Psych-Profiling in Games

The Wired games blog has an article about the next Wii-enabled installment of survival-horror classic Silent Hill coming later in the year.  Full article is here.  A couple of paragraphs at the end about Psych-profiling the players caught my attention which I’ve pasted below.  The basic idea is that software monitors behavioural responses to the environment and adapts the gaming software accordingly.  My guess is that it’s not as subtle as the creators claim below.  IMO, here is an application crying out for the physiological computing approach.  Imagine if we could develop a player profile based on both overt behavioural responses as well as covert psychophysiological reactions to different events.  The more complexity you can work into your player profile, the more subtlety and personalisation can be achieved by software adaptation.  Of course, as usual, this kind of probing of player experience comes with a range of data protection issues.  If current events surrounding software privacy (e.g. Facebook, Phorm) are anything to go by, this is likely to be even more of a issue for future systems.

“The way that (most) games deal with interactivity can be quite simple and dull,” says Barlow. “You’re the big barbarian hero, do you want to save the maiden or not? Do you want to be good or evil? It’s slightly childish. The idea behind the psych profile is that the game is constantly monitoring what the player is doing, and it creates a very deep set of data around that, and every element of the game is changed and varied.”  Barlow and Hulett wouldn’t talk, at this early stage, about what sorts of things might change due to how you play the game, or what kind of data the game collects about you as you play. In the trailer that Konami showed, a character flashed between two very different physical appearances — that could be one of the things that changes.  The psych profile also sounds slightly sneaky. You won’t necessarily know that things have changed based on your gameplay style, says Hulett: “When you go online and talk about it with your friends, they wouldn’t know what you were talking about.”

“We’re trying to play on subconscious things. Pick up on things that you don’t know you’re giving away,” says Barlow.”

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Manipulating vs. Mirroring

In preparing a “futuristic” talk about Physiological Computing, I’m pondering how a system might adapt itself to physiological data indicating that the user just got upset or bored or exasperated.  In the past, I’ve focused on the Gilleade et al (2005) classification where the system may help the user, challenge the user or emote the user.  In my view, whether these adaptations are overt or covert, what the system is attempting to do is manipulate the state of the user in a desired direction (generally to preserve task engagement and minimise those states that may disrupt engagement).  On the other hand, the system could simply mirror the psychological state of the user.  This mirroring approach comes in two categories.  First of all, to mimick the state of the user in order to covey empathy; for example, the RoCo project at MIT.  Alternatively, the system could simply mirror the state of the user using a biofeedback-type display in order to increase self-awareness and promote self-regulation.  The distinction between mirroring and manipulating is fairly subtle.  Adaptive responses designed to manipulate will also act as mirrors once the user cottons on to the mechanics of system design.

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