Emotionally adaptive gaming

Ever thrown a video game controller at the wall in frustration? Emotionally adaptive gaming might not solve your anger management issues, but it could help.

‘Emotionally adaptive gaming uses gamers’ emotions to adapt the gameplay in some way,’ explains PhD student Irene Higson, who has developed one of the first ever emotionally adaptive games, TEDDI.

‘The idea behind it is that if you are bored with the game, then something exciting should happen to grab your attention and keep you wanting to play.’ If on the other hand you are getting too stressed out, the game will take the pace down a notch to help calm your nerves.

Gamer psychology

You don’t need to be a mind reader to take a guess how someone is feeling. ‘We look at emotions as a two dimensional state: valence and arousal,' says Higson. ‘Arousal is excitement or stress, and valence is an unhappiness to happiness scale.’

Firstly, emotional arousal is assessed by reading your body’s hints that you are getting worked up or bored. ‘The more stressed out you are, the faster your pulse races and the more you sweat,’ explains Higson.

In her game, a skin conductance sensor measures how much electricity passes between two sensors on your fingertips – flagging up any sweat. Another device on one of your fingers measures your pulse. ‘It sends infrared light into your finger and measures how much of that light is reflected back, and that varies with how much blood is in your finger, which itself varies with your pulse,’ she adds.

Based on what is happening in the game, the computer then decides whether you are likely to be experiencing positive or negative emotions. This is important, as high arousal could indicate that you are angry and frustrated, but it might just be that you are excited about finishing the level.

Combining these two measures gives the game an idea of how you are feeling. In Higson’s game, where you battle it out with an AI (Artificial Intelligence) opponent, your adversary’s gameplay then changes accordingly. ‘If you get stressed and you are losing, the AI would become less skilled, so he has a higher chance of making a mistake,’ she explains.

Better games for everyone

One of the ideas behind adaptive gaming is to make video games accessible to new audiences. ‘If you let people play and learn at their own rate, they can play without getting frustrated,‘ says Higson. More seasoned gamers however also stand to benefit from adaptive gaming. ’If the game adapts to your emotional state, every time you play it will be different, and so you increase the life cycle of the game,’ she comments.

With consoles like the Wii already broadening video games’ audiences and changing the way we think about games, emotionally adaptive gaming seems like a natural development.  The biggest obstacle it faces however is the cost of the sensors, currently priced at a few thousand pounds.

For emotionally adaptive gaming to really catch on, it needs backing from a big company, like Nintendo or Sony; mass production would then send prices plummeting. ‘If some of them showed interest, then I think in two years it would be in our living rooms. If not, it could be 20 years,’ says Higson.

Until then, our best advice if you suffer from gaming rage is to take a deep breath and remember: it’s only a game.


Read Irene’s blog

This video shows Irene's game, TEDDI, where you play a mine sweeper style challenge against you AI opponent, collecting beans and casting spells as you go.

Embedded youtube video


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