Video Game Controller Senses Player's Emotions
April 9, 2014

New Video Game Controller Can Sense Player Emotions

[ Watch the Video: This Game Controller Can Read Your Emotions ]

Peter Suciu for - Your Universe Online

Earlier this week, researchers suggested that it was the failure by players to reach in-game objectives – not violent content – that may foster intense feelings of aggression. Now another set of researchers has announced that it has developed a video game controller that can sense a player’s emotions.

Stanford University engineers have developed a handheld game controller that is able to measure the player’s physiology and even alter the gameplay accordingly – potentially even to make it more engaging. The researchers modified a Microsoft Xbox 360 game controller and added a 3D printed module that features several sensors. Small metal pads on the surface of this modified controller can measure the gamer’s heart rate, blood flow and even the rate of breath and how deeply the gamer is actually breathing.

Another light-operated sensor is able to provide a second heart rate measurement, while accelerometers further measure how frantically the person might be shaking the controller. These measures are then synced to custom-built software that gauges the intensity of the game.

While this technology could potentially be used with a number of games, for the study the Stanford researchers relied on a simple but fast-paced racing game that requires the player to drive over colored tiles in a particular sequence. This allowed those conducting the research to better compare the date to generate an overall picture of how engaged the player was in the experience.

The prototype controller was reportedly born from research conducted by Gregory Kovacs, a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford and conducted in collaboration with Texas Instruments. Stanford's Bjorn Carey reports that the main area of research by grad students in Kovacs’ lab involved developing practical ways of measuring physiological signals to determine how an individual’s bodily systems were functioning.

Doctoral candidate Cory McCall, who built the modified Xbox 360 controller, studied the autonomic nervous system and the emotional part of the brain – where changes occur when people get excited, bored, happy or sad. This activity can in turn influence an individual’s heart rate, respiration rate, temperature, perspiration and even other key bodily processes.

“You can see the expression of a person’s autonomic nervous system in their heart rate and skin temperature and respiration rate, and by measuring those outputs, we can understand what's happening in the brain almost instantaneously,” McCall, who was the leader on the game controller project, told Carey.

McCall determined that he could easily monitor people in various mental states as they played video games and found that he could get much of the data required for his study straight from the subjects’ hands. From this he built that custom controller, which he presented earlier this year at the International CES – formerly the Consumer Electronics Show.

The researcher is now planning to take this research a bit further, where the controller could provide feedback to the actual video game console, which would then alter the pace of the gameplay to best suit a player. This could lead to even more customizable gaming experiences.

“If a player wants maximum engagement and excitement, we can measure when they are getting bored and, for example, introduce more zombies into the level,” McCall added. “We can also control the game for children. If parents are concerned that their children are getting too wrapped up in the game, we can tone it down or remind them that it’s time for a healthy break.”