Ever played a game and ended up dreaming about it? Or wishing that you had one of the cool gadgets from the game's fantasy world? Then you may have been experiencing "Game Transfer Phenomena," or "GTP," a term coined by researchers Angelica B. Ortiz de Gortari and Mark D. Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University in the UK along with Karin Aronsson of Stockholm University of Sweden.
The researchers recently published the findings of a small-scale study through the International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning. 42 "frequent game players" aged between 15 and 21 were interviewed, and it was discovered that many of these players experienced the integration of video game elements into their real lives -- whether this were through intentional or automatic responses. Players also used video game experiences as a means of amusement and engaging with peers through modelling or mimicking game content as well as daydreaming about the games in question. Findings also included the experience of "intrusive thoughts, sensations, impulses, reflexes, optical illusions and dissociations."
This research was promptly latched onto by two UK-based publications -- the Daily Mail and the Metro. Both focused on negative interpretations of the findings, with the Mail using it to demonstrate how a recent murder was a "copy" of events in Grand Theft Auto, while the Metro ran with the hyperbolic headline "Gamers Can't Tell Real World from Fantasy."
In fact, the study's findings were rather broader than these two reports suggest -- and, in fact, GTP was not the originally intended focus of the research at all, but it transpired the phenomenon was by far the most interesting thing to report on.
So far as automatic GTP responses went, gamers in the small sample were significantly more likely to experience automatic thoughts encouraging them to resolve real life issues using game elements or in the style of a game character rather than more serious hypnagogic or hallucinogenic sensations. When it came to intentional GTP responses, participants reported everything from speaking in the style of characters to deliberately making use of video game strategies in game-like situations such as laser tag. Some admitted to mimicking violent video game characters in a playful manner when with friends, or expressed a desire to push people out of the way like in Assassin's Creed, but most were aware of the social unacceptability of such actions. Some reported more violent fantasies, such as gunning down "irritating people" or throwing themselves in front of a car like in Saints Row, but none had acted on these thoughts.
The study's conclusion was that most players found themselves emotionally engaged in video games to varying degrees, but the amount by which a player's mood state was affected depended on how seriously the individual took their gaming. Certain games provoked similar responses in several participants -- such as climbing fantasies from Assassin's Creed, visual hallucinations or optical illusions following extended Guitar Hero or Tetris sessions, and reckless driving fantasies based on Grand Theft Auto.
Study Explores Game Transfer Phenomena, Gets Misreported by Mainstream Press
The optical illusion that the world is still 'scrolling' after a protracted Guitar Hero session is a form of GTP.
"The findings here, while based on a small number of video game players, show that playing video games intensely can be associated with the elicitation of automatic thoughts, altered perception of real life sceneries, alteration of sensory perceptions and sensory perceptions," reads the study. "Some players may be more vulnerable to experiencing automatic GTP. However, almost all of the players reported some type of GTP, but in different ways and with varying degrees of intensity. Most of the players appeared to perceive GTP as a natural consequence of their high engagement in video games. When their playing decreased, the GTP would disappear; however, some participants expressed that they had felt scared and concerned due to bizarre GTP experiences. These experiences were not considered as topics to be discussed with relatives or friends."
The study's authors are under no illusions that more work needs to be done before any conclusions can be drawn, however -- something which both the Daily Mail and Metro have ignored.
"This study cannot determine whether GTP is an experience all gamers experience after playing a particular length of time of gaming, or whether there are some people that have predispositions that make them vulnerable to GTP experiences," concludes the paper. "Identifying those players 'at risk' of experiencing GTP should be one of the main objectives of future research."
Professor Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University told GamePro that the published pilot study has since been followed up with further GTP-specific research making use of a much larger sample of 2,000 gamers. He also expressed disappointment in the biased treatment the research had received from the mainstream media when, in fact, its main conclusion was that the phenomena needed to be studied in greater detail.
"The Mail/Metro stories both wanted to go with a negative spin even though my own thoughts on the study were positive," he added.