A study by UK-based videogame “user experience studio” Vertical Slice has declared that Dead Space 2 is the 360 game most likely to make you scream like a little girl.

The study, performed across four games (Alan Wake, Dead Space 2, Condemned: Criminal Origins and Resident Evil 5) on six participants between the ages of 20 and 42, attempted to discover exactly which moments of the games were frightening and exactly how frightening they really were by using a combination of interviews, post-play analysis and biometric measurements.

Each participant of the sample group was classified as either a “casual” (rarely or never playing games) or “core” (playing at least five hours a week) player. While many of the study’s findings were common sense, some were more interesting: cutscenes, though frightening for some casual players, were usually seen as a moment of relief from actual danger. The study also found that the more scripted the game was, the more it frightened casual players; conversely, the less scripted it was, the more it frightened core players.

To measure fear, Vertical Slice had each of the participants play about 30 minutes of each game in a counter-balanced order to reduce bias. During play, the participants were asked to think out loud; at the same time, their heart rate, skin surface temperature, Galvanic Skin Response (which measures excitement or frustration) and, in some cases, respiration were measured. After playing, the volunteers were asked to analyze their experience. Throughout the process, Vertical Slice used interviewing techniques to elicit feedback as well. Below, you can see the “Biometric Storyboard” for each game, which graphs all the gathered information.

Perhaps the most interesting discovery, made through Dead Space 2 (the scariest game of the four for both casual and experienced players) was that fear and frustration are often linked. One of the more intensely frightening moments was when the players were chased by enemies and had difficulty navigating – however, repeated failure removed the fear and left the scene simply unpleasantly frustrating for players unable to complete it on the first few tries. Similarly, the players who had the most difficulty wielding the game’s telekinesis gun experienced more frustration, but also the most fear.

Studies such as these may help game designers make better games by identifying exactly which design elements are linked to which emotions and while not flawless (the study had a small sample group of both players and games), it’s nice to see the application of scientific techniques to game design.

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