Can Binaural Beats be Harnessed to Enhance a Fear Response within Survival Video Games?

In this paper, I intend to highlight the possibilities of enhancing the fear response in survival horror video games, through its hybridisation with binaural beats, and the resultant brainwave entrainment.

A binaural beat is the phenomenon of two tones of similar frequencies, one in each ear, being processed by the brain centre, named the superior olivary nucleus. The outcome is a third apparent sound presented as a fluctuating rhythm. The frequency of the binaural beat determines how the body is affected. Fear is a series of autonomic reactions originating from a stressful stimulus. The application of fear for entertainment purposes is prevalent within the survival horror subgenre, one that has been constantly developed since its first iteration in 1989. The main focus of survival horror video games is disempowering the player by limiting their defensive capabilities.

There is an opening in the market for innovation with regards to the entertainment value of fear, which is based on the physiological high produced when frightened. Studies show that binaural beats can have an effect on anxiety and problem solving skills, two dominant factors in coping with fear in survival horror video games. The link between binaural beats and problem solving has been investigated, such as the study by Lane et al. where participants had significantly increased vigilance after listening to beta frequency binaural beats, compared to normal audio. A link has also found that sound can affect mood in video games, but combinations of the above tests have yet to be found.

The basis of study into binaural beats has been primarily for therapeutic use, leaving little knowledge on the negative effects of binaural beats, ones that assist a fear response. The direct use of these negative binaural beats, paired with the introduction of a fearful stimulus, was the preferred theory of fear enhancement; however no evidence was found to support this. An alternative indirect method is discussed in this paper, where positive reinforcement from binaural beats is continuous throughout the game, but removed prior to the introduction of the fearful stimulus, when the skills are needed most.

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Project Type University – Dissertation (DAT305)
Collaborators Rob Sparks
Duration Sept 2013 – May 2014
Grade Upper Second
Download Binaural Fear (Rob Sparks May 2014).pdf

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