Stanford Engineers Mod Xbox 360 Controller To Sense Your Feelings

You know those people who always lose at video games and scream, “This game cheats for you!”? Stanford engineers have modified an Xbox 360 controller in such a way that a game can, actually, “cheat” for a given player. Well, sort of.

The team, led by professor Gregory Kovacs and in collaboration with Texas Instruments, was looking at ways to measure physiological signals in gamers in order to dynamically adjust gameplay according to how a player is feeling about the current game.

Corey McCall Stanford

"If a player wants maximum engagement and excitement, we can measure when they are getting bored and, for example, introduce more zombies into the level," said Corey McCall, a doctoral candidate working on the project. "We can also control the game for children. If parents are concerned that their children are getting too wrapped up in the game, we can tone it down or remind them that it's time for a healthy break."

McCall’s approach is to measure the autonomic nervous system which, as it turns out, isn’t terribly difficult and is completely non-invasive. McCall put a module with sensors onto the back of an Xbox 360 controller, and metal pads placed on the controller can actually measure heart rate, blood flow, respiration rate, and more, and it uses an accelerometer to gather data on how much a player may be shaking the controller, which offers yet another metric.

Modded Xbox 360 controllers Stanford

This innovation isn’t apparently being used to make games cooler, but it could certainly help make games a little more fun and less stressful. Why is that important? Aside from the obvious, there’s some new research from the Oxford Internet Institute that suggests video game aggression may be borne not merely from violent content in games, but frustration from gameplay mechanics.

"If players feel thwarted by the controls or the design of the game, they can wind up feeling aggressive,” Dr. Andrew Przybylski told the BBC. "This need to master the game was far more significant than whether the game contained violent material.”

Thus, a smart controller that can help mitigate the stress created by gameplay and thereby make gaming a better experience for players, whether that takes the form of better engagement or help for youngsters to avoid those feelings of aggression with timeouts and throttled action.