New study explores effect of sound on video game players

An unusual research study is currently underway at Prague’s FAMU film school, focusing on the effect of sound on video game players. As part of the project, organised together with the Medical Faculty, participants are asked to play a horror video game while their vital functions are monitored. I discussed the project with Tomáš Oramus from the Department of Sound Design:  

Tomáš Oramus | Photo: LinkedIn de Tomáš Oramus

“We are trying to find out whether there is a difference when you are playing games in different formats, for example if you are playing with your headphones, stereo speakers or surround sound.

“We are asking questions about their feeling of immersion in the game or the sense of presence. We also measure their physiological functions, including the heart rate, breathing rate and electro-dermal activity to see whether and how different sound formats affect these functions.”

You say you focus on sound, but how can you actually distinguish what is the effect of the sound and what is the effect of the game itself, for example of something scary happening in the game?

“There are some 150 people taking part in the study and all of them are playing the same part of the game, so the scary moments are basically the same for everyone. What differs is the sound format. So when they act or react differently, we can be pretty sure it is the effect of the sound.”

What does the research look like in practice?

“The people who are invited to take part play a certain segment of the game for approximately 30 minutes and we then measure their physiological functions. After they finish, they fill out a questionnaire asking about their sense of presence and immersion, and about the impact of sound. Based on this data we can learn more about the effect of the sound.”

The game they are playing is Resident Evil: Village. Why have you chosen this particular game for your research?

Headphones | Photo: Parag Deshmukh,  Pexels,  CC0 1.0 DEED

“We chose Resident Evil for various reasons. One is gameplay-wise: The starting segment is sort of linear and therefore very similar for all of the respondents taking part in the study.

“Another reason is that the game supports the Dolby Atmo format, which is the most immersive format available at the moment, and we wanted to compare this format with the others. And it is a horror game, so there's a really good potential for sound to have an effect on the players.”

You said that you have already done some research related to this topic. What did you find out?

“In our previous research, we were comparing how players react when they are playing with or without sound, and also on screen and in virtual reality. We confirmed that virtual reality was more immersive than the screen and that sound had an impact on the players’ immersion in the game.

“What was interesting, however, is that then when they were playing this horror game, their heart rate was actually lower during the gameplay than before they started playing.

“We expected their heart rate to rise during horror games, but when they are really immersed in the game they are so focused that their heart rate actually decreases. What we wanted to find out was whether different sound formats could have a similar effect.”

Author: Ruth Fraňková
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