Valve wants a brave new world of biometric gaming

Posted by Trent Nouveau

Imagine a world in which games actually respond to the way a player is feeling by processing and analyzing real-time biometric data. Sounds far-fetched? Well, not according to Valve's Gabe Newell. 

"When you look at the kinds of experiences we try to create for people, having access to [the] internal state of the player allows us to build much more interesting and compelling experiences," Newell explained in a recent Steamcast segment transcribed by Eurogamer.

Valve wants a brave new world of biometric gaming"So we don't really think that that's in doubt; the question is really about when and in what forms that takes. Even very simple noisy proxies for player-state, like skin galvanic response or heart-rate, turn out to be super-useful and they're very much at the beginning of the kinds of data that you can gather."

According to Newell, sensors that measure biometric data could eventually be integrated into next-gen control pads, as well as other peripherals like webcams, which could also be leveraged to capture the "gaze" of a player while measuring pupil dilation.

Indeed, Valve has already experimented with (rudimentary) biometric gaming by inserting relevant "emotional" feeds into a special beta build of Left 4 Dead 2.

"When you were playing competitively we found that people were incredibly aggressive towards highly aroused players on the opposing team and were very defensive about highly aroused players on their own team," said Newell.

"This other thing is where you just have this bar on the side of your screen going up and down showing somebody else's arousal state actually seems to bring that sense of connection back, like your brain is flexible enough to actually internalize that as sort of a replacement for a bunch of the face-to-face cueing that we've lost."

Although Newell acknowledged the future of biometric gaming is currently very "science-fictiony," he did confirm that Valve was in talks with a company that implanted EEG (electroencephalography) tech directly into people's skulls.

"It's about a $60,000 operation right now but it gives you fantastic data that you could use. Eventually you're going to reach the point where it's a reasonable consumer option, as strange as that sounds, and very much reminds me of science fiction stories out of the nineteen-fifties about embedded phones and things like that. 

"But at some point there are going to be sort of increasingly accurate, increasingly sophisticated sources of data about what's going on in your body and in your brain," he added.