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UsingAffective Computing to Create an Emotional Bond between Users and VirtualAgents for Enhanced Social Interaction


Project Description

With natural user interfaces, the potential for well-designed Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) to improve the human condition increases and it is desired that such interactions are more direct and consistent with human natural behaviour. The emergence of biofeedback systems makes it more intuitive that users’ emotions should play a role in the interaction loop. A closed affective interaction loop is implemented in a computer game by involving player’s emotions in the gameplay and incorporating an affective dimension into the gameplay design.

This project is interested in the emotional connection between humans and emotionally aware non-player characters (NPCs), and how an affective dimension in the agent’s architecture influences such bonds. Companion NPCs shadow the player during the game and often assist them through certain events and quests. Emotionally intelligent companions are likely to tempt the player into a continuous and more convincing interaction loop, strengthening the emotional connection that often accompanies long-term player-NPC companionship.

An emotionally intelligent agent needs a means for collecting knowledge from its surroundings, a decision-making mechanism, and the ability to execute those decisions. We will implement an affective loop consisting of two modules incorporated into a selected test game to influence the NPC; emotion recognition and game adaptation. The recognition system combines players’ behavioural expressions and physiological cues to infer their emotional state. The adaptation mechanism associates the extracted emotions or affect variables with in-game features and events, including the NPC’s behaviour. The NPC will be designed to integrate believability requirements of virtual agents to represent personality, emotion and social traits. Adding and affective factor to the character’s design helps produce emotionally intelligent responses that account for user’s affective states and adapt to their needs and preferences in ways perceived as more natural.

The project will incorporate artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and game level and character design, in addition to user psychology assessment. It is led by the School of Design and Informatics with the support of colleagues from the School of Applied Sciences. The student will be joining a multidisciplinary research team across the Divisions of Cybersecurity, Games Technology and Mathematics, and Psychology. The team will have access to the Emergent Technology Centre (ETC) within Abertay which offers specialised equipment for experimental games and IoT technology to create applications and experiences for immersive and other technologies. Abertay University is internationally recognised for its leading achievements in the aforementioned areas, bridging academia, research, industry and the community. This offers a wide range of expertise and a great nurturing environment for researchers.

Funding Notes

The PhD studentship provides a package valued at around £62,400. This includes a fully funded tax free stipend of £15,009 per year over 3 and a half years, tuition fees, and a small travel and equipment budget. You will be expected to undertake limited teaching duties of no more than 70 hours per year, typically providing support to academic staff in computing laboratories. We provide training on this activity and it is a valuable part of career development.

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