I’m trying to decide if this is a glimpse of the future of video games or just a really silly idea.
Nevermind is touted as a biofeedback-enhanced immersive video game that “knows when you’re afraid.” Players are hooked to heart monitors which measure their anxiety, and the game becomes more difficult as their fear increases.
Developer Erin Reynolds was heavily influenced by the movie The Cell, which features a psychologist using virtual reality to enter the mind of her patient.
In Nevermind, players take on the role of “neuroprobers,” sci-fi psychologists who help trauma patients uncover their most disturbing memories. The goal is to plumb these memories without getting sucked into them yourself. If you begin to feel afraid, the screen becomes hazy and shaky, making navigation difficult. Then, frightening events begin to impede your progress. In a very creepy kitchen, you’re asked to solve an anagram. But if you can’t, and start to stress out, the room fills with milk. At first, the milk makes it difficult to walk, then it rises to your eye level, so you can’t see. “And if you still can’t calm down, it will drown you,” says Reynolds.
Reynolds claims that playing the game helped her learn to manage her fears in real life. She uses the same deep-breathing exercises and other techniques which allowed her to succeed in the game when she’s faced with everyday anxiety.
This is a really interesting concept, with some resemblance to Star Trek holodecks; I quite like the idea of a game which tailors itself to your behavior. On the other hand, the heart-monitor thing seems a bit crude; unless there’s some way to train the monitors to your particular stress levels, one person’s terror is another person’s mild excitement. I can envision a lot of circumstances where excitement about reaching a new level is interpreted as fear.
Additionally, the responses to perceived fear appear to have a fairly cut-and-dried progression: The amount of fear simply ups the amount of impediment (so a little fear results in milk to your knees, and a lot of it gives you milk to your eyeballs). A more responsive game which presented different obstacles–perhaps different puzzles to solve–would be more interesting and would also enhance re-playability; as your familiarity with the game increased, and therefore the fear associated with it decreased, you’d have the reward of different game content.
Regardless, the idea of a game which tailors itself to the individual user is pretty cool. It would certainly enhance games where your response was important: Imagine a scenario where you’re being chased by werewolves…and they can hear you breathing.