotiv before here on a specific technical issue.  I still haven’t had any direct experience of the system, but I’d like to write about the EPOC again because it’s emerging as the headset of choice for early adopters.

In this article, I’d like to discuss a number of dilemmas that are faced by both the company and their customers.  These issues aren’t specific to Emotiv, they hold for other companies in the process of selling/developing hardware for physiological computing systems.

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Physiological Computing: increased self-awareness or the fast track to a divided ego?

In last week’s excellent Bad Science article from The Guardian, Ben Goldacre puts his finger on a topic that I think is particularly relevant for physiological computing systems.  He quotes press reports about MRI research into “hypoactive sexual desire response” – no, I hadn’t heard of it either, it’s a condition where the person has low libido.  In this study women with the condition and ‘normals’ viewed erotic imagery in the scanner.  A full article on the study from the Mail can be found here but what caught the attention of Bad Science is this interesting quote from one of the researchers involved: “Being able to identify physiological changes, to me provides significant evidence that it’s a true disorder as opposed to a societal construct.”

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