Computer game looks in your eyes, sees the horror, makes it scarier

Computer gamers who like getting a rush of fear have something new to worry about: what the computer can see in their eyes.
Researchers at the University of Regensburg in Germany have worked up a new horror-genre game called Sophia.

The twist is that the game uses an eye tracker to determine what the player might be thinking and then reacts accordingly.

Thus, if the player happens across a horrifying alien and thinks that the best plan might be to try to escape, the computer could look for tells in the player’s eye movements and have the alien act accordingly.

The university developers think this could be the building block for a whole new level of gaming and are looking for developers with whom to partner.

The technology could be useful for manufacturers of other kinds of games, says Christian Wolff, of the university’s media technology department, in an interview with dpa.

The technology’s focus on eyes is based on sensors that assess emotions associated with ocular reactions, which should give some idea of what a player might be thinking.

Wolff’s team, which also consists of Markus Heckner and Martin Dechant, put a lot of time into their research. But how does a player’s expression change when his character is threatened?

Their research showed that there’s a wide degree of variability. A player who’s exploring will look broadly into the screen’s middle.

But if he’s looking for an exit, the eye movements will provide telltale signs, particularly a look in the direction of the nearest exit. If the person wants to hide, he’s more likely to look at the potential direction from which the danger emanates.

Sophia tries to take advantage of that knowledge by looking at where the player is looking and then modifying the game accordingly, usually to provide even more scares.

The technology is best suited for horror games, says Wolff.

”That’s where the player goes through a dark castle or cellar while being stalked by aliens, ghosts or dark figures.”

The eye-tracking technology could be used to provide new, surprising features. Even an object that is stared at for too long might start to react.

Efforts to harness eye-movement technology have been in the works for years. It has been used a lot in evaluating users’ reaction to software interfaces, says Wolff. But its application in gaming is relatively new, particularly because it has been so expensive, he noted.

”The first hardware with which we worked still cost around 25,000 euros (33,350 dollars),” he said, noting that was why it remained a niche item for so long. But, as costs have dropped, its application in other fields grows more apparent. (dpa)