Vision and Gaming: How We Perceive Motion

Vision and Gaming: How We Perceive Motion

If you’re an avid gamer, you’ll know that more than anything the only skill required for gaming is reaction. Many games, like first shooter games, don’t actually require any experience shooting a gun or tossing a grenade. Thank goodness for that.

However, what these games do require is speed. We don’t mean physical speed. We mean the speed at which your eyes and brain can perceive motion and how quickly you react to what you’ve seen.

What happens when a game is presented with a high frame rate? How do your eyes perceive this? Does a faster game help you react quicker and more efficiently? It’s a loaded topic and the answers may not entirely satisfy your questions.

Frame Rate: What Is It?

To understand how the human eye perceives motion when it comes to video games, it is important to know how frame rates work.

A frame rate, a term often used when operating cameras, refers to how many images are being captured per second. The unit of measurement used to express frame rates is frames per second (FPS). However it may also be expressed in hertz (Hz).

The Hertz measurement, refers to how many times your screen redraws itself to maintain the FPS. If your screen is 30 Hz, this means that it can redraw itself 30 times in one second. It also means that the framerate is 30 FPS.

We won’t get into the whole science behind frame rates because it can get complicated fast. The one thing you need to know if that the higher the frame rate, the better the quality of the picture will be.

For example, cameras used during the silent film era had a frame rate of 16 to 24 FPS. However, when the films were screened, projectors upped the frame rate to double or triple.

The result of this was often a jerky motion, making actors and actresses look like they were having some sort of seizure with every step they took. Contrary to what the footage will tell you, people in the 1920s did not walk like the moving pictures depicted them to walk. The frame rate of cameras and the projectors were the cause of these herky-jerky steps.

Of course as cameras evolved, frame rates increased and so did the smoothness of the motions on screen. Nowadays, film and television shows are shot at 30 FPS in North America (25 FPS in Europe). However, some filmmakers like Peter Jackson, choose to film their movies in 48 FPS (The Hobbit).

If you’re still having trouble figuring out what the heck a frame rate is and why it’s important, have a look at this image. As you can see, at 30 FPS, we can perceive the car driving by smoothly. At 10 FPS, we can tell that a car is driving by in a choppy motion. At the very lowest 1 FPS, the car jumps from point A to point B quite suddenly.

Video Games FPS and Vision

Vision and Gaming: How We Perceive Motion

Now that you understand, or at least get the gist of how frame rates work, let’s have a look at how they can impact our vision when gaming. Generally a video game will have a frame rate of 30 FPS to 60 FPS. 30 FPS is considered to be the lowest playable frame rate. Anything lower would be difficult to see, therefore difficult to react to.

This is the general consensus among gamers, but some claim that frame rate actually doesn’t matter because at some point our eyes plateau and stop recognizing the difference between frame rates.

The science behind it all is a little flimsy. All eyes work differently, thus we all have different levels of perception. Some scientists claim that the eye can’t perceive motion above 20 FPS, making any video game with a higher frame rate than that pointless.

However, others claim that the eye can see at a frame rate of 150 FPS. Some pilots have even been recorded as being able to identify a light flashing at 220 FPS!

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The Debate

What’s the debate exactly and why can’t we find a solution? The answer is simple, we just don’t have enough evidence. The difference between 1 FPS and 10 FPS, as illustrated in the image above is obvious, but as we move up, it becomes more difficult to differentiate between frame rates, at least for some.

The debate is whether or not frame rate matters after a certain point. The truth is, everyone is different and the only way to find the answer is to test your own eyes. You can try the test right now.

Watch this GIF on Imgur. As you can see, one set of writing is traveling at 60 FPS, while the other is going at 30 FPS. Do you see a difference between the two?

If you answered no, then chances are that gaming at 30 FPS or 60 FPS will make no difference. Your eyes can’t see the difference between the two, and that’s ok. In fact most non-gamers plateau around this frame rate.

If you answered yes, then you must be a regular gamer. It is possible to see a difference between 30 FPS and 60 FPS, especially if your eyes have been conditioned to do so. This is the case for many gamers. Their eyes are trained to recognize different frame rates.

While 60 FPS offers a clearer image, when it comes to perceiving motion, it may or may not matter when gaming. If you can’t tell the difference, then you might as well play in 30 FPS. If you can see a difference, you’d benefit more from a higher frame rate.

Lower Frame Rate a Disadvantage?

Is having a lower frame rate a disadvantage to those who don’t see a difference between the 30 FPS and 60 FPS?

Most people would conclude that no, there is no disadvantage. In fact, even those who do see a difference would probably not be hurt by the frame rate. The motion captured by each frame rate is so similar, that enhanced clarity in the video game is the only benefit for a higher frame rate.

Whichever frame rate you choose, make sure it’s at a rate that your eyes can perceive. Take the test and let us know what you think!

About the Author

Avatar for Tyler Sorensen

Tyler Sorensen is the President and CEO of Rebuild Your Vision. Formerly, Tyler studied Aeronautics with the dreams of becoming an airline pilot, however, after 9/11 his career path changed. After graduating top of his class with a Bachelor of Science degree in Informational Technologies and Administrative Management, he and his brother decided to start Rebuild Your Vision in 2002. With the guidance of many eye care professionals, including Behavioral Optometrists, Optometrists (O.D.), and Ophthalmologists (Eye M.D.), Tyler has spent over a decade studying the inner workings of the eye and conducting research.

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