Eye tracking technology poised to be next trend to immerse gamers


A Queen's University study confirms that video-gamers feel more immersed and have more fun in virtual environments when they play with commercial eye tracking technology.

These "new controls" replace the mouse click as a means to allow players to interact more naturally with their digital environments.

"Eye tracking technology allows us to build interfaces that respond to users' intentions rather than just their actions. This makes computers feel more natural than ever before," says the study's co-author David Smith a PhD candidate with Queen's School of Computing.

Players say eye tracking technology helps them feel immersed in their video-game. (Photo: Queen's School of Computing)
First developed in the late 1960s the technology, already used by people with limited mobility, pilots, and market researchers, is increasingly attracting the interest of video-game companies.

This study, also authored by the School of Computing's Associate Professor Nicholas Graham, showed that players enjoyed the way eye tracking enhanced their involvement in the role-playing game Neverwinter Nights. However, players still preferred to use the mouse to control games like Quake 2, a first-person shooter game, and Lunar Command, an action/arcade game.

Players overwhelmingly indicated an increased feeling of immersion in the gaming world when they played with the eye tracker 83 percent of those playing Quake 2, 83 percent playing Neverwinter Nights, and 92 percent playing Lunar Command. Smith and Graham suggest this is due to an increased level of feedback, which is given even when the user makes subconscious eye movements.

The researchers integrated a Tobii 1750 desktop eye tracker with these commercial video games. Interacting with the virtual avatars in Neverwinter Nights proved to be the most satisfying use of this technology with 83 percent of the players preferring to play the game with their eyes and 67 percent reporting the experience felt "more natural" than playing the game with a mouse. One participant noted, "I could explore with sight freely and only clicked the mouse when needed".

Ninety-two percent of Quake 2 players found the mouse easier to use than eye-tracking to rotate their view to visually hone-in on the monsters. The same percentage found the mouse easier to destroy missiles in Lunar Command. Smith and Graham attribute this preference to the "Midas Touch" problem still associated with eye tracking technology, in which the eye tends to "choose" items or directions inadvertently.

The study, a project of Queen's EQUIS Group lead by Dr. Graham, was funded by NSERC and NECTAR, and was presented this June at the Association of Computing Machinery's International Conference on Advances in Computer Entertainment Technology.

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