This is Your Face on Video Games


It's called "the Zone," and I'll be the first to admit that I've been in it many times -- though more often at age ten than recently. Photographer Robbie Cooper's latest project is called Immersion, and it set out to capture the faces of children as they entered the Zone, held rapt by such games as Grand Theft Auto IV and Call of Duty. The project is just beginning, and according to The Telegraph, this is the plan:

... to settle on a group of 75 game-playing children - selected by a researcher to represent a cross-section of ethnic groups, income brackets and cultural backgrounds within Britain - and spend 18 months using the technique to film them reacting to different manifestations of screen warfare, be they videogames, news footage, internet videos or feature films. Cooper will then log their expressions and work with a psychologist and sociologist to interpret the results in light of the psychological profiles of the individual children.

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Cooper is also learning the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), developed in the 1970s by the distinguished academic psychologist Paul Ekman.

'Ekman logged all the muscles in the face,' Cooper says, 'and designed this system based on a combination of muscle movements for every possible facial expression. There are some people who think this is a more accurate way of interpreting internal space than even the most modern brain-scanning technology. His micro-expression tool is used by the CIA.'

Thus far, Cooper has noticed one expression -- lips pulled over teeth, shown above -- which seems peculiar to the game Call of Duty. (I have to admit, I'm fascinated -- do people really make distinctly weird faces when engaged in particular immersive activities? I blogged about guitar face awhile back -- an immersive activity which is nothing like playing video games, and neither is the face you make.)

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As the Telegraph astutely points out, this sort of immersion is relatively new to humanity as a species:

There is an account, apocryphally, from medieval times, of a person walking into a room and being confronted with the sight of a man transfixed. The man in the room is holding something in his hands, staring at it. His eyes are glazed. His lips are moving soundlessly. His soul is elsewhere. The onlooker, unsettled, concludes that the man has been possessed by an evil spirit. In fact, he is simply doing something the onlooker has never seen done before: reading a book.

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You can find more about the Immersion Project, as well as photographer Robbie Cooper's blog, here.