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efaardvark

Thoughts from Valve's "Principle Experimental Psychologist"

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Posted (edited)

You know, one of the most intriguing things for me - from a Game Master perspective - about the NerveGear in Sword Art Online was that it could read the mental state of the wearer and communicate that back to the game engine.  Not talking about just the obvious physical I/O here, but the player's emotional state as well.  Imagine giving a save throw modifier based on how emotionally invested the player is in some aspect of the "game".  In one episode of the SAO anime's "Aincrad" arc for instance there's a swordsmith character who really, really wants to make a great sword for a specific special customer.  Imagine the game engine being able to distinguish that mental state from one where the same smith is just building inventory to sell.  Imagine the game being able to tell that the player is aware that they absolutely positively need to make this next bow shot or sword blow count.  The Kayaba Akihiko in me could sure find ways to use that information to ah, enhance my players' game experience.  :) Give me a few minutes and I could probably come up with a whole class of magic/psi use dependent on the emotional state of the individuals wielding it for its effects.  Or how about a Nerve Gear version of something like Soul Eater?  Offhand I can think of several animes where this sort of technology could be put to good(?) use in the game version.

Of course the other side of that same coin is the one exploited by Sugou Nobuyuki (aka "Oberon") in the Alfheim arc to brainwash and control people.  Fortunately things haven't gone that far in real life.  There we (so far) only have to be concerned with the technology being harnessed to do things like maximize micropayment profits...

https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2019/03/valve-software-dreams-of-analyzing-your-brainwaves-to-tailor-in-game-rewards/

Edited by efaardvark

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I'm actually working on something that very vaguely goes into that direction, when it comes to the theoretical emotional part. So there is a bit of a debate about what exactly an emotional state is and is not, but let's just say it always has some distinct physical representation.

My take is that it will not be possible to reliably 'read someone's mind' or mental states because brains are highly individual. There are some important overlaps which can be used but in general it is quite difficult to get detailed/reliable info from it. So by measuring skin conductance, brain waves etc. you might (even now) be able to distinguish between someone who is highly invested in the game or part of it vs. someone who is just doing to to waste some time. But I'm hesitant to say that it will be possible to distinguish between much more detailed decisions, like someone who wants to buy a sword to kill an animal vs a king.

What has been used for quite some time though is designing games in a way to condition people. I had a colleague who went into that direction after graduation and he described it as "adapting the game so that the player is not too challenged or bored" which is quite a positive read. You could also see it as adapting a game in a way to make people as addicted as possible given what we know about general reward functions. So if more advanced technology becomes available (like the VR headset also reading data off your scalp etc) I would definitely see how companies would try and use that to their advantage.

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