Publication: A Method to Turn Any Off-The-Shelf Game Into a Biofeedback Game

Biofeedback training games use visualizations or game mechanics to encourage a specific mental state (e.g., focus, relaxation) in the player, and have been used to help people learn to manage their stress, relax, meditate, maintain focus, and manage anxiety. Biofeedback games have seen success when used in special populations - for example, to help children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) learn to focus or to help children with anxiety learn to manage their stress levels - however, creating engaging biofeedback games is difficult because they traditionally alter a game's mechanics to create the feedback loop. This means that each game must be custom designed, which is both expensive and time consuming. Thus, biofeedback games tend to be toy applications that don't hold a user's interest in the long term, which is a problem because biofeedback training requires repeated exposure. We propose to solve the problem of creating good biofeedback games by closing the biofeedback loop by altering game graphics instead of game mechanics. We present a graphical overlay on top of a running game that disrupts the user from playing when not in the desired physiological state by obscuring the game screen. The amount of disruption varies in a continuous manner, is determined during play, and is driven by the physiological sensors. Our graphical overlays can be chosen from a set or be customized to be consistent with the visual style of the game, and are consistent with abstract in-game visualizations that already exist and players are familiar with using (e.g., tunnel vision representing poor in-game health). Our solution turns off-the-shelf games into biofeedback games, leveraging the millions of dollars and years of development that go into triple-A titles, and ensuring an engaging play experience. Our solution is considered effective if the biofeedback games created are engaging to play (i.e., our system does not break the flow that the game studios designed into their game and is desirable enough to play over repeated sessions) but still allow for effective biofeedback training. We show the effectiveness of our solution through two studies. First, we show how users engage with repeated use of our biofeedback game system (driven by EEG) over 12 weeks as part of a clinical trial for children with FASD. Second, we demonstrate how different presentations of the biofeedback display balance the competing (and perhaps mutually exclusive) desires for engaging gameplay and effective biofeedback training (using EEG) through a study with able-bodied college students.




Michael Kalyn
University of Saskatchewan
Andre Doucette
Coconut Software
Brett Taylor
University of Saskatchewan
Regan Mandryk
University of Saskatchewan


Kalyn, M., Doucette, A., Taylor, B.A., Mandryk, R.L. 2012. A Method to Turn Any Off-The-Shelf Game Into a Biofeedback Game. In GRAND 2012, Montreal.


@inproceedings {282-Grand-Poster-2012---Upload,
author= {Michael Kalyn and Andre Doucette and Brett Taylor and Regan Mandryk},
title= {A Method to Turn Any Off-The-Shelf Game Into a Biofeedback Game},
booktitle= {GRAND 2012},
year= {2012},
address= {Montreal}