Research coming out of Nottingham Trent University’s International Gaming Research Unit indicates that there may be a link between lengthy gaming sessions and experiencing hallucinations. The study has been published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction.
The study is the first part of a series of projects intended to explain what the researchers refer to as “Game Transfer Phemonoma,” or GTP. They seek to determine how heavy video game play may affect the senses after gamers step away from the computer or console and to further understand the psychosocial impact of this type of virtual technology.
The phenomenon is reportedly marked by the experiencing of “distorted versions of real-world surroundings” and “altered visual perceptions.” According to some participants, it may also include the experience of seeing images from heavily played games “pop up” in other parts of every day life such as the appearance of gaming menus during conversations or the appearance of racing displays while driving.
Psychologist Mark Griffiths, the leader of the study, said that sometimes the game images would appear against the will and control of gamers and were described by those experiencing them as “uncomfortable.” Other games claimed that these experiences were linked to difficulty sleeping or concentrating. Still others, Griffiths said, were so disturbed by the GTP that they began to question their own sanity, feel embarrassed and even engage in inappropriate impulsive social behaviors.
Not everyone reported that their experience with GTP was a negative, however. Griffiths reports that some research subjects seemed to think that their experiences “were fun and some even tried to induce them.”
Griffiths reports that it appears that the effects of GTP are generally short-lived, but that they can occur repeatedly. Further, he says, some people are probably more susceptible to GTP than others and more research is necessary to determine the reasons behind an increased susceptibility.
Some are comparing the effects of GTP to the so-called “Tetris effect.” At the height of Tetris’ popularity, some heavy players reported continuing to see the game’s falling blocks while dreaming or imagining that buildings were moving together along the street.
The new research has been criticized as unreliable by some who say that more screening of research participants needs to be done in order to produce reliable data. Of particular importance going forward, critics say, is the inclusion of psychological profiles for participants.
Griffiths acknowledged that the lack of psychological histories among the participants in this research is a weakness of the study and leaves the findings open to the possibility that the results are not representative of the “gamer community at large.” He added that he nonetheless believes that the data and the issue of whether gaming may be linked to experiences like hallucinations are definitely worthy of further study.
Dr. Mark Griffiths heads the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent and has researched and published extensively on the topic of addiction, including video game, internet, exercise and gambling addictions. He is also an expert on the topic of cyberpsychology. In addition to his academic duties, Griffiths is a consultant to companies in the gaming industry, providing support to “promote responsible gambling, social responsibility, harm minimization, and player protection.” He is also an accomplished freelance journalist.
By Michele Wessel