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EEG in video games
by on 11/16/12 11:37:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

I'd like to discuss the possibility of integrating brain waves into video games. I should mention that I'm not an expert game developer, I'm a researcher working on a wireless EEG device with a few other scientists, designers, programmers and engineers (here it is) so I apologize if I'm going into too much or too little detail. I would like to get your opinions on the potential compatibility of EEG and video games.
It's not an entirely new thing, but there are now new tools for making things easier: Some EEG headbands can give you access to your raw brain wave signal. This data can be filtered (either by the EEG device or the host system), to get rid of artifacts caused by eye or head movements. A built-in accelerometer helps to indicate when major movements are taking place. The signal can then be processed: You can look at the power of each frequency or frequency band by running an FFT and give the player live feedback of some kind. Certain frequency bands are associated with certain states of mind: E.g. the alpha frequency band (8-12Hz) is associated with a relaxed state of mind, the beta band (12.5-30Hz) is associated with a focused mind.
Now there are several different ways in which you could make use of this kind of information, i.e. provide feedback. You could use it to manipulate features of your character, or the environment.
Somewhat intuitive options would be flying or floating or slowing down time when relaxed.
One example which has already been investigated a little is rewarding a relaxed state of mind in first person shooters, during stressful situations. And just to be clear on this, I personally do not particularly like this approach. There is not much research on how the reinforcement of a relaxed state while shooting objects/creatures in video games influences your behaviour while handling weapons in real life... and for now the possibility remains that this can go in a horribly wrong direction, even if it's just for a certain group of people.
However, stressful situations aren't just part of shooters, they can be wherever the player has a limited amount of time, in puzzle games, races etc. And with the right training, this kind of neurofeedback might help us handle stressful situations in our daily lives better.
On the other hand you could train players to maintain a high focus during longer periods of tme, reducing their tendency to be distracted or become tired - this is the kind of approach that has already been used for treatment of disorders like ADD.
I once read about a shooter in which more enemies (zombies, if I remember correctly) were created when the player was getting too relaxed - but I can't find the details online anymore, has anyone heard of this project?
Another option is monitoring your opponent's state of mind. Seeing their relaxation fade as you are doing great could add quite some fun.
Also, you could have the colours or the soundscape/music change depending on your state of mind.
I'd be interested in your feedback on this!


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Comments


Igor Loborec
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I would say that this has a great potential!
I've seen the "mind reading" device (forgot the name though) that people used to make games. There was a game that shows you a simple math problem, like 5+2, 13-7, 3*12, etc.,and you would answer by thinking the answer so you're playing without even making a single move. While this is exciting and fun, it's not really the direction I believe we should go in. Your post on the other hand is much more close, I think.
As you say, we should strive to enhance the experience. I believe there are lots and lots of ventures this technology could go in, some of which you've mentioned.

The game you are mentioning could be Left 4 Dead, Valve published a .PDF on some of the stuff they incorporated, one of which is the system where they send waves of enemies when the player is relaxed and hold off enemies while the player has had too much.

Here's a link to the .PDF, search for Adaptive Dramatic Pacing in it
http://www.valvesoftware.com/publications/2009/ai_systems_of_l4d_
mike_booth.pdf

This is a wonderfull example and I want to see games go in that direction. I believe that that's a big thing that's missing from current games. Imagine a game where you don't choose your dificulty level in an absolute manner, but rather as a relative value. One players, or even a single persons game or part of a game could potentially be much harder on a casual setting than another's on a "Frustrate me" level.
This doesn't just go for making enemies more plentiful, smarter, better equiped, etc., you could also apply to puzzlers, where you could potentially see a person is getting frustrated at a puzzle and alter the puzzle or give out a hint.

I believe there are much more great applications for such a device, but I also think there's a major problem. If this device isn't relatively cheap, people won't buy it. Furthermore, people might not buy it simply because they would think "Why buy it? It's only a gimmick a few games/apps use", while at the same time most developers won't use it because people don't buy the device. Also, this could integrate so nicely into a game/app that it would be a totally different experience without this device, meaning developers would be forced to make a version with and a version without the device if they want to accomadate people without it, or they would have to bundle the device with their game/app.

Igor Loborec
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Come to think of it, it may have showed you a full equation and you either think true or false, I'm not sure, it was a while back and I can't seem to find the video again.

Oh if only good ideas were enough to get it rolling... :)
I've found Bart's Amblone system (an easy, open-source DIY Ambilight system), and when I built it and enjoyed it in videos, I thought to myself - it would be amazing if you could utilize this in games... I did a VERY basic example in this (choppy, sorry for that) video where I made a "vehicle" on a "road" and you can accelerate/brake/decelarate. It shows the speed and you can see the lights changing based on the speed.
Here's the video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTrrYkqr88g&feature=plcp

This is another thing that could be a great addition to games (Gadget show has taken a stab at it, but there's so much going on there you practically don't even see the ambient lightting, plus I'm not sure what it's actually reacting to, but here's the video for that too
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eg8Bh5iI2WY
).
But again, the problem is getting it to the masses. No one will want to get it to the masses for free unless they can make money from giving it for free (and noone can do that if it's no already popular which it can't be if it needs to be distributed) and let me not get into a loop here as a programmer so I'll just break out since I guess you realize what I'm trying to say :)

I welcome stuff like this, but I don't have much hope for stuff like this. Just look at 3D, it's been around for a while now, there's a fair share of games that support it, lots of big companies support it, but I believe most people still don't have it. Myself included, even though I would love to try it out, but it's still just too big of an investment for me.

I think maybe a combination of selling it stand alone, but also giving it to big companies to distribute for free with their games that support it (I'm talking distributing it with Assassin's Creed, Max Payne, Call of Duty and the like) in which case some people would get it for free with their game so they would try it out since they already got it and that would mean a big audience that could potentially start recommending it which could get people to buy it even standalone. I think something along those lines would probably be a way in, but it requires funding...

All in all, I wish you the best of luck, I'm eagerly awaiting enhancements like this ;)

Alexander Birke
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Hello Sina
I have myself worked on a horror game during my bachelor's degree where we used galvanic skin response and heart rate to track the arousal level of the player in order to see if we could correlate it to the amount of fear they felt. If you want I can forward you our article which cites many relevant studies. The one you mention is probably "Biofeed the Zombies" by Dekker and Champion.

The main problem we had with our game was that the sensor we used was very prone to noise and thus made the analysis of the data very difficult. In my opinion biofeed input for video games will first become interesting for commercial games when it is included in standard hardware such as console controllers. On top of that there also need to be software libraries available to help with the analysis of the data.


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