Is the Left 4 Dead developer suddenly taking an unhealthy interest in cranial anatomy?

The folks at Valve may not want to eat your brains, but they sure seem interesting in what’s going on in your noggin. In an essay published in Edge today discussing development of the popular zombie-laden first-person shooter, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell divulges his desire to make even better games by studying players’ brain activity and bodily responses.

Newell explains human play testing was a crucially important component of the development process in Left 4 Dead. However, the team can only conjecture how design decisions in a game affect a player, by watching how they react. While that’s helpful, there’s a more effective way to track the results: hooking players up to machinery.

“Right now we have to filter our observations of players by simply by watching them, and then we have to guess as to how certain things are affecting the player,” he said. “But there are new technologies where we can wire players up with EEGs and actually have direct exposure to their physical reactions to the games. We can know for sure of something is actually frightening the player – their heart rate is going up, their respiration stats are peaking, appropriate parts of their brains are being activated.”

The prospect of measuring a player’s responses to in-game activity is “super exciting,” he said. This will allow the team to develop elements within a game to intentionally create specific reactions in players. Spooky.

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