Sometimes in order to understand how video games affect you, you have to look at the real world. Horror games in virtual reality appear to affect people a lot, and it may very well be connected to levels of immersion.
Yesterday, I joined a group of researchers on a field trip to a haunted house Dystopia in the danish town Vejle. People go through the haunted house experience in groups of 4 to 6, and it takes approximately 20 minutes to complete.
Now, the aim of the trip was to conduct a survey to see how people cope with a scary situation. Moreover, people chose to be a part of one of two groups. Group 1 were instructed to immerse themselves in the experience as much as possible, whereas Group 2 were to distance themselves as much from the experience as possible – In other words attempt to minimise the experience of fear.
I obviously cannot tell you the further results of the study, as there is a bunch of data that now needs to be analysed by the people who instigated the study – and those further results aren’t mine to publish. I was merely Santa’s little helper in the study. Nonetheless, collecting data from people filling out surveys, and talking to some of them about their experiences, did give me a chance of making some initial observations throughout the evening.
Long story short, people who were told to immerse themselves as much as possible did seem more scared after the experience, and more of them also had to quit early due to becoming too scared. On the other hand, people who were to refrain from becoming scared did seem to come up with viable techniques in order to distance themselves. I.e. they “saw through” the experience and saw the “monsters” for what they were, people in make-up.
So why is this interesting, and what does that have to do with virtual reality and video games?
Well, there may very well be links between level of immersion and how scary an experience is for people. Virtual reality adds another level og immersion to the video game experience. Therefore, I am thinking, following this postulated logic, that horror games in virtual reality are bound to be a more scary experience than “normal” horror video games. And that one of the main reasons why these experiences are more scary is that people are more immersed. This of course needs to researched properly to confirm it – So there is an open appeal!
Another thing that I have been wondering about since yesterday, is levels of immersion in general. I spoke to Ph.d student Jens Kjeldgaard about this, and it would be interesting to see if there are ways in which to measure levels of immersion in various situations. I will admit it isn’t something I’ve looked into yet, but plan to do so at some point. Anyway, I have this idea that a horror experience in VR may very well actually be experienced as more immersive than a real life haunted house experience. Possibly due to the way in which VR tricks the brain to accept the world as being real, and the ability to create a very controlled and strict horror experience. I could imagine this is more difficult in a real life scenario where people are aware of the fact that they are entering a staged haunted house experience, and there are more variables, such as a bunch of actors.
There really is a lot of interesting, potential research that needs to be done within this field, and I hope to see some of it done at some point, as it would help us understand our relationship with fear and horror, but also the ways in which we interact within real and less real situations accordingly.
This was just a short post with musings based on yesterdays experience. It is the first time I’ve been on a research field trip, and was a great experience. Highly recommendable. Also I do hope you enjoyed this short post, and that it maybe peaked your interest and curiosity.