‘Game Transfer Phenomena’: When videogamers transfer virtual experiences into real world impulses

[From Nottingham Trent University; see also coverage from BBC Newsbeat]

Excessive videogamers transfer virtual experiences into real world impulses

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Some videogame players are becoming so immersed in their virtual gaming environments that when they stop playing they transfer some of their virtual experiences to the real world, according to new research. The first of its kind study, led by experts at Nottingham Trent University, reveals that some gamers experience ‘Game Transfer Phenomena’ (GTP) which results in them doing things in the real world as if they were still in the game.

Extreme examples of GTP have included gamers reaching for a search button when looking for someone in a crowd and seeing energy boxes appear above people’s heads.

The study, Game Transfer Phenomena in Video Game Playing – by Angelica Ortiz de Gortari and Professor Mark Griffiths from Nottingham Trent University’s International Gaming Research Unit, and Professor Karin Aronsson from Stockholm University – will appear in the next issue of the International Journal of Cyber Behaviour, Psychology and Learning.

It involved 42 in-depth interviews with participants aged between 15 and 21 years old, all of whom were frequent video game players and had been recruited from gaming forums. Player experiences were classified in two main categories – GTP which occurred involuntarily, without premeditation, and those that were intentional.

Almost all the participants had, at some point, experienced some type of involuntary thoughts in relation to videogames. They thought in the same way as when they were gaming, with half of participants often looking to use something from a video game to resolve a real-life issue. In some cases these thoughts were accompanied by reflexes – such as reaching to click a button on the controller when it wasn’t in their hands – while on other occasions gamers visualised their thoughts in the form of game menus.

Examples included instantly reaching for the R2 button on the controller to retrieve a sandwich after dropping it on the floor, briefly considering using a hook to get something out of reach and a desire to zoom in to see something far away. One gamer reported seeing a menu of topics that were available for him to think about, while another, after a lengthy gaming session, created a list of possible responses in their head after being insulted.

One participant reported witnessing a maths equation appearing in a bubble above a teacher’s head and health bars hovered over players from a rival football team according to another gamer. Players also reported using videogames for interacting with others as a form of amusement, modelling or mimicking video game content, and daydreaming about videogames.

Professor Mark Griffiths, Director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University, said: “We believe this is the first study to attempt to explore game transfer phenomena, and these initial findings have proved extremely interesting. Almost all the players reported some type of GTP, but in different ways and with varying degrees of intensity. We are now following this up with a further study of a much larger number of gamers.

“A recurring trend suggests that intensive gaming may lead to negative psychological, emotional or behavioural consequences, with enormous implications for software developers, parents, policy makers and mental health professionals.”

According to the researchers, the findings suggest that players experience intrusion in their cognitive processing and learn from videogames to react and perceive things in real-life, at least for a few seconds, in ways informed by virtual life. In some cases these automatic actions were triggered by a similarity between real-life and the video game, and on other occasions they occurred when the players reacted to real-life stimuli similar to that seen in the game.

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