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The PlayStation 5 Controller Could Invade Our Privacy in Alarming New Ways

Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:36 PM
Max Moeller
Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:36 PM
  • A Sony patent hints at a potentially invasive feature to pair with its controller, the DualShock 5.
  • It seems harmless at first, but the more you read, the more invasive it seems.
  • Could Sony be putting our privacy be at risk?

Remember the AI director in Valve’s Left 4 Dead?  The artificial intelligence would alter the game’s difficulty on-the-fly based on your team’s performance. One of Sony’s latest patents means the PlayStation 5 (PS5) could provide a similar experience.

The patent is for the PS5’s DualShock 5 controller.  It’s related to sensor technology that monitors your heart rate and knows when you’re sweating. More specifically, the patent reads:

A biofeedback sensor attachment for a controller, the bio-feedback sensor attachment comprising one or more sensors for obtaining biofeedback information.

As far as immersion goes, this idea is much more inventive than the sound effects and lightbar on the DualShock 4. This one can alter the game experience based on your real-life feelings. It doesn’t currently get much more immersive than that.

But what will happen to our collected information?

The DualShock 5 Could Be a Privacy Nightmare

Sony’s patent describes a “desire in computer gaming to provide an immersive” and interactive player experience. Referring to virtual reality, it then notes that despite their immersion, most peripherals are expensive.

Expensive peripherals mean a drought of buyers, and fewer developers creating ideas around said product. We then arrive at a dead idea. Implementing this technology into or including it with every controller should mitigate that problem, Sony notes.

PlayStation 5 Controller
How do you feel about a controller sensing your heart rate? | Source: Free Patents Online 

However, this universality may mean that players must have the biofeedback sensors on by default. In a world where our information is already being used against our will, some players might be uncomfortable with the feature. Could companies potentially exploit our private health information?

As of now, social media platforms use our online interactions to push personalized advertisements. The more we use a platform, the more it learns about our tastes.

An excerpt from the document describes something quite similar:

The collection of such biofeedback sensor data may be useful in adapting content provided to a user, so as to provide a more personalised experience. This may be particularly advantageous in the context of a virtual reality experience, in which the user may be fully immersed.

Again referring to VR, Sony’s “personalised experience” sounds more than a little dystopian. Imagine a virtual-reality world tailored to you individually. Would you ever leave? Does this mean a PSVR 2 is coming?

PlayStation, Sony
PlayStation has compromised our privacy in the past. | Source: Twitter 

How PlayStation 5 Games Could Use These Sensors

Things get more strange when the patent details the absence of player choice. Discussing a horror game, in particular, the patent describes players becoming increasingly frightened. The game could automatically adjust lighting and enemy placement to tone down the experience.

That sounds like an updated version of Left 4 Dead’s director, which could help users ease into the intensity of virtual reality. But the following section suggests that things are going a little too far:

“Alternatively, or in addition, the user’s level of emotional arousal may be used to make in-game decisions or to lead their progression through a piece of content that has multiple paths (such as a choose-your-own-ending video).”

A game may give a choice to flee or fight an enemy. However, if a player’s heart rate is high, the game may automatically choose to escape, the patent notes.

Essentially, the PlayStation 5 could start replacing player input. While a small video game choice sounds harmless at first, the patent further details “more screen time devoted” to characters and scenarios that create a strong reaction within the player.

The Game Now Plays You

While many gamers love choice-based playthroughs, it’s strange to think of the game making those choices for us. What if I’m re-playing to experience all of the content? What if the game miscalculates what I want to do?

Imagine Mass Effect; only the game makes all of your decisions for you. | Source: Steam 

If the process is seamless, it’s possible you wouldn’t know the game was adjusting its content. But that seems more invasive than innovative.

Who knows, we might see new development trends based on this collected information. Remember the influx in open-world games earlier this generation? What about combat-free horror games that came after Amnesia?

Overall, while the patent seems harmless at first, I fear there could be more sinister applications at hand. At some point, we must question if increased immersion into a game is worth a game’s increased immersion into us.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of CCN.com.