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Constructing Artificial Emotions: A Design Experiment
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Constructing Artificial Emotions: A Design Experiment

October 26, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 6 of 9 Next

At the heart of Bacchus are the biofeedback monitors that each player uses.

  • Heart rate monitor: To reach certain sets of rewards in the game, the player needs to get their heart rate up.
  • Skin conductance: You can measure skin conductance (EDA or electrodermal activity) to track a wide variety of emotional signals. Patterns of electrodermal activity correspond to identifiable physical states.
  • Facial recognition: When the player experiences certain emotions, the emotions tend to show on their face. We can make use of our cameras to detect is people are smiling or grimacing as they play the game. You can see the basics of this facial recognition technology already in action with a title like the one shown, Otona no DS Kao Training (Grownup DS Face Training.)
  • Voice analysis: A person’s voice changes depending on the amount of stress they are feeling. There is interesting research going on right now in detecting ‘phone rage’ and it is possible that this can also be extended to the detection of joy or sorrow.

Technology: All of these are additional control mechanisms for the game that can be used to help facilitate the feeling of emotions. Instead of pressing a button to advance the game, the player instead focuses on putting their body in a state that statistically correlates with happiness. The game recognizes the hint of a smile, the increased heart rate, the increased pitch of the repeated phrases and the avatar on the screen responds with grand flourishes of sparkles and other visible indications of success. We use biofeedback to create short, tight feedback loops that reward the activities we, as the designer, desire.

First-time players would simply be astonished that the game knows that they are feeling bored or irritable. More advanced players know that the pulsing lights on the big screen are meters showing them key indicators of their physical state. They use these as feedback that guide them towards reaching the appropriate state to enjoy the game.

Limitations: There are several major limitations of biofeedback as a control mechanism

  • Secondary control mechanisms are difficult to learn: Many users have difficulty finding a consistent set of behavior that reliably affects the biometrics. It can be highly frustrating when the player’s actions seem to yield random results.
  • Secondary control mechanism are ‘loose’: Due to the long chain of events that occurs between the user’s actions and the result, biometrics can be difficult to use in a reflex-based action game. There are exceptions to the rule. One recent study used biometrics to predict when a player would jump up to two seconds before they jumped. It is fun to image a game design where the player simply anticipates jumping in order to move.
  • The instruments for gathering information can be unreliable: Devices based on skin conductance can be prone to noise due to movement, poor placement and bad contact with the skin. The current rule of thumb is that the more subtle the information you gather, the less reliable your measurement devices. The good news is that heart rate monitors are generally very reliable and much of the technology in the field is constantly being pushed forward by the behemoth medical industry.

Technique 4: Setting social norms

“Later, the girl writes to her online friends that the night she danced was the single most powerful spiritual and emotional experience in her entire life. It was the night she was touched by a higher power while playing a video game.”

Ultimately, the player attempts to understand the maelstrom of experiences that they’ve undergone during a night of playing Bacchus. The context of the event matters immensely. Someone who sees Bacchus as just a game will have very different memories of the event than someone who goes into the evening expecting a holy experience.

In order for the designer to affect the critical step of synthesizing desired emotions, we need systems that ensure the player has access to the correct cognitive labels. By influencing the language players use to comprehend an experience, you can control how they end up remembering the experiences. One of the more powerful techniques for ensure people use the language you desire is taken from the propagandist / change agent’s cookbook: the small group discussion.

Theory: In the 1940s, Edward Schein, one of the founding fathers of organization psychology, was brought in to help the government market its rationing plans to the public. In particular, they were interested in convincing people to eat ‘sweetmeats’, the indescribable innards of animals that were typically tossed into the rubbish heap.

Schein conducted two experiments. The first was a traditional lecture that described all the benefits of sweetmeats in terms of nutrition, patriotism, etc. The audience listened attentively and then filled out a survey asking if they would change their consumption habits. Only a small percentage agreed to try sweetmeats in order to help the war effort.

In the second experiment, the format changed. Schein gathered together small groups of people and sat them down with a facilitator to discuss the option of eating sweetmeats. The facilitator presented the topic and periodically interjected facts that might help the discussion or clarify misconceptions. Most of the conversation, however involved people talking about their fears, their questions and the group weighing together the benefits of sweetmeats. When this same group filled out the survey, the vast majority said that they would change their eating habits and start cooking with sweetmeats.

Schein’s critical observation of this process is that that new groups go through a process in which they set group norms, expectations of social behavior and common beliefs. In the second experiment there was ample time for the group to negotiate the new set of norms. In the first, due to the one way communication, there was no opportunity, so the audience left with their existing beliefs intact.

This process of creating new social norms happens remarkably quickly and can result in people doing things at the end of the process that they would never have contemplated before the process begins. We like to think that our behavior and beliefs are fixed, immovable and formed by great deliberation and moral character. In reality, they are heavily influenced by the normative behavior of the group we participate in. Given the right group circumstances, the behaviorial code of most individuals can be rewritten to an amazing degree. You can witness this daily in most corporate environments, but more extreme examples are the tales of brainwashed prisoners of war or even the brutal behavior of U.S. troops when placed in an environment like Abu Ghraib.


Article Start Previous Page 6 of 9 Next

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