Articles

Using Biofeedback Technology for a Game That Knows Your Fear

by Allison Meier on February 19, 2014

Screenshot from "Nevermind" (all images courtesy the developers)

Screenshot from “Nevermind” (all images courtesy the developers)

A game currently under development uses your own anxiety to make its play increasingly horrifying as you get more scared, and it also aims to help people confront their fear.

Nevermind: A Biofeedback Horror Adventure Game currently funding on Kickstarter incorporates a heart rate monitor to calculate players’ Heart Rate Variability as they plunge into unsettling memories hidden in the recesses of digital minds.

Screenshot from "Nevermind"

Screenshot from “Nevermind”

“When it senses that you’re starting to get a little anxious, it will respond by becoming more difficult,” Nevermind Creative Director Erin Reynolds explained to Hyperallergic. “The environment will dynamically react to your internal state and become more challenging and terrifying the longer you stay stressed. However, when you start to calm down, the game will also recognize that and will return to its default, easier state the more you relax.”

As a participant in Nevermind, you are a “Neuroprober” delving into traumatic memories to try to bring some peace to your patients. Reynolds stated that in the future the developers hope to work with medical professionals to use the technology of the game as a therapeutic aid in managing anxiety. The project started as a Master’s thesis project at USC’s Interactive Media Program, where Reynolds wanted to create a game that was not just a horror experience, but could help people as well. “Biofeedback offers the game developer the ability to interact with the player in ways that were almost impossible before,” Reynolds stated. “You can create a game experience that can know more about its player than the player knows about themselves.”

Screenshot from "Nevermind"

Screenshot from “Nevermind”

Screenshot from "Nevermind"

Screenshot from “Nevermind”

Reynolds’ background is in drawing, illustration, and painting, as well as experimenting with biofeedback technology. In Nevermind inspiration is taken from unsettling games like Eternal Darkness, Silent Hill, and the Legacy of Kain series, but also the visual art of H.R. Giger, Francis Bacon, and even Manet landscapes. Through this collision comes an otherworldly labyrinth of puzzles haunted by shattered shards of memory, with the player only victorious if they can manage their own stress while helping to uncover the dark histories hidden in the neuro-landscapes. However, what scares us is a deeply individual thing, and while one person might freak out at “BATHE IN WOES” written in blood across a door, another might be more disturbed by the children’s toys abandoned in the tall grass. As Reynolds explained:

“One thing that really struck us as we were building and playtesting Nevermind is just how personal fear is. Everyone brings different baggage to the experience. An individual’s history, their culture, their tastes, all influence how they perceive the scenarios within the game. Some people responded very strongly to some things, while other people were completely unaffected by them (and, in turn, responded to very different things within the game). So, we created a variety of experiences in the existing level with the intent of being able to tap into fearful emotions within everyone at one point or another. One of the reasons why we’re super excited about moving into Nevermind’s next phase of development (if the Kickstarter is successful, of course) is that it will enable us to build more levels and content and create an even wider range of experiences to probe players’ darkest insecurities and fears. By the time we’re done with it, no one will be able to leave Nevermind unaffected.”

Biofeedback games have already found some interest in medicine. For example RAGE-Control, created by a team including Joseph Gonzalez-Heydrich, chief of the Psychopharmacology Program at Harvard’s Children’s Hospital, is structured to help kids manage emotions. While Nevermind is still in its beginning stages, it represents growing interest in using the visual and participatory experience of games as a real tool to confront psychological terror.

Screenshot from "Nevermind"

Screenshot from “Nevermind”

Nevermind: A Biofeedback Horror Adventure Game is funding through March 7 on Kickstarter. 

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