3 min read

Does an audience watching make you play better?

Does an audience watching make you play better?
Hey everyone.

For this Sunday, I've prepared a study that takes a closer look at how a player’s cognitive abilities level, performance, the presence of an audience, and game enjoyment are related. After you’re done reading, you’ll probably say that this study was the most boring one with the most obvious results you’ve ever seen. But I’ll use it to bring across some important aspects of how science, in part, works.

📜 The Basics

Let’s start with the basics of the study. It’s from 2013 and was written by Bowman and colleagues . To answer how cognitive ability levels, performance, and game enjoyment interact, they did an experiment with 62 students. The authors had the participants play Quake 3: Arena (yes, the study is that old 😄) and measured their performance.

🏁 The Results - Get Excited!

Let’s look at in-game performance and the audience effect first. Players with higher cognitive skills (their ability to rotate objects mentally and their hand-eye coordination) had better results. The…
“[…] audience effects show that the presence of others can significantly impact drive, which relates to one’s performance at an activity as high-skilled individuals will perform better and low-skilled individuals will perform worse.” – Bowman et al., 2013
What Bowman et al. found was exactly that. When an audience was present, good players performed better. Not so surprising is also that this effect was only significant when players faced a low-challenge game (in gamer terms: ez mode); lower-skilled players performed worse.

Regarding enjoyment, the authors reported an increase in game enjoyment. In-game performance acted as a moderator between cognitive abilities and enjoyment. Here is how it works: a mediator is something that stands between two things; it is influenced by variable A and impacts variable B. In this case, the two cognitive abilities (separately) impacted the game performance, and game performance in turn led to game enjoyment (see the picture below).

One thing the authors couldn’t find in their sample was the expected audience effects on enjoyment, meaning…
“[…] at the presence of others during gameplay coupled with one’s skills can significantly impact their game performance, which in turn influences their enjoyment of the experience.” – Bowman et al. 2013.
💡 You probably agree with my initial statement that this study wasn’t the most exciting one, and the results more than obvious. This is true, though, for you as a gamer, and that’s why I (in part) picked this study. It is important to me to also get across more than just plain interesting results from the world of gaming science.

If you’re a scientist and don’t have a whole lot to do with gaming or Esports, those results aren’t necessarily obvious for you. In turn, things that are daily business for other people may be hard to wrap your head around for you.

At the same time, science is slow and works on multiple levels. What I mean by this is that conducting a study and getting it published usually takes months if not years. It, however, may bring facts to the light that wouldn’t otherwise. Another point is that science tries to establish standards and “basic” relations between how things interact and work. Hence, even such obvious results as we saw in this study have value because other scientists can build upon it, and use it as a reference point for their own results (did we find similar or complete contrary results?).

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Hope ya'll have a great week.

~Christian 🙂

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