Games Design Research Could Help Battle Addiction

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A lecturer at Abertay University is researching the impact of games on players’ emotions as part of a groundbreaking study. 

Gaming addiction is a serious condition and one that is rising. To help combat the issue of addiction, designers are working on a number of features that trigger real-life emotions.

Characters are being developed to trigger responses similar to those experienced while watching a horror or romance film, which researchers believe could prevent desensitisation.

Dr David King’s research into Affective Computing, which can help read human emotions, was announced at the Game-On conference held at Abertay University.

Emotional Observation

Although still in its infancy, Dr King believes this research could make games more engaging by monitoring player reactions. This could also help game designers to develop more realistic characters and enable the computer to react differently based on individual players.

A number of methods are being assessed in order to create an “affective loop” between the computer and the player, which include facial recognition, perspiration or retinal observation.

“There are already a lot of games that offer a moral choice to try and get a reaction from the player,” King said. “But these are usually very simple.”

He added: “By using this technology, we hoped to create characters that are more realistic and, therefore, more engaging with the player.”

Tackling Addiction

In addition to creating better, more engaging games, this research could have crucial real-world applications, helping to improve medicine and combating addiction.

He commented: “I can see how that can be a possible use of the technology, but it is not the main reason I got into this research. My main motivation is to make games more interesting and emotional.

“But if decisions the player has to make are more difficult because of this, then it could help with addiction.”

Dr King noted that the technology could be used in a number of capacities, such as loneliness. If a player encounters a character that lives alone, then it could help tackle this problem. He also suggested that computers can learn people’s habits and as such could help in assisting the elderly.

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With an ageing population, learning a person’s habits could help to keep tabs on people at risk.

Dr King has met significant challenges during this research. In particular, the ability to accurately read people’s emotions. How someone feels isn’t clear-cut and based purely on facial expressions, he said.

“If I was to take a camera and ask the person to look happy or sad, it doesn’t mean they actually feel that way,” King explained.

“Actually feeling these emotions is much more subtle. That is a problem for us to tackle.”

Not much research has been carried out in this field, he noted, and Dr King hopes that his research can help to raise awareness to allow for greater funding and insight.



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