New study finds games altering perceptions of reality

University research carried out in the UK and Sweden describes gaming's intrusion into real life as a psychological condition known as Game Transfer Phenomena.

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A new study conducted by Nottingham Trent University and Stockholm University has shed light on a new psychological phenomenon that sees some gamers involuntarily integrating elements of video game playing into real life.

Augmented reality, or altered reality?
Augmented reality, or altered reality?

One interviewee in the study reportedly began to see health bars appear above other people's heads; other interviewees reported seeing in-game menus, altered real-life scenarios, and dissociative experiences, like instinctively pressing a controller button even when not playing games.

Researchers from Nottingham Trent University and Stockholm University interviewed a total of 42 frequent video game players aged 15-21 for the study, which aims to demonstrate the long-term effects of video games through the analysis of Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP), a psychological state that occurs when players integrate elements of video game playing into real life by way of thoughts, sensations, and actions.

The study found that GTP can occur both intentionally and involuntarily, when players experience intrusive thoughts, sensations, impulses, reflexes, and optical illusions. It can also result in automatic behaviors that do with interaction and imitation (that is, imitating things from a game).

Players reported that the phenomenon tends to disappear when they game less often, and many reported to be well aware of the difference between the real world and the world of games, but their automatic associations often caused them to experience bizarre things. Half of the study subjects said that they often use elements of game playing to help them solve real-life problems.

"The GTP study, while based on a small number of video game players, demonstrated that playing video games intensely can be associated with the elicitation of automatic thoughts," Angelica Ortiz de Gortari, one of the study's authors, said about the study on her research blog.

The study will be published in the July-September 2011 issue of the International Journal of Cyber Behaviour, Psychology and Learning.

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