The Vitality Sensor Dream Lives On

The Vitality Sensor Dream Lives On

Stanford engineers have developed a prototype gaming controller to measure your excitement.

The Wii Vitality Sensor, originally unveiled in 2009, may have drawn widespread derision and confusion, but there were some potentially interesting applications that remain, to date, unrealized.

Picture a game of Tetris where the speed of the pieces dropping was tied to your heart rate, for example, or a survival horror game where sanity effects were tied to how stressed out and scared your real-life self was feeling. Or even something as simple as changing the aesthetic of a game according to how you're feeling at the time.

Engineers at Stanford University have been picking up where the seemingly abandoned project left off by developing a prototype gaming controller that measures a wealth of biometric information -- heart rate, blood flow, rate of breath, deepness of breath and how much you're moving the controller around -- to establish how "excited" you're feeling at any point during a game. Using this information, the controller can then send feedback to the game software, which can adjust its experience accordingly to either exacerbate or relax the physiological impact on the player.

Kudos for the use of AudioSurf.

The controller was built by doctoral candidate Corey McCall, based on research by electrical engineering professor Gregory Kovacs into how physiological signals could be used to determine how a person's bodily systems are functioning at any given moment. Kovacs' research was of particular interest to McCall from the perspective of the autonomic nervous system -- the part of the brain that controls emotions and triggers bodily processes according to those feelings.

The controller itself is a modified Xbox 360 pad with a custom 3D printed back panel fitted with sensors to measure various physiological effects through the skin in a non-invasive manner. A light-operated sensor gives another means of measuring heart rate, and accelerometers fitted into the controller help determine how much the player is wafting it around while playing -- or whether they're trembling with excitement or fear.

"If a player wants maximum engagement and excitement, we can measure when they are getting bored and, for example, introduce more zombies into the level," said McCall, picking possibly the most generic example possible. "We can also control the game for children. If parents are concerned that their children are getting too wrapped up in the game, we can tone it down or remind them that it's time for a healthy break."

The announcement of the new controller comes in the wake of recent research by Oxford Internet Institute research fellow Andrew Przybylski, whose work indicated that angry, aggressive feelings in game-players were not, as many have previously suggested in the past, tied to violent imagery, but rather to frustrating gameplay or lack of mastery.

Przybylski's research observed the behavior of nearly 600 college-aged participants as they played a selection of both violent and non-violent games and, through a number of different experiments, determined that regardless of narrative or imagery, games that were more difficult or "unfair" to players tended to provoke considerably more frustration and aggression than violent imagery.

Combining Przybylski's research with McCall's controller design raises some interesting possibilities -- many games now offer dynamic difficulty settings that adjust themselves according to how well or poorly a player is performing, but using biometric feedback could prove a much more accurate, precise means of determining how to keep a player engaged over time rather than the digital methods currently employed.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Read this next

The Final Fantasy 15 Novel Collecting Canceled DLC Has Been Delayed for English Readers

The break of dawn has been pushed back a bit for English audiences.

Battlefield 5's War in the Pacific Update Is Bringing Back the Series' Best Map

It's been a long, long time since Battlefield has revisited Wake Island.

Fallout 76 is Getting a Premium Subscription Model For Private Worlds

It's almost more per month than the actual game costs.

Expect Some Lag With Stadia Founder's Edition Deliveries

If you get your Founder's Edition on November 19, congratulations—that means you ordered it early enough.

Paradox Answers 12 Major Questions About Crusader Kings 3

We chat with Director Henrik Fåhreus about Crusader Kings 3's biggest changes.

More News

The Final Fantasy 15 Novel Collecting Canceled DLC Has Been Delayed for English Readers

The break of dawn has been pushed back a bit for English audiences.

Battlefield 5's War in the Pacific Update Is Bringing Back the Series' Best Map

It's been a long, long time since Battlefield has revisited Wake Island.

Fallout 76 is Getting a Premium Subscription Model For Private Worlds

It's almost more per month than the actual game costs.

More on Xbox 360

Starting Screen | Starting Screen: Please Stop Putting Big Spiders In Video Games

I'm tired of it, and I don't have a good reason for it!

Check Out Sega's Surprise Remix of a Classic Sonic Adventure Tune

Maybe don't get your hopes too high that this means anything, though.

What's The Scariest Video Game Setting?

COMMUNITY QUESTION | To continue with Halloween tradition, let's talk about the creepiest environments in games.

Xbox Corporate Vice President Mike Ybarra Departs From Microsoft

"After 20 years at Microsoft, it's time for my next adventure."

Xbox Game Pass List October 2019

Here’s every game you can get for free with your Xbox Game Pass subscription in October 2019.

Xbox Games With Gold October 2019 - Free Games With Gold List

Here are all of the games you can play for free this month using your Xbox Live Gold subscription.

Frogwares Saves Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments for PC, But Loses Console Listings and Others in Publisher Dispute

On digital console storefronts, Frogwares games published under Focus Home Interactive have all been wiped.