Future of gaming: The controller that can change the game if you get bored

If you’ve ever exhausted all the difficulty levels of a video game then you’ll know the familiar feeling of boredom – but this could end with the development of a new controller.

Engineers have created a controller that measures what you’re feeling while playing and could change the game to make it harder.

The controller gauges your brain activity and can add more enemies to a game if the gamer gets bored.

The technology could be used by developers to improve the quality of the games they make.

For example, when testing games prior to sale, sections that do not score highly with those playing could be changed to be more stimulating. Or games could be made harder if the controller detects that you’re feeling bored.

The prototype is made using an adapted Xbox 360 controller that has small metal pads attached.

These measure the user’s heart rate, blood flow, and both the rate of breath and how deeply the user is breathing.

Combined with another light-operated sensor that measures heart rate and an accelerometer that measures the movements of the controller, a clear picture of how the gamer is feeling is presented to the researchers.

A custom-built game has been created to work with the controller that sees users playing a racing game where they must drive over coloured tiles in a particular order.

Corey McCall, who was the leader on the game controller project undertaken by Stanford University, said: “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.

“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.”

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It works by measuring changes in the autonomic nervous system – which deals with he brain’s emotions.

Brain activity influences the heart rate, respiration rate, temperature and other bodily processes. When these signs are measured it’s possible to tell what is going on in the brain.

Measuring the activity can be conducted in an non-invasive way and other work by the group involves monitoring the skin temperature of epilepsy patients in an attempt to predict when a seizure will occur.

“You can see the expression of a person’s autonomic nervous system in their heart rate and skin temperature and respiration rate, and by measuring those outputs, we can understand what’s happening in the brain almost instantaneously,” said McCall.


Video and images courtesy of Stanford University 


Is climate change bringing malaria to Europe?

Climate change could result in the spread of tropical diseases such as malaria, dengue, Lyme disease and yellow fever, according to a leading disease ecologist.

Speaking today to mark the World Health Organisation’s World Health Day, Durham University School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences Professor Steve Lindsay said that everyone from government and health organisations to individuals needed to be “alert” to the possibility that disease-carrying insects, known as vectors, could spread to more areas of the world.

“The world is continually changing and we are seeing vectors moving to new areas. Governments and health organisations, and individuals, need to be alert to these changes,” said Lindsay.

Lindsay, who has been researching the tools for malaria prevention such as treated bednets, said that in some areas this has already started to happen.

“The Asian Tiger mosquito, for example, is spreading across the northern shores of the Mediterranean, where it wasn’t found 20 years ago. It can transmit diseases such as Chikungunya that won’t kill, but are pretty unpleasant,” explained Lindsay.

“That is a concern for countries such as Spain and France, for example, and potentially the UK in the future, depending on environmental changes.”

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According to University of Exeter associate lecturer Dominic Henri, one type of malaria, Plasmodium vivax, which is found in Asia and is less dangerous than its African cousin Plasmodium falciparum, did previously exist in Europe.

“The symptom people ascribed to miasma, people think was actually plasmodium vivax,” explained Henri, adding that in areas such as Italy this was wiped out because “proper drainage systems and proper houses” were built that stopped its transmission.

Because of this and general increased urbanisation, Henri does not see a return of malaria in Europe due to a rise in temperatures as the wet, leafy  environments that the insects thrive in no longer exist in large quantities.

The exception to this is in areas high above sea level, where changes in temperatures have allowed mosquitoes to venture further than they previously have managed. “There’s been a big increase in the altitude that you can get malaria,” explained Henri. “That is global warming, increasing the altitude.”

However, he explained that the impact of climate change was likely to come more from rising sea levels. “You’d be more likely to get freshwater wetlands that would allow mosquitos to survive,” said Henri.

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Perhaps of greater concern, though, is that mosquitoes are increasingly building up a resistance to the most common anti-malarial treatment taken by travellers, chloroquine prophylaxis, meaning that the disease is being carried home to non-malarial countries where it can survive for the summer, infecting others who have remained at home.

Henri explained that even those who have followed their treatment regiment properly can still get the illness, and cited a study that found a 22% increase in malaria cases returning from holidays to the Indian subcontinent.

While individuals can do little to fight climate change on their own, he stressed that travellers to malaria-infection regions must make sure that they do complete the full course of their antimalarial treatment as not finishing it can aid resistance among mosquitoes.

Although he acknowledged that the tablets were expensive, they are an important consideration for any trip to an infected region. He also highlighted to benefit of treated bednets, which can easily be purchased before departure.

“Before you go you need to know if it’s in a malaria area, and before you go you need to take the prophylaxis and you need to take it correctly,” said Henri.