How AI and Biofeedback are Helping Players Manage Stress and AnxietyPosted: 28 Apr 2023
AI is all the buzz since the recent launch of Chat GPT. Since then, the integration of AI in various industries is being recognized everywhere, including the mental health and stress management space.
Many mental health technology applications have already begun integrating advanced AI chatbots as emotional support companions, with some startups also integrating psychotherapy-based responses. For example, Mendu Wellbeing, a New York-based startup, is utilizing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) tools in their AI chatbot to address mental health issues in women. Given the positive impact of apps and AI on mental health, it is not surprising that the gaming industry is now being targeted for the integration of AI technology to improve mental health outcomes.
What makes AI so resourceful when it comes to joining mental health and video games is its ability to learn and recognize patterns. These patterns include emotion recognition in various ways that tell the computer how a particular person feels. Computers can do a surprisingly good job at taking in a bunch of data and indicating whether a person has a low mood, or when they are feeling stressed out. As we continue to advance AI research, it is crucial to acknowledge the potential impact this technology can have in the gaming industry when used effectively so we can benefit those suffering from mental health symptoms everywhere.
The games industry offers a distinct opportunity to address mental health concerns by providing unparalleled user behavioral and interaction data that can enable AI to accurately gauge the user’s emotional state. Games developers are now incorporating user physiological responses into the dataset, which goes beyond behavioral and interaction-based data. By tracking the player’s heart rate, sweat, and breathing responses, the video game can determine the user’s stress levels during gameplay. This feature enables an interactive game to adapt and modify the gaming experience in real-time, helping to alleviate the symptoms of stress and anxiety.
And while seemingly unconventional, the concept of pairing human responses with technology is not a new idea. In fact, this concept is known as biofeedback and is being utilized in video games to detect and respond to players’ stress or anxiety levels and adjust the gameplay accordingly. Let’s say you were playing your favorite well known sandbox adventure game and all of a sudden your leveled breathing becomes shallow, and your gaming behavior seems off. The AI would’ve already been trained to pick out these changes and came to the conclusion that you are feeling stressed out. The AI doesn’t care why (it could be a text from an ex, or a bad test grade came in) but it would then work to adjust your gameplay to reduce your stress levels.
Adjusting the gameplay could look something like being prompted by a character to take part in stress relieving techniques or being guided to a scenic change in the game that is more soothing than the current environment. Another way a game could help players reduce their stress is by slowing down the pace of the gameplay or reducing the difficulty level when it detects that a player is becoming too stressed. Even scientific research has demonstrated the effectiveness of biofeedback in enhancing mental health outcomes such as stress reduction, anxiety management, and improved emotional regulation. Therefore, the integration of biofeedback features in video games represents a promising avenue for improving mental health outcomes through gaming.
People have tried biofeedback in gaming a few times in our recent history, with games like The Journey to Wild Divine popping up in the early 2000s. But as tech advanced, so did the implementation of biofeedback and AI in games. Take the game Nevermind, a psychological thriller video game that uses biofeedback technology to help players manage their stress levels while playing. The game is set in a mysterious world where the player takes on the role of a Neuroprober – a scientist who can enter a patient’s mind to explore their memories and help them overcome their traumas.
What is most interesting is that while exploring the patient’s mind, the game uses biofeedback technology to monitor the player’s heart rate and other physiological responses. As the player becomes more stressed, the game becomes more difficult, presenting them with more challenging puzzles and obstacles.
To help players manage their stress levels, the game also features relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises and calming visualizations. As players progress through the game, they can learn to recognize their own stress signals and use these techniques to calm themselves down and reduce their stress levels.
Games like this shine a light on how AI and tech can make a real difference in the lives of people from all ages. Video games can be used to teach mental health techniques, and improve stress and anxiety symptoms in users. Even more so, utilizing the gaming industry to improve mental health allows for mental health resources to become more accessible to a wider audience, including those who may have previously been skeptical of video games’ benefits.
This integration can help reduce the stigma around mental health by encouraging players to openly discuss their mental health and practice self-care.
AI and biofeedback technology are transforming the gaming industry and making a positive impact on mental health care. As more people discover the benefits of using video games as a tool for stress management and mental well-being, we can expect to see greater acceptance and awareness of the importance of mental health as well as a future where mental health and video games can work together to promote overall well-being.
So, if you’re currently feeling stressed, consider trying out a game that can help you manage your symptoms. Games like Nevermind or Animal Crossing can help you stay present and relaxed, while also helping you take steps to support your own mental health.
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- Loveys K, Fricchione G, Kolappa K, Sagar M, Broadbent E. Reducing Patient Loneliness With Artificial Agents: Design Insights From Evolutionary Neuropsychiatry. J Med Internet Res. 2019 Jul 8;21(7):e13664. doi: 10.2196/13664. PMID: 31287067; PMCID: PMC6643766.
Demi Fortson (she/her/hers)
Meet Demi Fortson, a neurobiology and epigenetics expert who co-founded Mendü, a company based in NYC that develops science-based therapeutic tools for marginalized women. Demi’s formal training at University of Maryland and Columbia University has given her a deep understanding of the nerdy neuroscience side of the human brain.