Analysis: Game Transfer Phenomena explain how some videogame experiences involuntarily become part of people's real world

Have you ever played Street Fighter for a period of time and then later on "saw" game-like health bars over people's heads? Have you ever chopped food with a knife only to "hear" the swooshing sound of The Master Sword you equipped in The Legend of Zelda? Or have you ever stumbled upon a derelict abandoned building somewhere and "had an urge" to scale it like something out of Mirror's Edge? If you have experienced things like this, it’s possible you have at some point experienced Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP).

What are Game Transfer Phenomena?

By definition, GTP are the involuntary "transfer" of videogame experiences into the real world. The involuntary aspect of GTP means that people experience GTP without meaning to, or having any sense of control of it from happening. The "transfer" refers to the intrusions of the videogame experiences into our everyday senses, perceptions and actions.

Videogame experiences refer to all of the game features, elements and time spent on things like specific character abilities and personalities, manipulating weapons and items, appreciating the music and sounds, journeying around vast locations and engaging in the game's narratives and storylines. Put together, the transfer of videogame experiences involuntarily become part of people’s everyday general contexts. You can walk down the street and think you can dash like Sonic. You can eat food and feel like you got a "power up". You can sleep and feel you can control your dream as a videogame character.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Today with Sean O'Rourke show, an interview with psychologist and gamer Pete Etchells about his book Lost in a Good Game: Why We Play Video Games and What They Can Do For Us

The research

The earliest research into GTP was carried out by Angelica Ortiz de Gortari, who has spent the best part of a decade researching how GTP contributes to the scientific understanding of videogame experiences. Modern videogames have amazing abilities to immerse us into their dynamic and imaginative worlds, and are often subject to scrutiny by academics who debate whether videogame playing is good or bad for our mental health and the wider society.

In recent years, the evidence has been signalling quite strongly that videogames are not harmful to our mental health or the wider society. Even violent videogame play has recently been shown not to indicate increased aggression or societal violence, despite earlier arguments to the contrary.

"97% of gamers have experienced some form of GTP"

Experiencing GTP is surprisingly very common. In a large study of nearly 2,400 gamers, it was found that 97% of gamers experienced some form of GTP, with the majority of them experiencing GTP more than once and many experiencing between 6 and 10 GTP types. In this study, GTP experiences were deemed as short-lived experiences and the GTP experiences did not occur for long periods of time.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Jason Power discusses his research which uses Pac-Man to examine the impact of a person's belief about their own capabilities

But this does not mean that GTP are just ordinary thoughts, feelings or perceptions. GTP can be extremely vivid and can come across so lifelike that we can think of them as hallucinations or altered bodily sensations. One participant in a GTP study reported a vivid GTP recollection whereby altered visual perceptions, a type of GTP, transferred into a real-life football game: "I started seeing health bars above people’s heads. It was mostly when I played football in school in the breaks. We were losing in a game and when we started turning it to our advantage, I started to see stuff almost like some kind of "bar" when I look down that I could use to, I don’t know, do something strange".

Lucid dreaming

One of the most exciting research directions lately is how GTP are playing a positive role in lucid dreaming. Most of us know that lucid dreaming is a pleasant dream state whereby we are aware that we are dreaming, and some lucid dreamers can exert some form of "control" over what they are dreaming about. Recent research has indicated that videogaming is positively related to frequent lucid dreaming, which in turn has been associated with positive psychological outcomes (ie joy, wellbeing and less frequent negative emotions).

This trend inspired my colleague Darragh McCashin and I to investigate the role of nightmares in GTP and dreams research. We concur with this research trend that GTP may play a beneficial role in dreams, and that its application in therapeutic settings (i.e. when therapists use videogames to treat depression and anxiety) may become a topical area of study in the future.

GTP can be extremely vivid and can come across so lifelike that we can think of them as hallucinations or altered bodily sensations

Videogaming is more popular now than it ever was, with 75% of American households having at least one residing gamer. It's no longer considered a solitary activity whereby a typical scenario involves a lone male teenager playing videogames in the dark with the curtains closed. The importance of scientifically studying videogames and their impact on society is vitally important, especially to challenge and debunk such prejudiced scenarios. Videogaming research, like GTP experiences, will always be considered a welcome contribution to the growing understanding of the mental processes, human behaviour and societal impact involved in videogaming.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ