Valve Wants to Use Your Sweat as a Gaming Device


Mike Ambinder, Valve’s experimental psychologist, talks about the possibility of sweat detection and eye-tracking for videogames.

The fact that Mike Ambinder is even on the Valve Software payroll shows you just how committed the company is to thinking up new and interesting ways of bringing you the best gaming experience. Ambinder is an experimental psychologist, and Valve have set him to work trying to find out ways of making videogames more immersive. Biofeedback such as sweat detection and eye-tracking are just two ideas Ambinder has been playing around with.

“One thing we are very interested in is the notion of biofeedback and how it can be applied to game design,” he said. “There is potential on both sides of the equation, both for using physiological signals to quantify an emotional state while people are playing the game.” Ambinder says with current gaming imput devices, the game developer doesn’t know how the player is enjoying the game or what their emotional state is. With biofeedback, developers would be able to shape their game around how a person feels while playing it.

To give an example, Ambinder said Valve has conducted experiments in which it has measured players’ sweat and correlated that to their level of arousal while playing. The more you sweat, the more anxious you are. They then fed that data into Left 4 Dead and tried to modify the play experience so it would react to your emotions. When playing “scary” games like Left 4 Dead or Resident Evil, I could think of nothing more immersive than the game being able to tell exactly how scared you are, and using it against you.

He also talked of an experiment in which the player had four minutes to shoot 100 enemies. If the player was calm, the game would progress normally. If they got aroused or nervous, the game would move more quickly, and they would have less time to shoot the enemies.

As for eye-tracking, Ambinder points out the obvious: eyes move faster than fingers. Valve built a version of Portal 2 that was controlled with your eyes. This version decoupled aiming and viewpoint, in much the same way the Occulus Rift works. “It’s still experimental, but it worked pretty well, and we were pleased with that,” he said.

Beyond sweat and eye-tracking, other forms of biofeedback include: heart rate, facial expression, brain waves, pupil dilation, body temperature, and more. As well as being helpful for improving the immersion factor for gamers, this kind of technology can help out developers in the testing phase of development. Being able to see emotional states first-hand with raw data is much more usefull than asking someone in a postgame interview about how they felt while playing.

Source: Venture Beat

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