You're slowly creeping along the darkened halls of a haunted mansion, waiting for the next zombie to come shambling around the corner. It's a familiar situation, and you're not afraid. Sensors convey this information to your game console, and suddenly an ear-piercing shriek fills the air behind you. Your heartbeat elevates, your fingertips sweat.
Your game console is appeased.
It's the sort of technology that Valve's Gabe Newell has shown great interest in; the sort of implementation the more hopeful among us imagined for the Wii vitality sensor, a piece of hardware that's yet to actually surface.
It's the sort of technology that San Francisco technology firm BioControl Systems put to the test this past weekend in Austin, Texas.
Working in conjunction with Belfast media production company Filmtrip and Sonic Arts Research centre at Queen's University Belfast, BioControl wired several members of the audience attending Sunday's screening of the short suspense film Unsound at the Ritz theatre. Nine people in the crowded audience had five fingers connected to sensors that measured physiological responses to every aspect of the film, from the plot to the rise and fall of the musical score.
Those responses are used to shape how the film plays out to the audience. The story will change based on their responses, one scene replaced with another, the music swapped out during a dramatic scene to heighten tension.
The technology is called Biosuite, and it could change the way we interact with our entertainment. Imagine going to see a movie you've seen before, but undergoing a slightly different experience due to your particular mood and physiological state at the time of the viewing. As long as film creators provide the branching points, a movie utilizing such technology could play out differently from viewing to viewing.
After completing 18 months of initial research, the team decided it was time to bring the digital interface to the viewing public. Morrison and the Biosuite team chose Austin's South By Southwest, an annual amalgamation of film, music and interactive festivals and conferences, to launch their experimental film. The reactions so far? "It's been a whole range of responses," said Morrison, "from 'really cool' and 'crazy' to 'invasive' and 'borg.' "
The next test for the team and technology will be a full-length feature that utilizes the technology. From there, they hope to move on to video games and television.
I personally think they missed out by not applying this technology to gaming first. The medium lends itself well to restructuring itself on the fly, and gamers love new bits of hardware to play with.
If the feature film idea falls through, we'll be waiting.
Plug in to movies that know how you're feeling [New Scientist]