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Last Updated:  Monday, 7 April, 2003, 11:23 GMT 12:23 UK
Games to take your breath away
Screenshot of Breathing Space game, Media Lab Europe
You can control this by breathing
A lot of computer games are breath-taking to play, but few more so than the one developed by scientists at Dublin's Media Lab Europe.

Instead of using a joystick or mouse to control on-screen characters the game uses sensors stuck to a player's body.

The sensors monitor breathing and only move characters on-screen if the player breathes in the right way.

The game is designed for children in hospital to help them cope with boredom during long periods of bed rest and recuperation.

High flyer

"The interface to the game isn't a joystick, it's your breath," said Gary McDarby, director of the Mind Games group at the Media Lab Europe.

The research group is working on ways to affect the mood of people using computers or playing games.

Techniques used by the group include immersive artificial environments, such as virtual reality, and biofeedback.

This latter approach is driving work on the Breathing Space game that tries to make players relax by forcing them to do things that calm them down.

Screenshot of Breathing Space game, Media Lab Europe
The aim of the game is to fly through hoops
Dr McDarby said the game uses sensors placed on a player's waist and ribcage to measure the expansion and contraction of their diaphragm.

"The sensors on your body connect you to the video game," Dr McDarby told the BBC programme Go Digital.

The first versions of the game involve controlling a flying dragon on-screen and trying to make it fly along a valley passing through successive hoops of fire.

"You control the creature in the game by breathing deeply or not breathing deeply," he said.

"When you don't breathe the creature will fall down to the bottom of the valley," he said, "when you do breathe deeply it will rise up."

Deep breathing was chosen as a control technique because it is known to help people relax. Dr McDarby said the game was designed for children in hospital who have to stay in bed for days while they recover.

"There's a whole difficulty about that because children have a lot of energy and when you confine them to bed it tends to disrupt their sleeping patterns," he said.

Deep breathing exercises, carried out when playing the game, can help children relax and restore their sleeping patterns.

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