A Hypothesis regarding First Person Shooters

This is kind of an odd hypothesis, but I wanted to throw it out here to see if anyone else has had similar experiences. I have a considerable amount of anecdotal evidence from playing and observing FPS video games.

Hypothesis: your perception of an event happens faster if you caused that event.

For example, if you walk around the corner of a building then you immediately perceive the new visual scene on the other side of the building. On the other hand, if you’re standing still on the other side of that building and someone walks into your field of view then your perception of that person is delayed compared to their perception their new visual input.

I think this happens because your brainwaves (which are the basis of perception) naturally synchronize with external events, but only if you are able to predict precisely when an event will occur. If you can’t predict when an event will occur then your brainwaves proceed in a periodic fashion and if an event occurs in between brainwaves then the perception of the event is delayed until the next brainwave.

The result is that by causing an event, your brain is able to process the event immediately instead of waiting for the next periodic brainwave. This results in a speedup in sensory processing latency of no more than one brainwave period, which can give counterstrike players a significant advantage.

Impractical Applications

First let us reduce first-person-shooter video games to their most basic mechanics. Two players inhabit a simulated 3D world, which they view and interact with through a first person perspective. The goal of the game is to find and click on the other player. The game is competitive, so the first person to find and click on their opponent typically wins the game. It is, in a sense, a competitive game of hide and seek.

Broadly speaking, there are two strategies: attacking and defending. Attackers move through the world actively searching for their opponent. Defenders move to an advantageous position and wait for an attacker to move into their view. More precisely terms: A combat engagement is initiated whenever two players move into visual sight of each other. The player who makes the final movement into such a position is the attacker. The other player is the defender.

Most encounters happen between an attacking and a defending player. Defenders are stationary and so they rarely find each other. Opposing attackers often encounter each other as they are actively searching for each other, however for this analysis only the player whose movement initiates the encounter is considered the attacker; the other player is merely a defender in an indefensibly position.

Attackers Advantage

By controlling the final movement, you can gain a fraction of a brain wave’s head start over your opponent in the visual search competition. A common tactic is to peek out from behind cover which gives you the attackers advantage, and then to rapidly hide again before someone else moves to see you.

Defenders Advantage

By planning out engagements ahead of time, defenders can make the competitive visual search easier for themselves or more difficult for their opponents. Typically this means engaging in locations where the opponents viewpoint expands to cover a significant area, or where their own viewpoint is narrowly focused on an area which the enemy is likely to traverse. Also camouflage helps.


Interesting idea! (occasional FPS player myself) :grinning:

The way I think about it, the attacker does not have to deal with the primal “flight-or-flight” response as they round a corner and see someone, because they know there’s a reasonable chance of encounter and, as you describe, they know the likely timing of it.

Whereas a “defender” (:camping:) must wait in anticipation and deal with the surprise of someone appearing at an unknown time.


Yes, that is a possible alternative explanation. And the “fight-or-flight” response also releases lots of adrenaline, which complicates things further.

I’ve done some thinking about how I would test this hypothesis.

A disclaimer before I begin, I don’t actually intend to run any of these experiments.

First I think its necessary to simplify the game mechanics: instead of players trying to hit a target, they should just shoot as soon as they see the target on their screen, because for this hypothesis we are only concerned with how long it takes to recognize the enemy. Aiming at a target can take a variable amount of time, depending on how far they have to rotate their gun, the mechanical limitations of human hands, and also whether they are aiming for the enemies head (small target) or center of mass (larger target). The variability in how long players take to aim makes analyzing it difficult.

Experiment 1: Player in control

The purpose of this experiment is to verify that the attackers advantage really exists.

Methods: play the game and record a video of it. Then analyze the video: for each encounter determine if the player is attacking or defending, and measure the reaction time between first visual sight of the enemy and the first gunshot. Do a statistical analysis: determine the p-value likelihood that the two scenarios (attacking & defending) are actually different distributions (rather than random samples of the same distribution), and also plot a histogram of the data to get a sense of the magnitude and reliability of the attackers advantage.

Experiment 2: Player observing

The purpose of this experiment is to verify that the attackers advantage is caused by the players ability to control their own movement.

Methods: the player will watch a video recording of themselves playing the game, and when they see an enemy they will click their mouse as though to fire the first shot. Then a piece of custom software will record the exact time of the click so that I can determine their reaction time. I hypothesis that a statistical analysis will show the following:

             | Attacking | Defending
Controlling  |   fast    |  slow
Observing    |   slow    |  slow

Where all of the scenarios marked slow are equally slow.

Methodological Considerations

The player has already seen the video which is shown to them in the observing scenario, which is an unfair advantage over the in-control scenario. Mitigate this by having the player wait a long time (days to weeks) between recording a video and observing that particular video.

Player performance can vary greatly between and within a gaming session. Mitigations:

  • Have multiple sessions for each experiment.
  • Record and control for time of day.
  • Interleave game rounds of controlling & observing, so that time-based variations in performance are represented in both data sets.

Experiment 3: Obtain an EEG headset kit

The purpose of this experiment would be to replicate the prior two experiments, but this time also measure and analyze the players brainwaves.

  • show that brainwaves correlate with both visual perception and motor actions.
  • show that sensory input which arrives in the middle of a brainwave is not perceived until the next brainwave.
  • show the silencing of brainwaves in anticipation of an event, and that the subsequent brainwave is precisely timed to the event.
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