Riddled with anxiety? Try this biofeedback game

A team of European researchers decided to try their hand at designing a videogame to help players learn stress management, planning, and relaxation techniques. The game, PlayMancer, takes place on an island where stressful activities like diving are contrasted with relaxing ones like star-gazing. The game’s algorithms rely heavily on the player’s physical states.

Several new components are integrated in this video game platform, such as biosensors (galvanic skin response, oxygen saturation, heart rate (HR) and HR variation, skin temperature, breathing frequency), measured by a stationary measurement system based on the MobiHealth MobileTM system, and emotion recognition (anger, joy, boredom) feature extraction algorithms. The bio-signal, facial (facial gestures) and the speech based emotion recognition (Kostoulas et al., 2010a2010b) provides detection of the player’s emotions while confronted with specific game situations and the triggered emotions.

Physiological reactivity and emotional recognition continuously track the emotional state of the player along the video game, while the game automatically responds in return by modifying aspects of the game play difficulty, in a closed loop. When high undesired emotional and/or physiological reactions (e.g. anger feelings, impulsiveness, non-relaxed reactions, frustration, quick and unplanned responses) are detected by the video game, the game immediately directs the avatar to a relaxed area with the goal to calm down.

During the whole game session, higher undesired emotional and/or physiological reactions are coupled with greater difficulty to reach the end goals of the video game (e.g. while diving the fishes are more difficult to catch, more obstacles appear in the mini-games). More relaxed and self-controlled reactions are positively reinforced by the game, making the situations easier to handle and the end goals easier to reach.

Often games promote calculating thinking or patience, but it’s unusual for a game to be able to measure if you’re sweating at how difficult it is. Maybe MobiHealth Mobile can Kickstart a game dev kit to encourage such uses.