Canadian cognitive scientist, Advil develop tips to reduce headaches caused by gaming

Dr. Séamus Weech unpacks how players can minimize head pain and broader Canadian gamer trends

Advil Head Settings

This month, Advil introduced a new set of guidelines to reduce headaches while playing video games.

Dubbed ‘Advil Head Settings,’ this new initiative saw the drug company partner with Canadian cognitive scientist Dr. Séamus Weech and gamer Michael Tash. Together, they conducted a qualitative study to determine the optimal in-game settings across seven game genres.

For example, these include suggestions for such parameters as head bob, font size, camera shake, anti-aliasing, max frame rate, particle effects, distortion, depth of field and more.

To learn more about this initiative and learn more about gaming’s effects on players, especially Canadians, MobileSyrup spoke with Dr. Weech.

Question: A key focus of your work is gaming. What is it about the medium that interests you and what do you want to convey about it through research?

Image credit: Dr. Séamus Weech

Dr. Séamus Weech: The gaming medium is particularly interesting because of its immersive nature and the unique challenges it presents to both physical and cognitive health. Through the Advil Head Settings research and campaign, we hope to convey the importance of being mindful about some of the side effects of gaming, particularly in terms of headaches and eye strain. The goal is to educate gamers on adjusting their game settings, by leveraging Advil Head Settings, to enhance their gaming experience while minimizing unwanted distractions. This approach not only emphasizes responsible gaming but also underlines the potential benefits of being proactive about gaming habits.

Q: How did this initiative come about?

Dr. Weech: The initiative with Advil started when they approached me, recognizing the intersection between my work and their commitment to health and well-being. Advil saw the value in exploring how gaming affects headaches and overall wellness. This personal approach from Advil resonated with me because it highlighted their genuine interest in the well-being of the gaming community. It was clear they weren’t just looking for a marketing opportunity but were invested in meaningful research that could make a real difference in gamers’ lives. This shared vision paved the way for our collaboration.

Q: It’s pretty unique to see someone with a PhD partnering with a pro gamer. What was it like to team up with Michael Tash on Advil Head Settings?

Dr. Weech: Partnering with Michael on Advil Head Settings was a blast. Michael brought a whole new perspective to the table, blending his deep gaming insights with our scientific approach. Our collaboration was a mix of serious research and lighthearted moments. It’s this unique blend of expertise and personalities that led to some great innovation and laughs along the way.

Q: Can you tell me a bit more about the methodology of the qualitative study you conducted? (How many gamers were involved, how long did they play, etc?)

Dr. Weech: Our user test involved volunteers who each played two 30-minute sessions – one with the game’s default settings and another using our Head Settings Guide. The order of these settings was randomized to prevent bias. The games spanned a mixture of genres, with players experiencing the same game section in both sessions for consistency. After playing, they completed a questionnaire and verbally shared their experiences, helping us assess the impact of the Advil Head Settings on their gaming experience.

Q: Advil Head Settings cover quite a few parameters. What were some of your biggest takeaways when coming up with the ideal game settings? Was there anything that stood out to you in particular?

Dr. Weech: In developing the Advil Head Settings, we discovered a few key takeaways. One standout was the impact of visual elements like bloom and motion blur on player comfort. Adjusting these settings could really reduce the likelihood of headaches for some players. Another interesting thing we observed was the variation in individual preferences and sensitivities, underscoring the need for customizable settings. These insights were crucial in shaping the Advil Head Settings, aiming to enhance the gaming experience while minimizing discomfort.

Q: You created guidelines for some of the more popular game genres. Are there plans to expand Advil Head Settings to more genres?

Dr. Weech: Given the variety in gaming preferences and the unique challenges each genre presents, I’d be keen on broadening our scope in future updates that build on feedback from the gaming community. This would allow us to cater to a wider range of gamers, ensuring more players can benefit from tailored settings that enhance their gaming experience while prioritizing their comfort.

Q: Often, people outside of games misrepresent the medium by talking about how “harmful” it is and say things like “you should go outside instead.” We even saw that recently with the newscaster and the boy who “beat” Tetris. From your perspective, as someone who studies side effects when gaming, what are some common misconceptions you see from people who don’t play games?

Dr. Weech: There’s real value in the idea that gaming is best done in moderation, I’d agree with that. One common misconception about gaming is that it’s solely an indulgent activity, and one that does more harm than good. In reality, gaming can offer various benefits like improved problem-solving skills, enhanced coordination, and social connectivity in co-operative settings. It’s also a uniquely interactive way to experience digital storytelling and art.

The idea that gaming is merely a negative influence overlooks these positives. Moreover, while it’s important to balance screen time with other activities, including outdoor pursuits, gaming in moderation can be a healthy part of a diverse lifestyle. Understanding and addressing potential side-effects like gaming-related discomfort is not only about extending your gaming time, but rather about ensuring that the time you do spend gaming is of higher quality.

Q: What are some noteworthy trends you’ve observed among Canadian gamers, specifically?

Dr. Weech: Over recent years we’ve seen a surge in the number of Canadians engaged in gaming, to the extent that practically everyone plays games of some sort. A substantial portion of these people have discovered a deep sense of enjoyment in playing immersive, narrative-focused games that deeply resonate with their personal experiences and interests.

It seems to me that these once-novice gamers have now gained a better understanding of gaming dynamics, whereas before, they had been familiar only with simplified interfaces, controls, and mechanics. As a result, they’re increasingly seeking out games that offer core gameplay mechanics which provide a fulfilling and satisfying gaming experience, as well as narratives that emerge through the user’s own interaction with the game world. It’ll be interesting to see how the gaming industry adapts to address this growing desire.

The full list of Advil Health Settings guidelines can be found here.

Image credit: Advil

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