Office Rage: Biometric Emotional Manipulation

That Wednesday feeling.

One wanky reason why I’m not excited by this virtual reality fad is that it’s currently focused on shunting people off into virtual worlds, whereas I feel my life right now needs to be deeper in actual reality. I’m more into games using biometrics, tapping into unseen realities of our own bodies. (Not that there isn’t room for both, mind–or ideally combining the two.) Dear old Valve are big into biometrics and academia’s all over it. Researchers at the University of Udine’s Human-Computer Interaction Lab recently showed off a prototype game controlled by players’ emotions. It’s only a small experiment, but let’s dream a little.

I’m almost certainly not posting this just because I keep giggling watching a virtual man become furious with a ringing telephone. It’s been a long week.

The prototype spotted on Slashdot is made with stress training in mind, a game where you need to get a chap in an office to stay calm and finish his work. It uses four sensors–tracking skin conductance, heart rate, a muscle in the eyebrow used for frowning, and another in the cheek used when smiling–to guess the player’s emotions, the research paper’s abstract explains. If they get stressed by workplace irritations, he becomes comically enraged, waving his arms and grunting until the player can relax. It’ll help them master chillaxing in their own life, the idea goes.

Yes, it is a very simple idea and no, I don’t expect we’ll tape ourselves up with electrodes at home. Like current virtual reality, I suspect whatever final form biometric game technology takes won’t remotely resemble how it exists today. At this point we’re still feeling out ideas, what might be possible, and what even works at all.

In terms of games we can actually play, Robin Arnott’s doing some fine biometric stuff with the simple technology of microphones, as we touched on in our look at alternative game controllers. His Deep Sea is an audio-only horror game controlled with–and reacting to–your breathing, while SoundSelf gives a digital trip through Oculus Rift and your own voice.

To Arnott, biometrics aren’t about replacing regular controllers, but enabling new types of games–ones that aren’t about, as he says current games are, “handling data and making information-based decisions.” We only quoted bits of what he told us, so do go and read the the full essay.

“The next generation of what we call games will not be about using the body as a means of control,” he says. “It will be defined by experiences that blur the lines between self and software.”

These games are unlikely to be about a man angry with telephones but yep, I’m still chortling at this:


  1. GameCat says:

    Wow, with my lack of temperance that poor office guy would turn into Hulk and started tearing down the whole bulding.

  2. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    … and then the player suddenly experiences a massive frustration spike for completely non-game-related reasons, like the fact he has a cat.

  3. Einhaender says:

    Let the character on the computer visit real websites, and see what happens once he reads comments on youtube. Or any comment section.

  4. ncnavguy says:

    One wonders how a psychopath would do in such games

  5. Reapy says:

    I wonder what the killer implementation of this will be?

    My first thought is they use the measure of your emotional state in single player games to keep you happy and engaged more often. Things like you sit down to play and the game detects you are overly frustrated it might lower the difficulty slightly to ensure you aren’t going to get overly pissed off or dismissive of the game.

    Another thought might be to use it to enhance the pacing of the game, say the game is following your standard hollywood curve and you are 2/3 of the way through the game and the player should be ‘down’ or depressed at that state, it might find you not quite where you should be so can throw more heavy material at you or more bleak of an outlook.

    Storytelling has become such a fine artform, that really this would be something that could take advantage of computer’s ability to modify things on the fly to ensure the audience is in exactly the state that the author wants the audience to be at that point in the movie.

    Even something like sensing a distraction from the player they hold off a climactic reveal until their attention is back into the game or something similar.

    Anyway there are lots of interesting uses for sensor input driving a game experience, but I’m not quite sure I can clearly see it as the primary experience of anything.

    • silentdan says:

      Things like you sit down to play and the game detects you are overly frustrated it might lower the difficulty slightly to ensure you aren’t going to get overly pissed off or dismissive of the game.

      I dunno … maybe for young children, but, uh … I can lower my own difficulty setting. And sometimes I want higher difficulties even if that makes things, well, difficult. Can you imagine how disappointing it would be to finally beat a level on “hard” only to realize that your earlier failures caused a silent downgrade to “normal”? And if it’s not going to do it silently, is it going to pop up and say “Dude, you’re too angry. Want easy mode?” Because if it does, I’ll fucking *show* it anger. It’ll immediately turn red and say “Danger! Danger! You’ve formed the intent to murder. Do you want to cont-” and then I would smash it.

      • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

        Some people wouldn’t lower the difficulty because that’d be “beneath” them. They would simply get angry, call the game garbage, go to metacritic and give it a 0. Yes, that’s why user’s scores should always be ignored.

        With said people, you want to stealthily lower the difficulty when they’re being crap. If you do it slowly enough they won’t notice, because their ego will tell them that they’re just too good.

        Eitherway, no need to argue this as there is no possible way such a system would work, especially if you know it’s there. You’re not yourself anymore if you know you’re being actively measured.

    • Geebs says:

      The killer implementation for biometrics would be a device which measured the spatial positioning of and force applied by, say, the player’s thumbs and forefingers. If it could be packed into a small device which fits comfortably into two hands, you’d have a great way to get input into a game.

      (That other stuff just makes me think of the joke about emotion-sensing makeup)

      (Also you only ever see biometrics, outside of very relevant work on prosthetics, in a university setting because you have to pay people to wear the stuff. Which might hurt it’s commercial prospects)

  6. silentdan says:

    I think we’re on the cusp of discovering the quantum properties of emotions. I can only speak for myself, but attempting to measure my emotional state will change my emotional state. Just reading about it is kind of pissing me off. Can’t imagine I’d respond better to having actual wires attached to me.

    Also, it’s not going to be accurate. When I’m enjoying something I’m concentrating on intently, I might be really pleased to be doing what I’m doing (a tense RTS battle, for example) but that might not be reflected at all in my eyebrow/cheek responses. I’m only exaggerating a little when I say that in the absence of a personal visit from a qualified calibration specialist, this is little better than a random number generator.


    (I’m sorry, I know we’re kind of sick of that one by now, but I had to.)

    • The Random One says:

      I get what you mean. I think I’d find it a lot easier to stay calm if failing to do so didn’t cause a virtual dude to start spazzing his arms around.

      Although looking at that video the only thing I can think of is, JOHN FREEMAN WAS AN OFFICE.

  7. Continuity says:

    “I’m more into games using biometrics, tapping into unseen realities of our own bodies”

    You know, that comes off as slightly sordid.

  8. tastyslowcooker says:

    This emotion stuff is a distraction; the only thing we really want here is inputs into a car racing game so that leaning to the right or left makes the car turn more.

  9. yhancik says:

    So is this The Stanley Parable 2?