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Gamasutra Does A Small Study In Video Game Fear

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Over the years, science has promised us many things: Spacecrafts that would send humanity to the farthest reaches of the infinite beyond, technology that would make hunger and disease a thing of the past, and most notably, robot maids. Science has delivered on none of these promises, opting instead for devices that allow us to play Peggle on the bus entertain our desire for amusement, while delivering vast amounts of pornography important information about the world in which we live - all at the speed of light. Somewhere along the way, science found a way to calculate one of our most instinctive traits, and that which, through the many stages of evolution, held the key to our survival: fear.

Gamasutra recently conducted a study to try to discover what it is about certain titles that arouse fear in players. For the study, six players of different ages, sexes, and prior gaming experience were chosen. These hapless lab rats were asked to play the a few different for roughly thirty minutes each at Vertical Slice's facility in the UK, in order to gauge their reactions. The selected titles for the study were Condemned, Alan Wake, Dead Space 2, and Resident Evil 5 (no Silent Hill or Fatal Frame, much to my dismay), all relatively recent titles with the exception of Condemned, which was released in 2005. In order to measure the players' fear, Gamasutra took to the whimsical world of biometrics. From their article:

The biometrics chosen for this study were heart rate, skin surface temperature, and GSR (Galvanic Skin Response). Respiration biometrics were also used for some of the participants. GSR is ideal for measuring arousal (excitement or frustration), skin temp is an indicator of valance (happiness or sadness) and fluctuations in the other two can highlight key moments of engagement.

The study measured both the overall experience of the player, and the reaction to particular elements, such as a sudden zombie attack, or a particularly chilling cutscene. It's a rather interesting read, and much more thoroughly done than I had expected. The entire article is five pages in length; those who have no desire to read an analysis of each game can follow the provided link to the last page, which also names a winner for their study. Yes, horror is highly subjective, but it's still worth reading, if only for the sake of nerding out.

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