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Office Rage: Biometric Emotional Manipulation

How angry does this ringtone make you?

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:

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About the Author
Alice O'Connor avatar

Alice O'Connor

Associate Editor

Alice has been playing video games since SkiFree and writing about them since 2009, with nine years at RPS. She enjoys immersive sims, roguelikelikes, chunky revolvers, weird little spooky indies, mods, walking simulators, and finding joy in details. Alice lives, swims, and cycles in Scotland.