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Valve wants to see you sweat - in the name of game design

Valve has been experimenting with biofeedback in games, exploring how a player's physiological signals can be used to determine their emotional state, and affect the game design.
Valve has been experimenting with biofeedback in video games, exploring how a player's physiological signals can be used to determine their emotional state, and in turn potentially affect the game design. Talking at the NeuroGaming Conference last week, and as reported by Venturebeat, Valve experimental psychologist Mike Ambinder explained that biofeedback can be utilized in video games in various ways. "There is potential on both sides of the equation," he noted, "both for using physiological signals to quantify an emotional state while people are playing the game, and getting an idea of how people are emotionally experiencing your game -- in a somewhat more granular fashion that you can get from watching them, or hearing them think aloud, or asking them questions afterwards." Ambinder says that, while a mouse, keyboard or gamepad are great for controlling video game experiences and providing the game with feedback from the player, games cannot currently tap into a player's emotional state and make use of this data. With this in mind, Valve has run a series of experiments using its first-person zombie shooter Left4Dead, in which the game would take the pH content of a player's sweat, and make the game more difficult and tense if a player was aroused or nervous. The idea behind the experiment was to make the player question: "How nervous am I? How is that impacting my future performance?" The company has also experimented with eye-tracking in games, adding the ability to control Portal 2 with eye movement. "The eyes are quicker," reasons Ambinder, "so if you're creating a game where accuracy and speed of movement are incredibly important, you can imagine the eyes in theory being a more appealing case." He added, "We'd love to see more game developers thinking along these lines, and trying to see what's possible when you actually incorporate this whole other access of player experience that is being ignored by traditional control schemes." Valve co-founder Gabe Newell has discussed the potential for utilizing biofeedback and gaze-tracking in video games before, stating, "We're a lot more excited about biometrics as an input method. Motion just seems to be a way of [thinking] of your body as a set of communication channels. Your hands, and your wrist muscles, and your fingers are actually your highest bandwidth -- so to try to talk to a game with your arms is essentially saying, 'Oh, we're going to stop using Ethernet and go back to 300 baud dial-up.'"

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