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Using biofeedback, games might go from escapist to introspective

In an interview with RPS, SoundSelf designer Robin Arnott ruminates on how incorporating biofeedback data like breathing patterns or heart rate into game design might change the industry.
"I think [biofeedback] opens up huge new vistas of design when designers instead focus player attention inwards, on the mind itself."
- Developer Robin Arnott ruminates on how incorporating biofeedback data like breathing patterns, heart rate and body temperature into game design might change the industry. Playing Robin Arnott's IGF award-nominated game SoundSelf is an exercise in self-reflection. The game encourages you to make noises as you breathe out, then interprets them via a microphone and uses that data to affect the images and sounds that you experience. Speaking to Rock Paper Shotgun, Arnott says he experienced a breakthrough moment in his understanding of game design when he realized that SoundSelf was capable of analyzing a player's mood and responding to it based on the pattern of their involuntary breathing. "This means I know approximately the rate and rhythm of the player's breath, which means I know approximately how relaxed and entranced they are," said Arnott. "In a way, SoundSelf now has a basic artificial-emotional-intelligence. If you're playful and energized, it can meet you there. If you're entranced and 'zenned out', it can meet you there too." Valve has already taken significant steps forward in designing games that incorporate biofeedback, as Arnott himself notes while recalling the 2011 GDC talk Valve's Mike Ambinder gave on measuring human physiological responses to fine-tune the design of Left 4 Dead's AI director. "In my mind it has since seemed inevitable that gaming controllers would eventually include EKG and galvanic skin resistance detectors," said Arnott. "They're cheap, and they provide a treasure-trove of personalized data to feed into any game." But while the topic of biofeedback is nothing new, it's worth reading the full interview with Arnott over on RPS for some fresh insight into how physiological data might be incorporated into a wide variety of titles -- not just horror games and first-person shooters. For even more insight into how you can design your games using biofeedback, take a look back at this Gamasutra feature about three developers who are doing just that. For practical advice and gear suggestions, check out developer Erin Reynold's blog post about how she's incorporating biofeedback input into her upcoming horror game Nevermind.

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