[Creative director Erin Reynolds discusses the biofeedback-driven horror game Nevermind, explaining how its fear-driven gameplay encourages players to keep calm under pressure.]
We're used to making games that hone a player's reflexes. What about using games to control basic biological responses? That's what the student developers behind Nevermind set out to explore, by designing a horror game that responds to the player's heart rate. We spoke with creative director Erin Reynolds about what makes Nevermind tick.
Alexandra Hall: What gave you the idea for a biofeedback game?
Erin Reynolds: Biofeedback was a concept that I had explored alongside the team for Trainer, a game I worked on earlier in my graduate school career. Ultimately, we didn't end up using biofeedback technology for that project, but I remained fascinated with the potential that biofeedback tech held for video games.
Fast-forward a few years. I knew that I wanted to create a game that would implicitly benefit the player in the real world. Additionally, based on my personal interests, I also really wanted to use the opportunity to design a unique horror game. The combination of these goals created the perfect opportunity to revisit biofeedback. I [feel] that biofeedback is the natural next step in both the evolution of video game technology and our efforts as an industry to create a more intimate connection between player and media.
AH: How capable is the sensor hardware?
ER: The tech works to the extent that the game does respond to the player's physiologic reactions as we designed it to. That said, would I want any important medical decisions to be made based on its readings? Probably not. However, for the purposes of the game, it definitely gets the job done-and, for the most part, is responsive to most users.
Heart rate variability ultimately tells us what the player's psychological arousal level is-that is, the intensity of their feelings. Since the player is in a dark, disturbing, and horrific environment while playing Nevermind, we interpret rises in their arousal levels as being signs of fear, stress, or anxiety. While there is certainly a diversity of game experiences that can come from reacting to changes in the player's psychological arousal levels alone, I think many of us are looking forward to a day when the game can respond to the entire range of a player's possible emotional responses.