Play Biofeedback Video Games to Learn to Chill
Breathing techniques, yoga, meditation, and exercise are all ways people use to cope with stress. But instead of going to your happy place, how about learning to chill by kicking back and playing video games?
In what may be a harbinger of things to come, a first-person biofeedback horror adventure game, Nevermind, helps players practice techniques to manage stress and control anxiety. The tagline is “The greatest enemy is the one inside your head,” and here’s how it works: The more scared you get as you play, the harder the game becomes.
In the game, you are a “neuroprober,” a physician who explores the minds of victims of psychological trauma. You make your way through creepy scenarios, solving puzzles to unlock the mysteries locked within each patient’s inner psych. However, if you get tense and your heart rate speeds up, the screen fills with static and the environment changes—for the worst.
Although the game can be played without one, to get the full experience, players use a biofeedback sensor from several manufacturers, such as the Intel’s RealSense 3D camera, to track heart rate while playing.
“As [players] get further in the game, they start to connect: ‘Oh, I notice that when my shoulders are a little bit tense, the game will respond. They start to connect what they’re seeing on the screen with those subtle internal reactions that I think so many of us learn to ignore in everyday life,” Erin Reynolds, creative director and designer of Nevermind, told MIT Technology Review.
Nevermind is developed by indie gaming studio Flying Mollusk and is currently available through Steam for Windows and Mac. The website includes a disclaimer:
This game has not been evaluated by the FDA and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The consumer-grade sensors supported by Nevermind are not medical biofeedback devices nor should they be considered medical instruments.
The game originated as Reynolds’ MFA thesis project at the University of Southern California’s Interactive Media Program. It’s an intriguing concept and bodes well for the future when more video games reach the market that are FDA-approved to manage anxiety through biofeedback. Maybe, instead of video games being called out as too violent, some video games will actually be good for us.