​A video game so powerful it knows your deepest fears

We are so blown away by a biofeedback-based video game we saw at this year’s EmTech Asia which is both bone chilling and addictive.

So what is it about the Nevermind game developed by US based female game designer, developer and CEO Erin Reynolds that got us excited? Reynolds developed a video game that measures, tracks the bio responses from its players such as their heart rate, sweat and stress levels or known as biofeedback. This is our body’s natural response to stimulants such as a horror scene or excitement, the game then adjusts its game sequence accordingly. Simply put it’s almost like experiencing our nightmares through a video game.

What Reynolds has developed at her company Flying Mollusk is pretty cutting edge and a pioneer in some context. The game Nevermind has a variety of practical applications such as helping patients suffering from severe trauma, extreme stress levels or even children who are unable to articulate their fears communicate better through subconscious signals on a gaming platform.

The game is very immersive, each player has to face their personal demon so as to speak, unveil their fears, bad memories while doing their best to remain calm, if the player gets excited or stressed the games’ biofeedback sensor automatically calibrates the game scenario.

While this might sound like science fiction, it is not. Hear what Reynolds told us in an interview.

TS: Tell us what got you started in the first place?

ER: Nevermind actually started as my Masters thesis at the University of Southern California. In my program (the Interactive Media and Games Division of the School of Cinematic Arts), your Masters thesis is an opportunity to spend a year focusing on a project entirely of your choosing.

Going into it, I knew that I wanted to create a game that explored biofeedback-based interactions (something I had explored a couple of years prior) that also somehow benefitted the player. In other words, a game that would be both entertaining but also educational and inspirational. These ambitions were the seeds from which Nevermind originally sprung.

Erin Reynolds, CEO of Flying Mollusk

TS: What was your inspiration?

ER:Each aspect of Nevermind draws upon many varied sources of inspiration - from fine art and music to psychology and science. However, at the heart of it, the underlying ambition to create a game that is both enjoyable and helpful comes from inspiration in my own experience as a gamer.

Games like Dance Dance Revolution and Ecco the Dolphin (among others) had an incredibly significant impact on my own life. DDR helped re-contextualize exercise for me - it showed me that “working out” could be fun and, as a result, I’ve led a much healthier lifestyle since having been introduced to the game. Ecco the Dolphin instilled a curiosity in me about the wonders of the sea so deeply that I very nearly became a marine biologist. Inspired by my own experiences (and similar experiences I've heard about from other gamers), I’ve been driven by a desire to explore how games can engage players and benefit them in lasting ways - whether it’s helping people learn a new skill, building awareness and empathy around an issue or cause, or simply motivating players to consider a different perspective on the world - all through the magic of play and adventure combined with powerful technology like biofeedback. This was one of the strongest driving forces behind Nevermind.

Screengrab from Nevermind

TS: How long did it take for you to develop the first prototype?

ER: The academic version of Nevermind actually started way back in 2011. From 2011 to 2012, an interdisciplinary student team and I developed a proof of concept for Nevermind - essentially a single level prototype that demonstrated the biofeedback fully working as designed within the context of a “traditional” gameplay experience. While the student team and I graduated that May, I felt like Nevermind’s journey wasn’t quite over yet. As such, in 2013, I founded  Flying Mollusk to continue and expand Nevermind and, as such, development resumed in the summer of 2014. In 2015 we launched the current version on Steam and are still actively improving and expanding the game (adding new sensors, platforms, and -hopefully eventually- new content) to this day.

So, from student project to commercial release, it has been a game that has been about five years in the making and is still growing today.

Screengrab from Nevermind

TS: Tells us one of the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

ER: We are one of the first developers to lead the way when it comes to biofeedback in gaming. As such, when dealing with any new, innovative technology there are, inevitably, challenges not only in integrating this unique technology itself, but also in evangelizing the potential of an experience like Nevermind's and proving to the world that something of this nature is even possible.

For example, when I first started working on  Nevermind back in 2011, there was really only one device out there that both had the potential to be compatible with a game like ours and was accessible and affordable to “every day” consumers. Furthermore, many people back then felt that this technology wouldn’t ever work within a game – they feared that people would be adverse to technology having access to things like heart rate or thought that folks would be uninterested in owning wearable sensors. However, since then, we’ve seen a huge rise in pulse-sensing wearables - from the FitBit HR to the Apple Watch and many more. So, despite the challenges we’ve encountered along the way, we have always been confident in the technology and have been very encouraged to both observe and to be a part of its evolution over the past five years.

TS: Looking back, what would you have done differently if you have known what you know today?

ER: Given that the possibilities for biofeedback in gaming is so new, we’ve focused a large part of our R&D efforts on broad sensor integration. While we wouldn’t necessarily change that, I do feel that if we knew then what we know now - that the technology would rapidly grow and that the gaming community would, in fact, be energized by the notion of a biofeedback gaming experience and hungry for more - I would have perhaps focused on supporting fewer devices out of the gate, and instead invested more effort on creating more content for Nevermind earlier on in the process.

Screengrab from Nevermind

TS: Name one compelling use case for your game.

ER: Having a game respond to your internal, subconscious signals creates a whole new level of immersion that we have yet to see in most games currently on the market. This is especially the case when applied to an aesthetically and narratively rich gameplay experience like Nevermind. In this way, the intended use case for the current version of Nevermind, is that it both draws-in and delights players and provides them a compelling motivation to become more mindful of their own internal responses to stressful and uncomfortable situations - making them more effective both in playing Nevermind but also when encountering those “every day” stressful situations we all face in real life.

Beyond that, we intend to take this ambition further by continuing to work closely with behavioral and medical professionals to develop a version of Nevermind (or a similar experience) that can be used specifically within a therapeutic setting for potentially helping those who experience things like PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or clinical anxiety.

Screengrab from Nevermind

TS: How will Nevermind change the world as we speak?

ER: Currently, it feels like so many of the current applications of biofeedback in interactive technology fall under the “health app” category. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, however, there is so much untapped potential for biofeedback input and consumer technology to work together to create amazing, powerful tools and experiences. My hope is that Nevermind will not only inspire other creators to leverage this incredible technology, but also to do so in a way that will benefit and empower their users - entertaining while also elevating them with all the technological magic that is now at our fingertips.

TS: In one sentence, what you think life in 2030 will be like?

ER: While I have serious environmental concerns about the state of the planet in 2030, provided that that is under control by then, I think we’ll find ourselves in an even more global, connected, and imaginative world - one with fewer boundaries to hold us back from creating new and awe-inspiring experiences and works of art.

By Jason Tan / February 1, 2016 08:43PM GMT+8 Singapore

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