It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the majority of gamers really seem to care about framerates.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. While some of us definitely care a little too much, it’s perfectly natural to measure a video game’s technical proficiency by its framerate.
But this does beg the question – and it’s a question that’s been around for as long as PC gaming itself: can the human eye really see high framerates?
PC Gamer recently sought to answer that question in an excellent article in which they talked to a number of experts, including Eye and visual cognition experts.
The answer isn’t simple, and for a detailed (and interesting) run down on all the different perspectives and arguments, I heartily recommend you head here to read the PC Gamer feature.
If you’re in a hurry though, I’ll attempt to condense their findings, and you can save the lengthy feature for a quiet moment later on.
While PC Gamer and the experts they spoke to do stress that there are no straight answers, it’s not long before we get down to some cold, hard numbers.
Professor Thomas Busey, associate department chair at Indiana University’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences said:
Certainly 60 Hz is better than 30 Hz, demonstrably better. Whether that plateaus at 120 Hz or whether you get an additional boost up to 180 Hz, I just don’t know.
Meanwhile, Jordan DeLong – assistant professor of psychology at St Joseph’s College – added:
I think typically, once you get up above 200 fps it just looks like regular, real-life motion – Sure, aficionados might be able to tell teeny tiny differences, but for the rest of us it’s like red wine is red wine.
However, all seem to agree that just because we may be able to perceive the difference between framerates doesn’t necessarily mean that perception impacts our reaction time.
As Adrien Chopin, a post-doc researcher in cognitive sciences, argues:
Just because you can see the difference, it doesn’t mean you can be better in the game. After 24 Hz you won’t get better, but you may have some phenomenological experience that is different.
In essence then, the suggestion is that while a higher framerate may well offer a smoother aesthetic experience, it’s not exactly as important to the actual gameplay as we might think.
Of course, everyone’s experiences are different and gamers – who are in fact more likely to have sensitive eyes when it comes to to perceiving changes in imagery – could disagree.
Clearly it’s not a subject with no easy answers, so for now the discussion (or debate) will continue.
Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.