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July 24, 2021
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Why don't games calibrate to peoples' reaction times?

by Travis Johnston on 08/21/10 11:20:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I was recently watching a 64 year old computer gamer try and play “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2″ on the XBox 360.  It was not any fun for him by any stretch of the imagination and turning the difficulty setting down really did not help him much at all.  On the easy level he did not die quite as fast but he still died far too often to get into the fun of the game.

Here is a guy that would love to play these types of games but is not going to pay 60$ to get punished time and time again.  Now he is an extreme case and maybe you are saying not significant, but where on the line of ages between 25 - 64 are the majority of these games become frustrating and how much potential market is it really?

This does seem to tie into another trend I have notice a lot recently.  Every time I meet someone and they find out I work in games they always say ”I used to play a lot of game”.  So I always ask them why they stopped and the most common response is ” I got frustrating … I died to much”.  Loosing long term customers in my age bracket is not really acceptable in any industry. 

Watching his struggle two things became clear.

  1. He had a very slow positional sound reaction time ( slow at best and almost none at worst).
  2. His eye to hand coordination was a little slower in general but the fine motor control coordination was a lot worse.

Call of Duty and a lot of other FPS Games do a couple of things that make these issues a punishing problem in general:

  1. You need to rely on the positional sound to hear grenades and other dangers landing next to you as the “Grenade Icon” is almost useless and does little to point to were the grenade might be in relationship to you.  For the slightly hard of hearing it is impossible to detect, especially if your living room is not well set up for 5.1 sound.
  2. In this game you have to snipe enemies to get through most levels and sniping involves both quick visual reaction times and the need for very detailed hand motor control.

We could go and give players longer to react to audio and visual cues but that would just make the game too easy for the rest of us and only partly solve their problem.  Instead what if we gathered each individuals reaction times for the environment they are inThen the game could auto tune for the individual characteristics of each user instead of making the assumption that people are all the same.

Info games would want to acquire:

  • How long it takes someone to react to a sound, the average is 180 ms but this vastly changes based on age and hearing damage.  Also a lot of people have dead zones in their hearing range from over exposure to certain sounds in their life.
  • Can people hear position sound information?  Just because someone has 5.1 sound hardware that you can detect it does not mean it is set up properly and they can distinguish the difference, sometimes the sound needs to play longer for the positional information to come across.
  • How long does it take someone to react to visual, average is 220 ms but depending on size of image, contrast in the image.  This can be almost 3x times as slow based on age and visual conditions.
  • How long does it take to do large and small movements, older people usually have fine large movement control but hands can shake or overshoot for small movements.

Just like the little test many games do were they ask you to look up and then set your invert Y setting.  Games could ask you to use the directional stick to point to were a sound is coming from, quickly put the cursor over a target.  Basically a simplified version of the DMV reaction test would be all that is needed.

This information to turn on things like:

  • Turn on a partial auto aiming system if they do not have fine motor controls.
  • Put in delays between when something pops up and before it starts firing if they have visual recognition issues
  • Over compensate with either louder and more drawn out sounds if they have hearing issues.

Why is this important, the market for our games is still expanding and now including older and older people.  Not all of them want to just play Wii bowling or Peggle so we need to make our more in depth games are also inclusive.  Also we have to ensure we do not lose our current gamers, they should never get frustrated and have to give up on their favorite types of games.  It seems like a lot of their frustrations can be compensated for and we can ensure they never throw down the controller.

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