Can gaming train us to manage stress better?

Immersion is an independent research project exploring the intersection of psychology and gaming. Pairing biometric sensors with video games, it interprets and responds to gamer psychology, adapting in real-time to create healthier, more mindful gaming experiences.

"Gamer rage" is a growing trend

Online gaming is increasingly associated with anger and aggression, a phenomenon known as “gamer rage” characterized by outbursts of frustrations in response to in-game competition or obstacles.

To investigate this phenomenon, I modified an Xbox controller with a pulse sensor to record the gamer's heart rate and provide visual and haptic feedback in response to stress during play.

Mapping gamer rage

Added stress elicits an immediate reaction from the gamer's body - heart rate escalates, blood flow accelerates, skin perspires and muscles tense. Tracking just the stress indicators tied to heart rate we are able to map a gamer's emotional response to in-game events.

This chart visualizes a gamer's heart rate over 60 seconds of an online multiplayer battle of Halo.  Spikes in heart rate consistently correlate to moments of combat.

Refining the form

Through dozens of iterations, I balanced ergonomic and technical constraints. By prototyping both form and function together, I developed a fluid design language that is as elegant as it is essential.

The ergonomic design uses a head strap positioned higher around the forehead and foam padding formed to lift weight off the nose and sinuses. This allows the users to easily slip the headset on, fasten the strap to their liking and enjoy a comfortable VR experience - all without messing up their hair.

The hardware uses on an optical pulse sensor built into the earpiece to record the gamer’s heart rate by reading subtle color changes in ear tissue.

The headset is designed to fit comfortably on various head sizes, flexing around the ear to comfortably align the pulse sensor.

Merging hardware with software

The headset pairs with a custom video game that I built in the Unity game engine to demonstrate the possibilities of biofeedback in gaming.

I scripted a custom enemy artificial intelligence to respond to the users stress levels. As the users heart race increases, the enemies become more numerous and difficult to defeat - the only way to achieve a high score is to remain calm. This game mechanic trains the gamer to be aware of their own visceral reaction to the game and control their emotional state

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