New Video Games Use Biometrics to Help Players Manage Stress

Flying Mollusk, Vimeo
Flying Mollusk, Vimeo / Flying Mollusk, Vimeo

Most video games seem designed to raise your heart rate with fast-paced action, flashy graphics, and ever more complex challenges. But now, game designers are using biometric technology to develop a new kind of video game—one that helps you lower your heart rate and manage stress both during gameplay and in the real world.

These games don't have you doing virtual yoga or watering virtual plants. Instead, developers are taking the opposite approach—their games are designed to stress you out. According to MIT Technology Review, players hooked up to biofeedback devices like heart rate monitors or EEG readers must learn to control their anxiety levels while facing increasingly stressful scenarios. 

In Nevermind, a new indie horror game which will be released this month, players wear a heart rate monitor as they face an array of scary situations, like exploring a creepy house or being trapped inside an oven. As players’ heart rates rise, gameplay becomes more challenging—for instance, if you get too stressed out, the game introduces a screen of static that only disappears when you calm down. The idea is that, as players learn to control their heart rate within the game, they’ll also develop better anxiety-management skills in real life. 

The games also teach players to become more aware of their own physical signs of stress. Erin Reynolds, the creative director of Nevermind, told MIT Technology Review, “As [players] get further into the game, they start to connect: ‘Oh I notice that when my shoulders are a bit tense, the game will respond.'” 

In order to succeed in the game, players must learn to identify and control their physical reactions to stress. According to Reynolds, this helps players manage anxiety in the real world: “[Players] start to connect what they’re seeing on the screen with those subtle internal reactions that I think so many of us learn to ignore in everyday life.”

[h/t: MIT Technology Review]