What’s the source of your joy when playing an action game? Shooting the bad guys? Beating the game? Apparently not. It’s getting killed that most gets our rocks off, according to a new study.
The facial expressions and physiological activity of 36 gamers was measured whilst they played an FPS. “Wounding and killing the opponent elicited an increase in SCL and a decrease in zygomatic and orbicularis oculi EMG activity,” says the report. Er. This means heightened anxiety, apparently. Conversely, “the wounding and death of the player’s own character elicited an increase in SCL and zygomatic and orbicularis oculi EMG activity and a decrease in corrugator activity.” Which signals positive emotions, apparently. Short answer: killing is sad, dying is happy. Hmm.
The churl in me wants to say it all makes sense upon discovering that the in question was 007: Nightfire. Of course you’d glad to be dead, because you get to stop playing the damnable thing. But I may be projecting the awful PC version (though I’m tempted to revisit it just for the unbelievable “20 men facing a wall with a line of explosive barrels behind them” room) onto the better-received console version there. Leaving aside whether or not the study has much merit – it’s small-scale and a bit heavy on the ifs and maybes – it’s fun to guess at why this might be the case.
Initial reaction – an FPS is generally a stressful affair. Trying to shoot a man, whether player- or AI controlled, pushes you into a higher-alert state. Dying pulls you out of the game, and out of that stressful mindset. Though sometimes it also has me screaming and hammering at the keyboard, so presumably this trial involved gentlemen of greater composure than I. Oh, apart from the ones deemed “higher Psychotism scorers”, who apparently demonstrated less anxiety when killing a pretend man. That’s a whole other can of theoretical worms.
What does occur to me is how often it’s the case that I don’t get any definable joy from killing Baddie #5312 in Any-FPS VII. I tend to see many of these guys – even in something like Half-Life 2 – as merely an obstacle in the way of my progress, rather than an enjoyable challenge in and of themselves. The forward motion, the desire for discovery and resolution, gives me much more thrill than Act of Gun. It’s always worried me a little, as clearly man-shooting is the bedrock of such things. (Though it’s not the case in a multiplayer FPS, where each kill carries a heightened sense of personal victory, plus bragging rights). Is it just me? Oh, probably.