Ever since my undergrad supervisor got me interested in designing biofeedback games I’ve been hooked. When you research biofeedback games you see a lot of cool and interesting things from your fellow researchers but getting to experience those systems is very difficult. For example, the adaptive Tetris game we developed at Liverpool John Moores University uses a Biosemi EEG which is prohibitively expensive. If anyone else was going to experience the game they’d either have to already have the setup we used to run the game or need to rebuild the EEG processing pipeline to make it work.
That’s why toolsets such as OpenVibe are so important, to help make research tech a little more portable and thereby shareable. But even then, your development time might be too short to consider making the code portable. I built the various facets of our adaptive Tetris game from prior projects of mine so we could spend as much time testing game mechanics as much as possible in order to see which one worked best. Making the code portable was the last thing on my mind. Amusingly, we did make a version of adaptive Tetris that played fantastically; we were trying to design a mechanic that could find the level of difficulty that pushed you to the edge of your abilities and we succeeded in doing that. The mechanic could get you to that cliff edge but sadly wasn’t much help when you went over and in a game like Tetris you died pretty much right after that. So we scrapped that version of the mechanic for one that acted more cautiously with more minute changes in difficulty, you didn’t go over the cliff edge any more but it struggled to push you to your limit. The latter version of the game was the one we decided to evaluate in a research study and in retrospect that was a mistake. It was a flaw in our design thinking, by minimizing the risk the player would go over the cliff edge we minimized the likelihood we would push the player there in the first place and that doesn’t make for a very exciting experience.
Anyways back to the point I was trying to make, it’s difficult to experience biofeedback games developed by researchers as their not typically designed to be portable. This is a significant problem if you’re trying to design better experiences as you’ve little in the way of comparative experiences to work from.
Now this got me all excited about consumer biofeedback games, some of which I’ve talked about over the years, which do offer you a chance to experience different biofeedback mechanics. My trusty Star Wars Force Trainer has served me well this past decade (sheesh, I’ve had it a while) when I need to explain the concepts I work with and I have many pictures of people trying to move a Ping Pong ball around with their mind. I’ve read and talked about various consumer biofeedback games for years but that doesn’t quite translate into understanding how they played, so I’ve started collecting them and trying them out for myself and the experience is very different from what I imagined. You have experiences that clearly were sold as snake oil, some that were not at all as described and some that where amazing.
Over the next year I’m aiming to talk a lot more about the systems I’ve collected and how they work, if just to clear up how they actually work (I’m looking at you Tetris 64, you cost a lot of resources to get setup just to say “Sorry”). I’ve been meaning to do this for a while but didn’t break out the keyboard as it were, but New Year, new slate, so let’s begin.
Tetris 64 sensor error
Also, here’s a video of a talk I gave back in 2017 on consumer biofeedback devices. I’ve given this talk a few times since swapping UK weather for the Midwest (which is expecting wind chill of minus 30 Celsius today, awesome!), and covers some of the devices I’ve come across and tested.