We interviewed ‘Nevermind’ producer Michael Annetta for exclusive insights into the game’s groundbreaking use of biofeedback, and the real-world benefits of its immersive, next-gen technology.
Game technology and design have come a long way since 2D. Improved graphics, realistic emotion, more sophisticated game devices, facial recognition, and virtual reality are pulling more gamers into the world of the games they play—making the experience more personal and immersive than ever before. As these next-gen technologies become streamlined for use, and more developers begin incorporating them, we can expect the future of gaming to be filled with broken boundaries and perceptions.
Flying Mollusk is one modern developer that is pushing the limits of game technology. Their team is currently hard at work on Nevermind, a game that will use biometric feedback and other innovations to dramatically personalize the player’s experience.
Biometric feedback—commonly known as biofeedback—monitors physiological conditions like heart and breathing rates, brain waves, and pain perception using technological measurements. This physiological knowledge can then be used to improve a person’s health or understand individual stressors. For example, biofeedback can allow a person to see their breathing rate spike in response to a stimulus, and then cue them to slow their breathing back down.
How Nevermind Uses Biofeedback to Respond to your Fear
Nevermind uses biofeedback technology to increase the scariness of each level based on players’ physical reactions to gameplay. We’ve all felt the tight chest and sweaty palms that come from playing too much Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs at full volume in a darkened room. But imagine if Amnesia measured your heartbeat and then ratcheted up the scares as your heart rate increased. That’s precisely what Nevermind does; it reads your body signals to craft a unique experience each time.
“The more stressed or scared the player becomes, the more difficult the game will become,” said Michael Annetta, producer for the Nevermind game. “In some cases, the player’s vision is more obscured, in other cases, the music and sound effects become more intense. If the player can maintain his or her calm, then the game will get easier, and the player can progress.”
But Nevermind’s biofeedback is more than just a mechanical gimmick; the technology serves a major story function as well, as the player character “Neuroprober.” Neuroprobers act as psychic therapists of sorts, venturing into the psyches of trauma victims, detangling their memories, and helping them process and recover from frightening experiences. As much as you play the Neuroprober, you also play the trauma victim—you experience their fear, and the game world responds to that fear through the biofeedback system. Players can only succeed by confronting their fears and regaining their sense of calm.
It’s a concept unlike any other in terms of enveloping gameplay. It’s intended to challenge players’ mental and emotional game connection while teaching real-life stress-reduction techniques.
Biofeedback’s Real-world Applications
“Because players need to stay calm to progress through Nevermind, they must ultimately learn in-game calming techniques that will also benefit them in the real world,” Annetta said.
And since the game also addresses personal trauma, Annetta hopes it will support beneficial research and solutions for PTSD and anxiety sufferers as well. “We’ve been working with experts and researchers who are using the game in clinical studies—to explore how games and interactive media can help manage feelings of stress and anxiety,” Annetta said.
“We intend to continue to work closely with the academic and medical communities to further pursue these aspects of Nevermind, in addition to improving the ‘mainstream’ version currently in development.”
What Next-gen Technology Means for the Future of Gaming
Using revolutionary technology like biofeedback creates an opportunity for the medium to explore new and exciting territory in player immersion. Because video games are already interactive by nature, the addition of biofeedback in Nevermind feels expansive, not forced. We’re used to directly influencing the outcome of our games, although typically in an intentional, player-controlled fashion. Biofeedback and other innovations could completely flip this gameplay standard.
“The team is really excited about bringing Nevermind to virtual reality, and further immersing the player in our world,” Annetta said. But they don’t want to stop at biofeedback—Flying Mollusk believes there are more opportunities to increase immersion through techniques like gestures and haptic technology.
“There are studies examining the ways that movement and gestures can alter levels of stress in the body. I think there is a huge potential for gaming to combine biofeedback, gestures, and—down the road a little bit—haptic feedback to really put the player in a new immersive space.”
In addition to advancing player experiences, these next-gen technologies hold the potential to change modern perceptions about gaming. Biofeedback and haptic gestures—that boast real-world applications—could eventually shatter one of the longest-standing criticisms of the medium as a whole: that playing video games disconnects people from physical reality. This is undoubtedly a major turning point in the future of video game technology, and Nevermind and Flying Mollusk are at the forefront of this sea change.
“We have been so encouraged and inspired by the overwhelmingly positive response and support Nevermind and its biofeedback system has received,” Annetta said. “Biofeedback will be a major part of gaming and technology in the very near future and we’re so excited to be a part of that movement!”
Nevermind will be available soon via Steam Early Access.