I came across an article in a Sunday newspaper a couple of weeks ago about an artist called xxxy who has created an installation using a BCI of sorts. I’m piecing this together from what I read in the paper and what I could see on his site, but the general idea is this: person wears a portable EEG rig (I don’t recognise the model) and is placed in a harness with wires reaching up and up and up into the ceiling. The person closes their eyes and relaxes – presumably as they enter a state of alpha augmentation, they begin to levitate courtesy of the wires. The more that they relax or the longer they sustain that state, the higher they go. It’s hard to tell from the video, but the person seems to be suspended around 25-30 feet in the air.
Admin: Workshop papers can be found here.
Last month I attended the BioS-Play workshop at the Fun and Games 2010 conference over in Leuven, Belgium. I was presenting Physiology as XP – Bodyblogging to Victory, a position paper I co-wrote with Steve in which we extended the body blogging concept to computer games. In part 1 of this 2 part series of posts on BioS-Play I’ll be re-counting my experiences at the conference, as well as providing my thoughts on the likely research direction physiological games will take in the future.
The post is rather large so I’ve made a few quick links to provide readers a taster of what’s contained within.
- EmRoll: A 2 player co-operative children’s game which uses a mixture of gestures and biological interactions to control Gamboo, a 2 headed monster. What the Xbox 360 Kinetic might offer in the future.
- Study investigating the effect of sharing physiological information in collocated and networked environments on measures of presence and emotion. Following on from Steve’s Valve post, what measurable benefits might shared physiology actually bring to multiplayer games like Left for Dead.
- Workshop discussion, covers such issues as: how do we design meaningful physiological interactions and how do we evaluate the efficacy of the user experience of a physioloigcal interface?
The Workshop Theme
BioS-Play was aimed at exploring the use of biological signals (e.g. brain waves) in both a multiplayer and social gaming environment. For full details see the workshop proposal. Over the past decade there has been an up turn in using this class of physiological input in computer games, however the majority of such systems are designed for single player experiences. This is not really surprising, although such signals have been utilised by games since the 70’s, bio-adaptive interaction was only used in a limited therapeutic capacity. It was not until the late 90’s, a period that saw the emergence of Affective Computing, that we saw player physiology being used in more interesting ways (e.g. see MIT Media Lab Europe projects on affective feedback).
This recent interview with Gabe Newell of Valve caught our interest because it’s so rare that a game developer talks publicly about the potential of physiological computing to enhance the experience of gamers. The idea of using live physiological data feeds in order to adapt computer games and enhance game play was first floated by Kiel in these papers way back in 2003 and 2005. Like Kiel, in my writings on this topic (Fairclough, 2007; 2008 – see publications here), I focused exclusively on two problems: (1) how to represent the state of the player, and (2) what could the software do with this representation of the player state. In other words, how can live physiological monitoring of the player state inform real-time software adaptation? For example, to make the game harder or to increase the music or to offer help (a set of strategies that Kiel summarised in three categories, challenge me/assist me/emote me)- but to make these adjustments in real time in order to enhance game play.
In April there was a rumour going around that the next Red Steel (the third in the series) might support the Wii Vitality. The gameplay in Red Steel is a mixture of first person shooting and first person sword fighting. In the last Red Steel the combat system felt very similar to that of two-player fighting games like Street Fighter as apart from the basic sword fighting techniques you can perform with the Wii controller (e.g. blocking and striking) you could also pull off a range of special moves with different combinations of gestures and key presses. I’m a big fan of the Red Steel franchise and I believe it would be an interesting series to explore biofeedback based gameplay mechanics as both the mythos and the physical skillset being simulated in Red Steel lends itself well to intrinsically interesting physiological manipulations (e.g. as your playing a swordsman, “zen” powers aren’t too much of stretch for your suspension of disbelief). Below I’ve made a couple of suggestions as to what biofeedback based gameplay mechanics you might find in the next Red Steel game if it uses the Wii Vitality: –
Well that was a disappointment. In the end Nintendo decided against demonstrating the Wii Vitality at this year’s E3. A representative of the company stated that the Vitality was a no-show because Nintendo did not believe the event was a suitable environment for the product. Disappointing but given their press event was jam packed with a number of AAA games and a new portable it was understandable. However with the Vitality aimed for a late 2010 release it doesn’t give Nintendo much time to create a buzz around a product that frankly has none. In actuality I was surprised that Nintendo didn’t use their recent endorsement deal with the American Heart Association to hype Vitality pre E3. While the product is currently being marketed towards mental health (i.e. stress management), rather than physical health which the AHA endorsement concerns, Nintendo could of easily used the event as part of a broader health platform and so make better use of the publicity the endorsement deal attracted.
Thursday the Herald Sun (via GamePolitics) reported on the possibility of lie detection games being supported by the new Wii Vitality Sensor. While I’ve not seen any reports that the Vitality sensor measures skin conductance (i.e. level of sweat on the inner surface of the fingers) as claimed in the article*, it did get me thinking whether or not lie detection could be a fun game mechanic.
Basics of Lie Detection
Lie detection is based on the premise that when a person lies it elicits a physiological response which can be discriminated from the truth. In a polygraph test (a type of lie detection test) this premise is used to ascertain whether a person is answering a question truthfully or not using a range of autonomic measures such as pulse rate (i.e. like Vitality supports), skin conductance and blood pressure. In a typical polygraph test an investigator begins by asking a subject a few sample questions for which the truth is already known. This allows them to build a baseline for physiological activity representative of a question answered truthfully. Next the investigator will ask questions for which the truth is not known and via their physiological responses the investigator will infer whether they have lied or not. Obviously this all assumes that lying has its own physiological discriminates. To my knowledge it doesn’t, least not the autonomic measures commonly used in a polygraph test. For more information I suggest consulting The Polygraph and Lie Detection (National Academy Press)**.
Anyways back to whether lie detection can be a fun game mechanic. I’m going to walk you through the design of an example lie detection game and discuss the various issues and its potential for play along the way.
At this year’s E3 Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony all presented their own vision of how the player will interact with games in the future. Microsoft introduced Project Natal, a full-body hands-free game controller, which had previously been hinted upon early last month. You can check the concept video here. Sony demonstrated a wand like motion controller which works in conjunction with the Playstation Eye. And Nintendo revealed the Wii Vitality Sensor, a biosensor add-on for the Wii controller.
Sadly Nintendo didn’t reveal any specific details (or games for that matter) on how they intend to use the sensor. However from what little they did provide its likely Nintendo are going to start with stress management games similar in nature to Healing Rhythm’s Journey to Wild Divine series. Given the relax-to-win game format is very common in biofeedback based stress management, I’m suprised a game demo was not forthcoming. Oh well, E3 isn’t over as of yet, so they might reveal some more information.
Next we’ll have a look at the type of experiences the Wii Vitality can be expected to provide.