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[What effect does in-game audio have on players? Audio expert Raymond Usher (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Crackdown) shares the results of a study in which players were monitored while playing three games -- Osmos, FlatOut, and Amnesia -- with audio and without.]
This study investigated the importance of audio in computer games. To do this an experiment was designed that compared groups of participants that played the same games with and without audio. Participants' physical responses to the games were recorded via a bioharness that recorded participant's breathing wave, heart rate, respiration rate and skin temperature.
Analysis of the heart rate and respiration rate of participants showed that those playing games with audio had a higher level of arousal (a combination of heart rate and respiration rate) and demonstrated the immersion capabilities of audio in games.
12 students from the University of Abertay participated in the study. All participants had experience in playing computer games but little or no experience in the games selected for the study.
Experimental trials were conducted in Abertay's HIVE facility, which provides a six meter rear projection screen, 7.1 surround sound and adjustable lighting providing a great gaming experience.
Participants' physical responses were recorded with a bioharness (more info available here). The bioharness records a range of physical attributes including heart rate, breathing rate, and skin temperature.
Three games were selected as stimuli for participants to play:
These games provided a range of genres (racing to survival horror) and play styles (driving to first person shooter).
The aim of Osmos is to propel yourself (bright blue orb), a single-celled organism (mote), into other smaller motes (dark blue orbs) to absorb them. Colliding with a mote larger than yourself will result in being absorbed yourself, resulting in a Game Over. Changing course is done by expelling mass. Due to conservation of momentum, this results in the player's mote moving away from the expelled mass, but also in their mote shrinking.
FlatOut is a racing game with an emphasis on demolition derby-style races, and features a sophisticated physics engine. Races take place in a range of locations from busy street to storm water drains. Players race against 11 computer-controlled opponents in races consisting of multiple laps. An additional speed boost can be gained by going off jumps and crashing into other cars.
FlatOut Ultimate Carnage
Amnesia: the Dark Descent features an unarmed protagonist exploring a dark and foreboding castle while avoiding monsters and other obstructions, as well as solving puzzles. The player plays and sees through the eyes of Daniel, making their way through the different levels of Brennenburg Castle as the story progresses, starting off in the Rainy Hall and eventually making their way into the deepest depths of the castle in their search for Alexander, the owner of the castle.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
The experiment trials began with participants signing a consent form, where they agreed to take part in the experiment, understood what the experiment would consist of, and stated they had no problem with projected images, as required by Abertay's experiment guidelines. Following the signing of the consent form, participants were instructed how to wear the bioharness. Once the bioharness was on, recording of physical attributes began.
Participants played each of the three games in order: Osmos, FlatOut, and Amnesia. Before starting each game, participants had to be in a resting state; this was monitored with the bioharness. If participants were not in a relaxed state when they began the game, it would be challenging to determine the effects of gaming on physical responses.
Participants alternated between the audio and no-audio conditions, where one participant would play the three games with audio and the next participant would play the three games without audio. All participants were given the same levels/locations in all three games to play. For Osmos, participants were given two levels where they were tasked to become the largest. For FlatOut, all participants were given the first race (four laps) and the same car. Finally, for Amnesia, all participants were tasked with navigating through the open level of the game.