More than just a game?

January 2017
More than just a game?
Wala Salameh
5th January 2017

The gaming world is perpetually evolving and pushing the boundaries to cater for our ever-changing needs. What we see and interact with today is a far cry from the first video game produced in 1952 – the humble Noughts and Crosses.

Pixel-pushing games such as Call of Duty have dazzled us with their graphics, the likes of Pokemon Go! have taken us into the wilderness via augmented reality – and now emotionally responsive gaming has entered the gaming scene.

Measuring our emotional state, emotionally responsive gaming (ERG) responds to players’ emotions, rewarding those who control and master their breathing, moderate their heart rate and remain focused in the face of adversity. This mechanism has been used previously in a range of healthcare environments from neurorehabilitation to psychiatric service facilities and substance abuse programs.

Three years in the making and released in 2016 by BfB Labs in London, Champions of the Shengha is the first of what could be many ERG titles to come in the gaming world. A collectable fantasy card game, it measures your emotional state at various points by tracking your breathing and changes in your heart rate via a Bluetooth ear clip. You accumulate spells, creatures and armour – helping you progress and defeat your opponents – by being able to control your breathing and heart rate.

Cards from Champions of the Shengha

To test its effectiveness in helping people manage their emotional state, the game’s developers conducted various trials with over 400 participants aged 10 – 15. The impressive results offer a glimpse of ERG’s potential.

Findings from the largest trial run in early 2016 include:

  • One in four players reported they had started applying the skills acquired to their everyday lives
  • 80% of players reported they had been able to increase their emotional control
  • Three in four players reported getting better at staying calm and focused within the game
  • On average, players spent 26 minutes per session focusing on their breathing

Perhaps more importantly, the participants themselves recognised these benefits directly after playing.

“It made it feel like it was more real than any other game.” – Jalal, 15

“It’s shown me I can be in control.” – Kyra, 14

Through regular play, the skills acquired can extend far beyond the pixels and into the real world, helping people deal with stressful situations more effectively. This in turn can help users calm their nerves and solve problems more easily, taking time out to think things through in a considered manner.

Based on the findings above, it is evident that ERG could have a bright future, not only as an emerging and groundbreaking technology, but also as a mechanism to teach people the art of focus, concentration and breathing. In a country where one in four will experience a mental health problem each year, ERG has potentially significant benefits to the population at large.

At Diva, we’re really excited to see how the gaming world is evolving. It of course provides us with endless choices for fun and enjoyment, but increasingly also the tools and mechanisms required for behaviour change.

This emerging technology will undoubtedly help shape future interventions for adults and young people alike, and will help cement the importance of self-control beyond the plethora of public health messages we’re bombarded with on a daily basis.

By Wala Salameh