Perhaps gaming isn’t so impersonal at all; researchers have found that gamers can share emotional responses and brain activity while competing against each other.
In a study published in PLOS One, researchers from Germany had a group of gamers play Hedgewars, a game where two teams of hedgehogs attempt to destroy each other with artillery. Players went through several rounds, against both the computer and against other players. During this, researchers measured their facial muscle reactions with facial electromyography (fEMG), and measured their brainwaves with electroencephalography (EEG). The gamers also reported their emotions verbally, as gamers are wont to do.
When two groups of gamers were playing each other, researchers observed that the gamers experienced similar emotions at similar points during gameplay. Their fEMG readings were comparable, and their EEG readings showed them sharing brainwave patterns. Interestingly, these results were more synchronous the more competitive the game became, during which the gamers experienced more negative emotions—again, as gamers are wont to do.
The researchers speculate that feeling other’s emotions is beneficial in a competitive setting, as it might help players anticipate their opponent’s actions. However, all of the study participants were friends; it’s entirely possible that, given an anonymous gamertag, players wouldn’t have so much empathy for each other. Actually, given the state of COD, we’d be willing to bet money on that.