Imagine that you’re inside of a dimly lit waiting room, in a clinic, and totally devoid of contact with anyone. You feel trapped — your first instinct is to open one of the doors in front of you, but should you? Your heart races as you reach for the door, your face tightens and grimaces with angst, and that angst turns into outright fear as you slowly open it and step into another room…
This immersive and interactive first-person psychological thriller is called Nevermind, and it’s the brainchild of Erin Reynolds, a game designer who revels in taking game play to the next level. More than just a passively interactive game, Nevermind uses Emotion AI technology to sense the player’s mood and adjusts gameplay to adapt to the individual. The longer the player experiences these potential feelings of stress, fear, or anxiety, the more punishing the game becomes.
While playing Nevermind, a room might flood, spikes might protrude from the floor more quickly and unavoidably, and the screen will become more distorted. However, if the player is able to take a deep breath and calm down, the game will start to become easier and more forgiving. The room will drain out, the spikes will slow down and become easier to avoid, or the screen may become more visually clear.
As commonplace as Emotion AI is becoming today, it wasn’t something that Reynolds could easily use on her family’s first computer, a Power Macintosh. Back then, adventure games like Myst were captivating, but lacked the technology that could draw a player into the game totally and completely. Not to be dissuaded, Erin focused her interests and began studying art and game design.
Now, she is a passionate and avid believer in the power that games and interactive media have to positively impact players. “A game that is emotion-aware can adapt to each and every individual player – offering personalized experiences that can not only make the game more captivating from an ‘entertainment’” aspect, but also make it more effective from a learning and/or self-improvement standpoint as well.”
“Emotion is such a large part of the human experience – on both a micro, day-to-day level and on a macro, species-as-whole level. Technology has historically been used as a tool to help communicate and evoke emotion but, up until recently, has never been able to react or adapt to emotion itself. Now that we have the capabilities to seamlessly have two-way ‘conversations’ with technology on an emotional level, possibilities for entirely unique experiences are opening up that embrace and integrate with “the human experience” in ways that surpass what we have come to expect from the technology of the past.”
So, if you want to be successful in playing Nevermind, it becomes important to become mindful of those often subtle feelings of anxiety within yourself and to master how to stay calm and collected on the fly in the face of stressful and uncomfortable situations. In this way, Nevermind is not only an entertaining video game – it can also be thought of as a tool to possibly help with stress management. With the help of biofeedback and/or Emotion AI, the techniques you use to stay cool while playing the game are the same ones that you can use when facing those inevitable everyday stressful situations.
Emotion AI is such a new and powerful tool that developers and consumers alike are still trying to wrap their heads around how best to use it – which Erin thinks is a testimony to how unparalleled and groundbreaking an advancement consumer-level Emotion AI will prove to be. However, with time, Erin is confident that Emotion AI will become an integral part of almost all technology and will be seen in entertainment, education, communications, medicine, and so much more. Emotion AI will change how we interact with everything – from video games to therapists to coffee makers – she cannot wait for a day when her coffee machine already knows when it’s going to be an “extra strong” kind of morning.