Video Games Can Now Tap in to Players’ Emotions

In a recent article by Wired Magazine, author Charles Q. Choi discusses the new trend of video games that analyze players’ emotions in order to create a better gaming experience.

Choi states that “Nintendo’s Wii game console may owe some of its extraordinary success to emotions that are triggered by specific movements: It might essentially be using your body to hack into your brain.”

We recently blogged about actions creating emotions. This same principle can apply to both the Wii and the new Xbox Kinect. For example, “Star Wars: The Force Unleashed” has players fling an object or person to the ground with a hurling motion using the nunchuk part of the Wii controller. This motion creates a feeling of aggression, and really puts the player in the mindset of the character they are playing as.

As Katherine Isbister, computer and social scientist at NYU’s Polytechnic Institute, states: “One really wonderful thing you can do with games is identify with protagonists, to go on the hero’s journey, and imagine how much one could feel what they feel if players learned to stand and move the same way – to go, say, from a hesitant posture to a confident one.”

The utilization of physical movements in video games continues the trend of turning gaming into a more active (rather than passive) experience. The Nintendo Wii has already attracted a huge demographic of casual gamers, and incorporating players’ emotions will create an experience that many Wii fanatics would enjoy. According to Isbister, “Physically being in sync can lead to feelings of liking or trust. You can make people feel more connected.”

There are numerous ways that emotion could factor into gameplay. In role playing games, the storyline could change depending on the way the player moves. Difficulty in games could be adjusted if the player’s movements are indicative of frustration.

Do you play video games? If so, do you think you would enjoy games that tap into your emotions?

Developers are also doing research on gaming and emotion. For example, they have testers play a minigame, capture their movement data, and interview them before and after playing to see how their moods change. So far, research suggests that both the type of motion and its quality affect players’ moods and feelings about the game itself.

In addition, when testing the dance games Boogie Superstar and Wii Cheer, participants said that they enjoyed the latter more than the former. According to testers, the movements in Boogie Superstar were constrained and mechanical, whereas the movements in Wii Cheer were more flowing and buoyant.

Research like this is an even better indicator of how much players enjoy certain types of games even more than average dollar sales.

How do you think ‘hacking’ into players’ emotions will affect the gaming industry?

One response to “Video Games Can Now Tap in to Players’ Emotions”

  1. Keith D. says:

    As with any technology, especially used for entertainment, it’ll depend on the creativity of the game designer as to whether or not it’s effective.

    I’m a gamer myself, but I don’t really fit the mold of a prototypical gamer. I like playing first-person shooters but I’m not a run and gun guy, I like to explore the game world as fully as possible and try to think of creative ways to use the game against itself or break what the designers intended for me to do. An example was a dungeon game years ago, I think it may have been called Dungeon Master, where you ran around exploring a dungeon and picking up weapons and creating your own new magic spells to use. I’d gotten frustrated with being killed all the time because a monster would take me by surprise and I wasn’t strong enough or quick enough to kill it. But I figured out that if I left stone doors open in the corridors behind me, that if I ran as soon as I encountered a monster and then closed those doors at just the right time, I could simply crush them with the big stone door and not risk death myself. That added a whole new dimension to the game and made it even more fun.

    Other players will play the same games and enjoy being stealthy to kill enemies, while still others like to use brute force and just run in with guns blazing. By measuring frustration and pleasure, a game designer could cater the gaming experience by tweaking a set of variables within the game world to give each type of player a more enjoyable experience.

    Valve Software (which was the first game company to make use of F.A.C.S. in its character animation system, still among the best facial animation systems n a video game today well nigh 6 years after its release) is already working with this kind of system to some extent. In Left 4 Dead 2, they’ve designed a system that controls the number of enemies encountered, their intelligence, their ability to work together, the paths available to the player within the game world, the time of day, even the weather, according to how the player is engaging with the game and their relative success rate.

    By adding an emotional reading into the mix, they could make those tweaks even more meaningful to the player. For example, if a player gets frustrated by enemies flanking him, but gets excited and happy when he can storm in and just blast them away, the enemies’ AI could be tweaked to be challenging to him but only in ways that the player actually enjoys. Or if someone likes fighting in the rain, it could rain more frequently, or even use the appearance of rain to foreshadow an enemy encounter or even mislead the player into thinking a bunch of enemies are just around the corner. Tools like this could be a boon to any number of relatively unexplored genres of games. You could make a scary game that’s actually scary, but not terrifying for the player for example.

    I look forward to a system like this in video games, but only from game designers who spend the time and effort to properly implement it, or use it in really creative ways. If it’s done poorly, I’d just as soon disable it completely. I think many game companies won’t go to the expense and trouble of trying to implement this kind of system until it’s well fleshed out by other companies and becomes the latest “must-have” for a game to succeed. Physics is a good example of that, nobody cared about it until a third-party company developed a solid physics system that could be easily integrated to a game without all the effort of re-inventing the wheel. Now that that’s been done, it’s in nearly every game out there and it’s often so good we don’t even notice it’s there anymore. As it should be. 🙂

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