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A Design Exploration of Affective Gaming



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Physiological sensing has been a prominent fixture in games user research (GUR) since the late 1990s, when researchers began to explore its potential to enhance and understand experience within digital game play. Since these early days, it has been widely argued that “affective gaming”—in which gameplay is influenced by a player’s emotional state—can enhance player experience by integrating physiological sensors into play. In this thesis, I conduct a design exploration of the field of affective gaming by first, systematically exploring the field and creating a framework (the affective game loop) to classify existing literature; and second by presenting two design probes, to probe and explore the design space of affective games contextualized within the affective game loop: In the Same Boat and Commons Sense. The systematic review explored this unique design space of affective gaming, opening up future avenues for exploration. The affective game loop was created as a way to classify the physiological signals and sensors most commonly used in prior literature within the context of how they are mapped into the gameplay itself. Findings suggest that the physiological input mappings can be more action-based (e.g., affecting mechanics in the game such as the movement of the character) or more context-based (e.g., affecting things like environmental or difficulty variables in the game). Findings also suggested that while the field has been around for decades, there is still yet to be any commercial successes, so does physiological interaction really heighten player experience? This question instigated the design of the two probes, exploring ways to implement these mappings and effectively heighten player experience. In the Same Boat (Design Probe One) is an embodied mirroring game designed to promote an intimate interaction, using players’ breathing rate and facial expressions to control movement of a canoe down a river. Findings suggest that playing In the Same Boat fostered the development of affiliation between the players, and that while embodied controls were less intuitive, people enjoyed them more, indicating the potential of embodied controls to foster social closeness in synchronized play over a distance. Commons Sense (Design Probe Two) is a communication modality intended to heighten audience engagement and effectively capture and communicate the audience experience, using a webcam-based heart rate detection software that takes an average of each spectator’s heart rate as input to affect in-game variables such as lighting and sound design, and game difficulty. Findings suggest that Commons Sense successfully facilitated the communication of audience response in an online entertainment context—where these social cues and signals are inherently diminished. In addition, Commons Sense is a communication modality that can both enhance a play experience while offering a novel way to communicate. Overall, findings from this design exploration shows that affective games offer a novel way to deliver a rich gameplay experience for the player.



physiology, affective gaming, heart rate, breath rate, facial expressions, Twitch, video games, live streaming



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Computer Science


Computer Science


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