— Future video games could routinely monitor players' vital signs and emotional state to ensure a truly exhilarating experience.
At least, that is what Brendan Walker, curator of a forthcoming exhibit at London's Science Museum, called Thrill Laboratory, would like to see.
At the Thrill Lab, which opens on 17 October 2006, volunteers will be asked to try several different fairground rides while hooked up to equipment that tracks their emotional state.
This includes an accelerometer that measures the G-force their body is subjected to and an ECG monitor that keeps track of their heart rate. In addition, a helmet-mounted camera will film their facial expressions as they ride the machine.
Information will be beamed in real time to a computer via a wireless link. As each volunteer is hurled around the rides their measurements will be reproduced on several public displays. Physiologists and psychologists will also discuss how thrill, anticipation and fear are affecting them.
"It will be educational, in that we will reflect on the cultural and physiological elements of thrill," says Walker.
New Scientist was invited to test the equipment on a ride called Booster, which was developed from apparatus originally created to train fighter pilots and astronauts.
Despite being wrenched around at 60 kilometres per hour, and pulling up to 3 g in acceleration, this correspondent's heart rate hardly changed: it went from 66 beats per minute (at rest) to 72 bpm at the end. But I could certainly feel a hormonal buzz, probably adrenalin, after disembarking from the ride.
"Eventually we hope to incorporate an adaptive element, to allow rides and computer games to react in real time according to the thrill levels being experienced," Walker told New Scientist
The Science Museum installation will include 3 different rides the Booster, to measure the physiology of excitement and thrill; a ghost train, to measure fear and anticipation; and a ride called Miami Trip, a gentler ride designed to explore pleasure.
Steve Benford, of the mixed reality lab at the University of Nottingham, UK, and a member of the Equator research group helping to develop the system, says it will enable people to better reflect on the experiences that generate their emotions: "We will be able to see if bio-signals reliably map onto the subjective experience of thrill," he told New Scientist.
Benford is also interested in how biofeedback could be used to design experiences that adapt to their user, especially in the area of games and leisure. "The key question is to understand the reliability and predictability of the thrill experience," he says. The data can then be used as an analytical tool to design more-immersive rides and games, so-called "real-time adaptive spaces", he says.
One of the first such interactive feedback experiences is a game Benford has helped develop, called 'Ere Be Dragons. In this game, a player is hooked up to a heart sensor and a GPS device, and must walk through the real world while also exploring one created on a pocket PC.
The twist is that their experience of the PC world such as the discovery of treasure or encountering monsters is influenced by the player's physiological state.