Film Project Captures Faces of Kids as they Play Violent Games

Asylum reports on The Immersion Project, a short film by British fillmaker Robbie Cooper which captures the faces of 9-16 year-olds as they play violent video games.

UK newspaper the Telegraph offers more details:

Head-on film footage [captures] children as they play a number of more or less violent videogames – Halo 3, Call of Duty, GTA 4, Tekken and Star Wars Battlefront…

The results are variable, and intriguing. The children who are most expressive in class, according to their teachers, are also the most expressive in front of the screens. Others – particularly the hardened gamers – remain utterly expressionless: ‘Nothing. Not a glimmer of emotion. If you couldn’t see the hands moving, you wouldn’t know anything was going on at all.’

(There is one expression – an agonised open-mouthed gape, with lips pulled in to cover the teeth – that is seen on several children’s faces playing the first-person shooter Call of Duty. It seems, oddly, to be unique to that game.)

Ultimately, reports the Telegraph, Cooper plans to settle on 75 kid subjects and film them for 18 months as they interact with a variety of violent images, including games, films, TV news footage and online videos. Their facial expressions will be recorded and then interpreted by a psychologist and a sociologist.

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  1. Aprincen says:

    `Body language is never used to deduce an individual’s emotional state and thought process.´ You don´t actually know anything at all about psychology do you? Of course body language is used to deduce an individual’s emotional state. Ever heard of facial expressions? They’re EXPRESSIONS, as in expressions of an individual’s emotional state. It’s not speculation, it’s reading expressions based on previous research on facial expressions and what they say about someone’s emotional state. Nobody is making psychic forecasts, previous research has shown you can look at body language to deduct an individual’s emotions. It is not an exact science, but psychology isn’t an exact science.

    You attack this study/art project before you actually look at the results. You are guilty of the incompetence you claim these researchers have by not even waiting before the methods and results are made public. You are not looking at the whole, you are just blindly attacking the fact they use observation as a research method (which, btw, you don’t even know if it’s going to be used deductively or inductively). Maybe you should make a ‘Direct, comprehensive, evaluation’ before slamming this study/art project.

  2. Bigman-K says:

    It’s because studies like this are always used by the nanny-state to try and place restrictions and censorship on Free Speech media. Also, most violent media research is nothing more then psuedoscientific bullshit, you know with people being fundamentally psychologically different from one another and how they react to different stimulus.

     "No law means no law" – Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black on the First Amendment

  3. Phlopsy says:

    It raised a few questions for me. Most pertinently, Am I making faces like that when I play COD?  What does my face look like when I’m screaming at my brother over the xbox live headset to stop charging solo against the other team when we play Gears?  Am I scaring my dog or my fiance? (not the same person, I have both a dog and a fiance)  Would I be bitching him out as hard if we were not playing a game that involves weaponized chainsaws? 

  4. StevoUK says:

    There is a very disturbing trend on this site (and many others) of gamers knee-jerkingly reacting to any studies done in the field. This is ironic, since most gamers condemn this same behaviour in other people.

    Can we all try to calm down, RTFA (read the f’ing article), and have an open mind? Or am I asking too much of the violent video gamers 😉

  5. StevoUK says:

    The quote you mention (presumably in your earlier post?) does not have any judgement in it at all. Stop being oversensitive – we gamers should be happy that the mainstream is trying to understand us instead of making instant judgements.

    Like you just did.

  6. Phlopsy says:

    I’m "on about" the series of complaints that they’re wasting taxpayer money on a usesless project. There is no cause to assume they used government funds. 

  7. Phlopsy says:

    I don’t think they ever said it was unbiased or scientific. They said that it would be examined by sociologists and psychologists. Whom else to better interpret the expressions?

    Everybody is in circle-the-wagons mode, can’t this just be interesting without people getting their panties in a wad?

  8. Phlopsy says:

    I thought it was interesting. I’d like to know what their expressions reflect. Why is this such a stupid idea?

  9. StevoUK says:

    You’ve got to wonder how these researchers would feel about books, considering most readers don’t really change facial expressions much while reading.

  10. Phlopsy says:

    There were no taxes wasted, or used. There was no commentary whatsoever on how the project is funded. You have no credibility when you make a baseless assumption like that. 

  11. Briggs says:

    Cooper – who at 39 is part of the generation that grew up with videogames, and still plays them himself – is keen to approach his subject with an open mind. ‘It seems possible,’ he says, ‘that there’s a link between violent games and social aggression, bullying or exclusion; but whether the violent game is the biggest factor in that, it’s hard to say. I think a lot of what has been said so far about the effect of media violence on children doesn’t take into consideration the psychological make-up of individual kids, and how big an impact the different types of media violence have on different children.’


    I have to at least recognize that the creator of this video himself believes that it is important to include the psychological make-up of individuals in determining the impact of violent media on the kids.

  12. StevoUK says:

    But seriously, how lazy was that guy? A simple Google would have enlightened him as to the joys of loving Big Brother.

    Does nobody research anymore?

  13. tsunuffy says:

    I think in order to be an even remotely ACTUALLY useful study, they’d have to record their faces while playing games with other ratings and subjects.  How can this even be called unbiased?  Or scientific?  And they’d have to film them sitting doing nothing, too, as a control.  This is the kid at rest, with no stimulus.

    I bet that their expressions playing Super Mario Galaxy would be more or less the same.  Joy at the defeat of a difficult enemy, anger and sadness with failure.

  14. Bigman-K says:

    Well to be honest is it any worse then what your kid hears every day at resess during school. I remember when i was 12 you couldn’t go the entire school day without hearing the "F" word at least 20 times. Sometimes it was even the teachers who used it.

    I personally don’t see foul language as that big of a deal. So long as you teach your kids there is a time and a place for such words (eg. Not in front of Gramma) and not to use it excessively ala Joe Pessi in Goodfellas and Casino.

     "No law means no law" – Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black on the First Amendment

  15. Bennett Beeny says:

    "Others – particularly the hardened gamers – remain utterly expressionless: ‘Nothing. Not a glimmer of emotion."

    I don’t know what they expect.  I mean if a gamer knows the game well, he’s not going to be surprised or terribly challenged by it – the lack of emotion on the face in such a situation is hardly surprising.

  16. nightwng2000 says:

    Observation with speculation does not equal evidence.

    Looking at someone’s face and claiming "Oh, they must be feeling/thinking <fill in the blank>" is NOT science, it’s the equivilant of psychic forecasting.

    Body language is never used to deduce an individual’s emotional state and thought process.  An intelligent individual uses other factors, including conversation with the individual, to make complete and thorough deductions.

    This is just more junk science.

    Observation IS one of the oldest forms of research, but it ISN’T, and shouldn’t, be used to to obtain deductions.  Only parts of the whole.  Direct, comprehensive, evaluation of the individual, something incompetent boobs of researchers ignore, produce more thorough results.

    Be my guest and list all the incompetently, biased, boobish "research" you want.  There’s a fair bet that they all eliminate the individual from the equation and research.


    NW2K Software

    Nightwng2000 has also updated his MySpace page: Nightwng2000 is now admin to the group "Parents For Education, Not Legislation" on MySpace as

  17. fozzy360 says:

    Well, I have three facial expressions whenever I play: neutral, when Im doing good; disappointment, when I fail a mission; sadness, when I keep failing the same mission over and over again.




    "We received 20 calls last night. As we all know, one call equals a billion people. So 20 billion people called us last night. We must act to preserve decency on television." -The FCC

  18. VideolandHero says:


    Cuss words won’t hurt anybody.  The word "fuck" won’t hurt anybody.  All you have to do is tell your 12 year old son not to cuss.  Besides, he will hear it out in public eventually, if he hasn’t already.

    — Official Protector of Videoland!

  19. zel says:

    Ya i caught that several days ago when someone posted a link to an article that covered several topics. The original topic at hand was something else but I read about this study too. If i understood what I read correctly it was originally an art exhibit so everyone flippin out about it being a study on kids playing video games can chillax a bit 🙂  just enjoy the funny pics 😛


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  20. zel says:

    You? emotionless? hardly, if anything your fervor on certain topics is overwhelming. 😛

    thats a compliment kinda, so as not to be misunderstood.


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  21. zel says:

    so did I but doom and duke nukem 3d didn’t have the F word strewn gratuitously across the landscape (although duke did have strippers you could tip a dollar).

    The fact is that some of these games really should not be played by children. They weren’t made for kids, they weren’t meant for kids, so trying to say its cool for kids to play them is ridiculous. We’re not saying that the games make the kids violent but i’m not going to sit here and say that its a great idea for kids to be playing mature titles with crass language and loads of other things that are very innappropriate for kids. For instance when i play GoW2 with my kid i turn on the option that removes the profanity in the dialogue.

    and as to your comment about over-protection: thats ridiculous, I have a 12 year old and not letting him play games with gratuitous profanity hasn’t caused him to try and rebel in any way shape or form. If anything he understands and wishes the games had an option to turn it off (which thankfully GoW2 does, but R6:Vegas and vegas 2 don’t they are absolutely filled to the brim with as much profanity they could toss in there). Limiting the profanity a 9 year old is exposed to is not over-protection.


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  22. VideolandHero says:

    So you are saying video games don’t hurt kids but kids shouldn’t play them.  Why?  It’s just entertainment.  Your logic makes as much sense as all the video game critics that have been mentioned on here.

    As for telling a 9 year old about sex and drugs, I would tell a 9 year old that drugs are a bad thing to use and that they should wait a while for sex, that is if they even know what that is yet.

    Besides, why are you comparing harmless entertainment to one dangerous thing and one thing that requires big responsibility?


    EDIT:  I played Doom, Quake, and Duke Nukem 3D at 9 years old.  I came out great.


    EDIT 2:  It seems that the more you overprotect children, the more likely they do bad things just because you wouldn’t let them.

    — Official Protector of Videoland!

  23. Aprincen says:

    So you think facial expressions say nothing about what someone is thinking or feeling at that moment? And please bring some evidence to your claim because I can show you some research that shows that facial expressions can be read and do show a lot about your current state of mind.

    And do you think people shouldn’t research societies, jus because it "excludes individuality"? think again, you can research people without asking them about your subject of research. Observation is as old as science itself.

  24. nightwng2000 says:

    As pointed out in the quote, they have already announced their intentions to create yet another biased, incompetent study based on the exclusion of individuality (as noted in the fact they intend to "interpret" the facial expressions rather than actually ask and research the details of each individual their thoughts and emotions.

    So waiting isn’t necessary.  They’ve already announced their incompetency in performing REAL research.


    NW2K Software

    Nightwng2000 has also updated his MySpace page: Nightwng2000 is now admin to the group "Parents For Education, Not Legislation" on MySpace as

  25. Flamespeak says:

    We know the point that you are trying to make VLH, but it isn’t a good point at all.

    Does playing violent video games make kids violent? No, but that doesn’t mean they should be playing them anyway. I mean, unless you don’t think it is crass to talk about sex, drugs, and other such things with someone who is 9 years old.

  26. Aprincen says:

    Am I the only one who realises it’s not just a study, it’s also going to be an art exhibit? I think it’s fun. Eighteen months of kids playing videogames should make for some extremely stupid faces. I know I don’t want to be taped when I scream at my compagnion in Fallout 3:p

  27. Spartan says:

     WTF? This was done over a year ago if memory serves. Additionally I dont think any reliable data can be gotten from facial expression during game play. If that would be the case then think about people’s faces during sex! Consequently I call shenanigans on such pseudoscience!





    "The most difficult pain a man can suffer is to have knowledge of much and power over little" – Herodotus

  28. Aprincen says:

    Or you could wait until they’re done researching and release the conclusions. That way, you can actually know what they’re doing before blasting their research.

  29. StevoUK says:

    Every day more and more kids commit ThoughtCrime.


  30. Waffles says:

    This has to be hands down one of the most idiotic and uneccessary "video game studies" that I’ve ever heard…

    Oh wait, this project is from the UK, never mind.

  31. Valdearg says:

    Honestly speaking, I think its a good study. Maybe it could be executed better by expanding the subject matter to include boring, funny, thought-provoking, and other non-violent media. If anything, the research will probably renforce the reasoning behind the guidelines already put in place by the ESRB.

  32. Cerabret100 says:

    My reactions tend to switch:

    RPG: thoughtful, kind of passive

    DMC Ninja Gaiden, i go in to ultra concentration, my aunt actually said a topless chick could walk right in front of me an it wouldn’t register.

    Half-Life 2 or Gears of War, i get vocal, especially during parts where i have ai teammates.  i can only thank god my mom wasn’t around when i rented GoW

    Parkour type games like Mirror’s Edge or Prince of Persia, once i get in the flow, i totally zone out.

  33. Artificial Selection says:

    I’m surprised they are even allowed to do this study, don’t get me wrong i think it’s great. But to make this fair i think they should compare it to something else, make them watch the news or cartoons and highlight the differences.

  34. Shoehorn Oplenty says:

    I’m not sure how much is supposed to be proven by this project? Different people can have different expressions when they concentrate on any activity, not just video games. Look at a picture of Jimi Hendrix in mid solo, or Steve Vai. Both players opena nd move their mouths, close their eyes, screw up their faces, etc. Angus Young looks like he is in a gurning competition when he really lets loose! Then there are other guitarists whose faces are blank and still as they concentrate on their music.

    I myself sometimes realise my mouth is hanging open if I’ve been concentrating on a game or my guitar intently. Sometimes my jaw is clenched if it’s a particularly hard level or song. Other times I just have no expression.

    I wonder if they will explain what each child is doing when they show a certain expression.

    Finally, I really have to question the suitability or taste of allowing these kids to play titles which are rated for individuals older than they are.

  35. nightwng2000 says:

    "Ultimately, reports the Telegraph, Cooper plans to settle on 75 kid subjects and film them for 18 months as they interact with a variety of violent images, including games, films, TV news footage and online videos. Their facial expressions will be recorded and then interpreted by a psychologist and a sociologist."

    Translation (ie "interpreted", fair’s fair after all):  "We’ll look at their faces and make wild, biased, speculated, theorized, opinions as to what is or is not going on in their minds, including but not limited to thoughts and emotions at the time instead of just simply ASKING them.  After all, it’s important we take out the complexity of the individual as well as the individual themselves when making broad speculations about a variety of subjects.  That way, we can LOOK like we know what the heck we’re talking about.  The individual doesn’t matter one bit to us."


    NW2K Software

    Nightwng2000 has also updated his MySpace page: Nightwng2000 is now admin to the group "Parents For Education, Not Legislation" on MySpace as

  36. Hmm says:

    Could it be possible that they are using this footage to show the dangers of allowing young kids to play M rated games or games not appropriate for their age group?

  37. VideolandHero says:

    Why?  I thought it was well established that video games don’t make kids violent.

    — Official Protector of Videoland!

  38. Derovius says:

     I zone out when I try and read some of my Engineering textbooks too; maybe University is turning me into an emotionless monster.

  39. zel says:

    I think it makes for some funny pics 🙂   but I also think its ridiculous having a 9 year old play an M rated game.

    Lets face it though, if they’re making faces they’re wasting mental facilities that could be better put to use concentrating on the game.


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  40. Baruch_S says:

    Wow, I hope they didn’t pay money to do this. What a load of crap. There’s nothing to read from those faces; most of the kids were simply intensely concentrated on the game. The only expressions you’ll get from them are a few winces when something particularly bad happens. They’re focused; big deal. There was also the stoned girl and the confused little boy, but I think stoned and confused are pretty self-explanatory. What a waste of time and taxes.

    The only thing I’m worried about is the kid playing Halo with the group who was trash talking a little. I’m sure someone will take that one incident out of context and try to prove that games make gamers violent and anti-social even though it was just a little ribbing that could occur in any sort of friendly competition.

  41. Doomsong says:

    So when do we get the study of facial expressions while watching pornography? Or has the media finaly backed off of that golden calf?

    "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety" – Benjamin Franklin

  42. Aprincen says:

    I read both articles and neither of them said anything about the government having anything to do with this project. Besides, this isn’t just research, it’s also art. Art is pointless by nature.

  43. Bigman-K says:

    Be perfectly honest though. Should a kid still in the single digit age brackets and slightly above be playing the hardcore high end "M" rated games like GTA and Manhunt. I should hope not.

    "No law means no law" – Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black on the First Amendment

  44. CyberSkull says:

    I don’t think it is a waste of time. Combine the data with facial recognition software and let the game watch the player. The game could make decisions based on the player’s face & body language.

  45. DeepThorn says:

    Oh it is, it is… but might only as much as the government typically wastes in other shit…  You should see how much of NASA’s budget goes to nothing of importance, mostly people who just sit in an office and do absolutely nothing all day every day other than what they damn well please.  That is the government for you.  Hell, look at the FTC too, they do things to make it look like they are doing something every now and then, but they have no intent in actually doing anything at all.

    Of course, I am not really doing anything right now either…  shhhh.

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  46. Kajex says:

    Alright. My roomate sticks his tongue out and squints his left eye whenever he attempt to perform a headshot in Quake. Interpret that.

    I furrow my brow and glare at the screen when I face Voldo with Taki in Soul Calibur 4, even when I’m winning.

    Next, I’ll bet they’ll try to interpret the faces people make suring sex. This sounds like a waste of both time and resources.

  47. Baruch_S says:

    That’s what I was thinking. The kid in the green that they had talking looked way too young to be playing an M-rated game like GTA.

  48. Bigman-K says:

    9 year olds, hell no, but once a person is say 14/15 i don’t really see a problem.

    "No law means no law" – Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black on the First Amendment

  49. rma2110 says:

    Should 9-16 be playing games like GTA 4 and Call of Duty? I thought they were M rated. Why can’t people comprehend that there are games that are not meant for kids, just like there are media not suitable for children.

  50. Bigman-K says:

    This just seems to be more psuedoscientific bullshit research IMHO. Like grasping for straws.

    "No law means no law" – Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black on the First Amendment

  51. Arell says:

    An important question is, "Are the kids that remain expressionless during gaming, also expressionless in class?"  Doubtful.

    There is some things you can determine from a facial expression.  Joy, stasfaction, frustration, disappointment, concentration.  Obviously, someone is going to try and use data that shows a kid with a joyful face while headshotting a Nazi, to proclaim that video games are making kids into sociopaths.  (never mind that the kid was probably joyful because they successfully completed something that progresses them in the game)  Some might also use the data of expressionless children to plead a case of becoming numb to violence.  I guess I’m trying to say that I don’t expect the study to be objective.

    As a hardcore gamer, I don’t really express myself during gaming, either.  But that’s because I’m concentrating on the task at hand.  Sort of reminds me of that South Park about WoW, where all this excitement is happening ingame, but the boys are just sitting there emotionlessly clicking away. 

    Heh, maybe I really am desensitized to virtual violence.  (as in, I know it’s not real)

  52. LaxGamer34 says:

    I took a few psychology and sociology classes over the past year and a half. I might be wrong, but when they study facial expressions they’re looking for subtle signs of emotions.

    IDK how you’re supposed to interpret a "blank stare", but I wouldn’t say its cause they’re desensitized. 7 times out of 10, I "zone out" and I have this blank stare too, but thats because I’m concentrating (especially in online multiplayer, where you cant pause the game and it stops).

  53. Geoff says:

    WTF is a psychologist or a sociologist suppose to gather from a facial expression?  A psychologist gets his/her information on a patient from hours upon hours of dialogue with said patient.  A sociologist studies particular effects of culture and society through history and statistics.  How can watching a few minutes of facial expressions from kids who shouldn’t be playing those games to begin with going to determine anything except that people make dumb faces while playing games?

    I do kind of "zone out" when I play games, but that’s because I’m focusing on the task at hand.  I am equally distracted when I’m putting together a PC, reading a good book, or writing.

    Waste of money and time and any results that are determined from this will be easily shot down due to the flimsy nature of it.


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  54. PHOENIXZERO says:

    Ahh, more fodder for fucking stupidity… Maybe those people with blank expressions have such an expression, not because of desensitization but the fact that they can distinguish fake violence from real violence!

  55. gamadaya says:

    I like the kid who looks like a cross between a boy and a girl who I think is playing GTA4. When I play Metroid Prime or fly a plane in San Andreas, my head moves, but I don’t think I make any expressions. Multiplayer is a different story though.


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  56. Flamespeak says:

    Whenever I play video games I tend to zone out. I have never lost my cool in a violent game though.

    Playing golfing games has led to fist fights though. Go ahead, be a smart ass to me when my ball stops rolling one inch from the pin or skips the pin and just hangs over the edge, see if I don’t retaliate.

    Tiger Woods and Hot Shots Golf have caused me to curse the heavens and fling many controllers to their doom. I could get capped all day long in Call of Duty and shrug it off, but for some reason Golf games get my blood boiling.

    Board games too. Don’t ever play Monopoly with me. Shit gets intense, yo.

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