Playtesting event at Coventry University sees gamers use their heart rate to control character

A participant running on the spot in front of a TV screen showing a computer game where the person's heart rate controls the main character

A participant trying out the Cardia computer game where their heart rate controls the main character

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Monday 04 September 2023

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New technology that could change how computer games and exercise are combined in the future has been tested at Coventry University.

The university’s Research Centre for Postdigital Cultures hosted the playtesting event which saw participants use their heart rate to control the game’s main character as it tries to outrun an evil slime monster.

The faster the participant ran or jumped increased their heart rate, which was picked up by a watch on their wrist connected to the computer, and in turn helped their character move faster across the game’s platform layout.

The game entitled Cardia has been created by a team from Manchester Metropolitan University, led by Dr John Henry, with Coventry University’s Research Centre for Postdigital Cultures helping to shape the research around it.

It was a really good experience. I quite like games which require you to have some sort of physical activity. I think it’s a great way to promote being active as well.

The game is really clear in terms of what you need to do. It’s not complicated and very low-level impact in terms of you putting in the work physically, which is great. It’s really inclusive as well – kids can play along with it and even the elderly, and it will be good to give that opportunity for people to have fun and to stay active.

If people are being active and having fun and playing games then I’m all for promoting that.

Shoubna Naika-Taylor, the Curriculum Manager for Digital at Coventry College who tried out the Cardia game

I have worked previously alongside John (Henry), which began when I served as an expert collaborator in evaluating another game he had created. It is a pleasure to be involved in this new game that John is exploring and together we are assessing further research towards new collaborative bids.

The first part of the experiment was done at a museum in Manchester and now we are running it here in Coventry, and will run more in the future to find out about technical feasibility as well as how it has improved engagement in exercising.

The next step is to work with target users and see how we can use this in a more meaningful way, and people may come up with more ideas on how it can be implemented and adapted in other areas.

Sylvester Arnab, Professor in Game Science (Applied Games) at Coventry University’s Research Centre for Postdigital Cultures

The idea is that you are using your body to play the game and therefore doing exercise and promoting physical activity.

This is a fairly new concept. There is some research from the early 2000s and then we had the very popular Nintendo (Wii) where you control games through your body. But what is new here is the ability to use the internet of things – this terminology of devices around you that work for you, so you can easily access your heart rate, embed it into a game in real time and from there control things.

This is very much the first step and then it’s about scaffolding out the experience, enabling children to do things like skill competency to help them to get the right level of skills development through physical exercise. We know the power of games; games are super engaging and are the biggest market now over film for entertainment.

Dr John Henry, Senior Lecturer in Games at the Manchester Metropolitan University

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