How into a game are you? This Xbox controller knows

A 3D-printed module attached to an Xbox 360 controller lets it evaluate your emotions and may one day make for games that are more interactive than ever.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
2 min read

Video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

Your hands sweat and shake. Your heart pounds. Your breathing comes in short shallow sips. One more corner. One more batch of zombies to get through and you'll have done it. You'll have broken your own record.

Video gamers are no strangers to the physiological changes that come when they're racing sleek cars at high speeds or ridding the world of the undead plague. Now a researcher at Stanford University has built a game controller that can sense those changes and maybe one day cause the game to adjust itself based on the players' emotions.

Corey McCall, a doctoral candidate at Stanford, modified an Xbox 360 controller with a 3D-printed module containing a variety of sensors. Metal pads like those you'd find on the handles of an elliptical rider in the gym measure heart rate, blood flow, and how fast and deeply the user is breathing, while an optical sensor provides an additional heart rate measurement. Accelerometers measure how vigorously the controller is being shaken. Readouts from these sensors are compared to the activity in the game.

The goal is to discover how engaged the player is with the action on screen and to one day control that action accordingly.

"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," McCall said in a statement. "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 said this method of measuring the body's autonomic nervous system is particularly useful because it's a non-invasive way of gauging the mental states of players. In other words, there's no need to wear strange-looking skull caps or have skin-ripping sensors glued to your body while playing. Which might be a good thing since dodging zombies is uncomfortable enough.

So, would you be into a game that adjusts itself based on your body's reaction? Let me know in the comments below.