Biofeedback Form: Nevermind Wants To Scare You Better

By John Walker on February 6th, 2014 at 8:00 am.

As someone who suffers from anxiety disorder, the idea of a horror game designed to get more challenging the more scared you get, “honing your ability to manage anxiety”, sounds like the last thing I’d ever want to play. Which makes my desire to play it a little confusing. Nevermind, a game title that will only further my habit of accidentally writing those two words as one, is Kickstartering itself for the not inconsiderable sum of $250,000, to develop a “biofeedback horror adventure”. Cripes.

So, as you play a USB-based device monitors your heart rate, and recognises when you’re being a giant scaredy-cat. The more freaked out you get, the harder the game becomes. So you JUST HAVE TO GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF if you want to be able to succeed. Or have a panic attack, collapsed on the floor, staring into the black tunnel and wondering if this means you won or lost.

This isn’t a new game, it should be said. This has been floating around, with its biofeedback promises, since 2012. It was a student project, and won a bunch of attention for its genuinely interesting concepts. However, back then it failed at a stupendously less ambitious Indiegogo campaign, then only trying to raise $3,000, and failed to get half way. Now it’s after 83 times that – gosh, their heart rates must be racing.

One claim made by creator Erin Reynolds in the pitch video I’d like to challenge is, “The game knows more about you than you know about yourself.” It may well know more about my biorhythms than I’m consciously aware of, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t know about my middle school swimming certificates, nor where I put my National Insurance card. Let’s maintain some control here. The project itself has some aspirations toward doing good.

“Nevermind’s goal is to create an unforgettable gameplay experience that also teaches players how to be more aware of their internal responses to stressful situations. If you can learn to control your anxiety within the disturbing realm of Nevermind, just imagine what you can do when it comes to those inevitable stressful moments in the real world…”

So it’s a sort of combination of aversion therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy? “Learn to cope with this spider or I’ll throw more spiders at you,” sort of thing. However, testing my own stress levels, it goes on to describe itself as “an adventure game (in the spirit of classic games like Myst)”. Nooooooooooo! In it you play a Neuroprober, which means being a doctor who enters the minds of psychologically disturbed trauma victims. Blimey. They’re aiming to make a game that lasts around five hours, and are exploring possibilities of making the PC/Mac project work with Oculus Rift.

A $20 pledge aims for a copy of the game, but it’s not until $190 before you’ll get yourself a heart-rate sensor with it. Although you can pick them up on Amazon and the like for around £60. They say the game can be played without it, but that does seem like getting a copy of Duck Hunt without a light gun.

Quarter of a million dollars is a very lofty goal for a very niche-seeming project. However, these odd ones are often those that catch fire on Kickstarter, and end up making a fortune. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.

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18 Comments »

  1. yogibbear says:

    Looks pretty cool. Not so sure I’d survive though… my hearts seems to get away from me as it is in things like Amnesia & so forth. Doubt having it tied into progressing in the game would make it any easier, I guess you could just take it off…. but perhaps game progress ends when your heart stops beating……. FATALITY! Might need my heart kick started….

  2. Jakkar says:

    While I love your posts, I must point out – as several have regarding the GOG Time Machine Sale/Public Domain editorial – that you keep opening with the words ‘as someone who’. I curse myself when I catch that kind of habitual repetition in my own work, and imagine you might want to vary your ‘pre-break’ paragraphs a bit.

    Excellent work on the editorial, by the way.

    Nevermind… Intriguing notions, but I’m honestly more interested in games that can cause any sort of emotional or psychological reaction. I’m increasingly numb, due to a mixture of mental illness and jaded overexperience in the interactive medium. An anxious reaction would be interesting. I’d like to be effected this way by a game. I recall the tension I’d build up as a preteen with my family’s first PC, nervously crawling the corridors of the Vortex Rikers, Unreal 1′s prison ship in the opening level, taking half an hour to face a single Skaarj, panicking, dying, and being unable to play again for three days.

    Though nothing, I think, will match the trauma of the Hoth wampa prison cells in the N64 game Shadows of the Empire. It was the lava-flow that chases you through the Marble Zone in Sonic 1 that got my little sister. Assess away, Erin Reynolds.

    • mr.black says:

      As someone who doesn’t give a furry marten’s ass about that sort of thing, I find this comment interesting in its focus.

      And OT, who’s gonna stop me from turning the damn thing off if I find the experience too scary (which isn’t a hard feat to accomplish)?!

      • Jakkar says:

        As someone who habitually wastes time on the internet as a coping method for long solitary nights of crazy, even I question your need to inform others that you don’t care about the things they care about.

        … YOU MONSTER.

  3. azrd79 says:

    The only video game to ever get my heart rate up is Eve online when I’m about to lose my bloody rare tech 2 battleship (forgot it’s name, this was years ago) with a character jacked full of named speed implants during a a big alliance war.

    No single player game, horror or otherwise where you lose nothing can produce any sort of true anxiety.

    • Jakkar says:

      Anxiety is an individual experience. As a child, games could induce anxiety. As I age, it becomes rarer and rarer. Friends are chilled by my lack of ordinary responses to traumatic or stressful events, even as I find the absence quite helpful. I’ve friends, on the other hand, who can barely keep hold of the mouse when something leaps out at them in a decent horror game, even after hours, days or weeks of play.

      We all experience fear differently.

      The ability to care about something that isn’t ‘real’ is key to enjoying fiction. Some can, some can’t. I’ve sympathy for those unable, though I’m slowly coming to join their ranks.

      • azrd79 says:

        Not saying I don’t feel anything when something bad happens in any sort of fiction I’m emotionally invested in, just doesn’t really compare to the true fear of losing something you’ve put a lot of time and effort into getting. Especially in a single player game where you can just reload when something bad happens, on the other hand I might feel sad when a character I like dies in a game but that’s not anxiety or fear.

        Honestly this just feel gimmicky to me.

  4. UmmonTL says:

    Honestly, I’m not sure if biofeedback can make for a better horrorgame. The designer should really know beforehand when the player will be scared and make sure the scares are paced well. The question is how exactly the game gets harder when the heartrate goes up?
    Nowhere on the kickstarter page or in the video is this adressed as far as I could see. Any effects impeding your controls or visuals would probably get annoying quickly if it keeps going as long as your heartrate is up and might even stop you from being scared after a short while. The same goes for prolonging the scary moment because you will destroy the pacing of an otherwise good scare. The only thing I could imagine really working is trying to find out individual fears by experimenting with different scares in the beginning and, depending on the reaction, changing later ones to match that fear somewhat. More spiders for the arachnophobic and the like.
    But there are people that just don’t get scared by games and this won’t change it for them and others who do get scared already throw their controllers away and have the time honored tradition of pausing the game to calm down.
    Although I’m being quite negative here, the basic game premise is kind of a non-cute Psychonauts, delving into the minds of the insane which sounds really cool.

    • Rindan says:

      I am pretty skeptical of the whole biofeedback thing. The idea of using it to punish me after getting amped is hilariously laughable. The challenge in a video game isn’t keeping my heart rate down, but keeping it up. You have to do something pretty remarkable and novel to provoke a reaction from me. If things remain easy when my heart rate stays flat line, it is going to be a very easy game.

      Far more interesting to me is for a game trying to provoke a reaction. I have some serious skepticism that we can do it, but I am happy for people to try. The reason why I have skepticism over a game’s ability to provoke a reaction is because in order for a game to try different things to freak me out, it is going to have to have some element of procedural generation. Procedurally generated stuff can certainly be fun, rarely is it terribly meaningful. Generally, it takes a little artistic vision to press my buttons. I don’t think procedural generation is even close to achieving the sort of cohesive vision that it can start to actually screw with me.

      Like I said though, I am all for games trying to mess with me. The occasional flash of emotion from a game is always a rare treat, but I think that it is essentially impossible (as of yet) for a game to provoke that often and through any other means than careful crafting my a human.

  5. Boosh says:

    Curiously games of any type are the one thing that don’t give me anxiety of any kind. Indeed I play them to get away from the almost constant crushing anxieties of my daily life.
    In that regard this is merely mirroring what actually happens in real life; more anxious you get the shittier everything becomes and really the only way to deal with it, is to deal with it.

  6. Shooop says:

    Haven’t developers learned yet that requiring extra hardware just to use with their game is a great way to guarantee failure?

  7. The Random One says:

    So the harder it is for you to play the game, the harder it gets? Sounds counter-intuitive.

    • SillyWizard says:

      Not to mention that negative-reinforcement therapy has resoundingly dismissed as an effective form of therapy by the APA, despite anecdotal evidence that it can occasionally see results.

      • LTK says:

        Yet this is not therapy. It’s a game.

        • CookPassBabtridge says:

          The developers are claiming improved real world stress management abilities as a result of playing this game, within their pitch video, so discussions of its potential therapeutic value are entirely valid, even if it is not being directly sold as ‘therapy’.

  8. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Anxiety is a compartmentalised phenomenon. So if your everyday life features unspeakable abominations ooga booging you in darkened corridors, great. Therapy. On the other hand it will do precisely nothing for fears of anything else (source: CBT Therapist)

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  10. Tsarcastic says:

    I’m not sure I understand. It says the game gets harder when you’re stressed or anxious, but none of that looks very scary to me. Are you sure it’s the right video?

    I was expecting to bump into acquaintances on the street, or check out at the grocery store, or meet someone on a first date. But instead all I saw was dead bodies, enormous carnival heads following you with their eyes and blood everywhere. Situations everyone encounters on a day-to-basis, and no one could possibly find scary.