“Go to your happy place,” the game attendant told me as the digital kitchen on my screen filled with milk and I was drowning. Nevermind is a video game that responds to the emotions of its player, the screen growing staticky and the horror heightening as your anxiety shoots up. As I was playing it at the Games for Change summit at last month’s Tribeca Film Festival — just after spending four minutes in a mortuary drawer, smelling the last moments of John F. Kennedy’s life — my equilibrium was, unsurprisingly, way off. And the game knew it.
Back in 2014, when Nevermind was in development and raising money on Kickstarter, the game’s creative director, Erin Reynolds, told me that through biofeedback technology, it was possible to “create a game experience that can know more about its player than the player knows about themselves.” Nevermind was released by Flying Mollusk studio last year on Steam for Mac and PC but required a heart-rate sensor to engage this biofeedback system.
Last month, however, the developers announced that Nevermind can now be played with just a webcam, thanks to Affectiva’s Affdex technology, which monitors emotions through facial expressions. Reynolds wrote in a post on the Nevermind site that “Affectiva’s emotion-sensing software watches the player’s facial expressions for signs of emotional distress. The heart rate sensors, on the other hand, pick up indications of physiological distress.” So, in a way, it’s a different experience, and you could combine both for an even more responsive game.
I tried out the Affectiva version at the Games for Change arcade, and something in my expression was definitely reading as freaked out — or perhaps my resting face is just unsettled. As an apparently anxious person, I began to wonder about some of the technology’s darker possibilities. Since just about all of us have webcams on our computers, does our future include advertisements tailored to our moods, like shopping splurges when we’re up and bottles of bourbon when we’re down? Or news sites offering us images of adorable puppies to get our attention before telling us about the latest massing shooting?
Affectiva grew out of emotion-sensing research at MIT’s Media Lab and, according to its site, has an “emotion data repository” based on over 3.9 million faces from 75 countries (all from consenting participants). Nevermind is the first game to experiment with this technology. I didn’t find much of its content particularly terrifying; although it’s billed as a horror game, where you delve into your patients’ traumatic memories as a “Neuroprober,” it relies on the familiar tropes of broken baby dolls, bloody writing on the walls (“BATHE IN WOES” was one I witnessed), and writhing body bags. Those are creepy, but they’re far from the actual anxieties of our daily lives that revolve around the disruption of the everyday.
Yet Nevermind’s developers see playing games like this as a way to manage stress. And maybe, I thought, by attempting to calm myself while navigating a labyrinth of milk crates and ominous, hanging black bags, I could become better equipped to find tranquility. As I watched the player next to me effortlessly stroll through the kitchen in which I’d almost drowned, I saw that it was possible.
Some museums are opting for new language to describe the preserved individuals in their collections who were once living humans.
Presented by Northwestern’s Block Museum and McCormick School of Engineering, this new exhibition seeks empathy at the boundaries of life. On view in Evanston, Illinois.
Located in Des Moines, Iowa, this residency for emerging and established artists includes studio and living space, a $1,000 monthly stipend, and more.
As art history buffs on the app have pointed out, both movements attribute meaning to the meaningless.
Multiple posts about the film have been taken down on Twitter, many of them following the government’s removal requests.
This week, blonde hair supremacy, Salman Rushdie’s new novel, and why do boutique shops all look the same?
Fayneese Miller is under fire after the school failed to renew the contract of an adjunct who showed artworks depicting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.
Fully-funded teaching assistantships are standard for MFA students at the top-ranked, flagship research university in the state of New York.
Hundreds of visitors were evacuated from the Incan site over the weekend.
The artist’s works resonate in West Texas, where the story of dehumanized and exploited migrant laborers is tangible and ever-present.
A posthumous show of Price’s work is curated by James Hart of Phil Space, the self-proclaimed “gallerist of death.”
She has raised generations of Bay Area artists and changed the local landscape with her public artworks, colleagues tell Hyperallergic.