Now you’re seeing with portals (Ortiz de Gortrari & Griffiths, 2014)

Via Mark Griffiths’ Twitter, a Huffington Post article discussed about how playing video games can leave some perceptual aftereffects called Game Transfer Phenomena. The article is based on a recent publication by Angela B. Ortiz de Gortrari (Nottingham Trent University) and Mark Griffiths (Nottingham Trent University) in the International of Human-Computer Interaction.


The aim of this study was to identify, classify, and explain gamers’ perceptual experiences referred to as Visual Game Transfer Phenomena (VGTP) to contribute to the understanding of the effects of post-video-game playing and encourage healthy and safe gaming. A total of 656 experiences from 483 gamers were collected from 54 online gaming forums. The findings suggest that intensive playing can result in misperceptions and visual distortions of real-life objects and environments, stereotypical visual experiences that arise from mind visualization, and pseudo-hallucinatory experiences with video game content. Gamers’ experiences can be explained by the interplay of physiological, perceptual, and cognitive mechanisms. Observation of video game features suggests that in most cases a relationship between the games’ structural characteristics, gamers’ VGTP experiences, and gamers’ playing habits appeared relevant. VGTP can occur while gaming, immediately after stopping play, or after some delay. Further VGTP characteristics and their psychosocial implications are discussed.

I personally do experience GTP after long bouts of gaming, the most salient experiences were my playthroughs with OSU! Quite often, I would tap the desk whenever I listen to music as if I’m still playing.

Game Transfer Phenomena is defined as ” when video game elements are associated with real life elements triggering subsequent thoughts, sensations and/or behavior among players.” This term originated in 2011 written by the same authors. However, the observations of these phenomena have been long known as the “Tetris effect“, the earliest reference being in 1994 according to Wikipedia. Understandably, the modern term would imply such experience can be found across games and not just limited to one.

Game Transfer Phenomena can manifest in many different ways. Altered sensorial perceptions, such as the aformentioned Tetris Effect, seeing things with Portals or health bars over people. Automatic mental processes, such as after long bout of Assassin’s Creed and you start seeing building ledges and crevices as something you can climb yourself Automatic actions and behaviours like thinking of pressing the microphone button when you want to speak. In dreams where players replayed their gaming experiences. Violent and criminal acts can crop up in game transfer phenomena, such as my experiences with Metal Gear Solid 3, felt like doing CQC on my little brother whenever I creep up on him. In many cases, game transfer phenomena occur spontaneously and without the individuals’ control.

In this particular article, they are examining Visual Game Transfer Phenomena, the altered perceptions aftereffects of videogame play. There are some research work on perceptions aftereffects in virtual environments, usually on motion sickness in training simulators. One funny example is the McCollough effect.


Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP) is informally known, but has yet been scientifically and rigorously examined. To start such formal investigation is to look around and get some in-depth information of the phenomena. That is one way, from the ground up, another way is from the top-down, from theory to data.

The authors opted to collect anecdotes from 54 online videogame forums between the periods of March to September 2011. They googled the forums using search terms such as “Tetris effect”, “bleeding effect” “game transfer phenomena”, “real life/reality”.  They identified 2000 gamers’ experiences as GTP. 656 were identified as visual GTP. These experiences were reported across 181 videogames.

The authors analyzed gamers’ reports using thematic analysis. They categorized them while keeping videogame features and gaming experiences in mind.

The authors examined some general characteristics of visual GTP as self-reported by gamers across the forums. Amongst those reports:

75 gamers reported the length of their visual GTP, a majority reported their experiences lasting a few seconds or few minutes, fewer gamers reported that their experiences last hours, fewer still reported days, weeks or even a month.

656 gamers reported how frequent they experienced visual GTP, most said it happened once, but few reported multiple occasions.

192 gamers reported how long they played when they experienced visual GTP, most of them reported the experience after a long session, like 3 hours or even long bouts of “17 hours” or “all day”. In many cases, after playing way too long. Very few reported their experiences after a short session.

50 gamers reported when they experienced it, some reported after their first time, some after a few days or weeks.

199 reported what they were doing when they experienced visual GTP. Most reported it when they were trying to sleep. Others reported while they were doing some mundane activities like driving, reading, listening to music, etc.

25 mentioned under some physiological conditions, such as being sick, sleep  deprived or drunk.

143 offered their opinions about their visual GTP. A large number reported as negative (e.g. “scary”, “annoying”) more so than positive (e.g. “entertaining”). Some also added it was “trippy” “crazy” “strange”.

The data yielded four categories of visual GTP.

1. Digitally induced images: videogame images that come up either to the players’ mind, visually or mentally projecting “out there”. There are several sub-categories:

Mind visualizations: visualizing videogame elements into real life environments. Daydreams are excluded if players imagined themselves doing stuff in the videogame environment or seeing videogame images after play. An example is whenever a player felt having a pleasant interaction, they pictured the positive social icon from the Sims. 136 reported such mind visualizations.

Retinal sensations: seeing videogame elements in the back of the eyelids or with closed eyes. An example is seeing the scrolling arrows from Dance Dance Revolution. 140 reported such retinal sensations.

Seeing videogame elements projected: seeing videogame elements with open eyes into the real world environment. This can manifest as videogame elements floating or superimposed on real-life objects. An example is when talking to a person and “seeing” Mass Effect’s conversation wheel at the bottom of their visual perception. 131 reported seeing videogames elements projected.

Multisensorial experiences: This could be a combination of visualizations of other senses, such as hearing. An example is seeing and hearing videogame sounds effects. 10 reported such multisensorial experiences.

Across sensorial experiences: A stimuli in one sense, for example sound, triggers visualization of a videogame elements. My example is whenever I listen to some music that fits with OSU! I would see hit circles, sliders and spinners. 14 reported such cross-sensorial experiences.

2. Perceptual distortions: this is defined as distortions of real-life environments. This typically occurs after playing a videogame and is often associated to the games’ visual effects. For example, seeing things as “warped” or “wavy”. Other distortions can include colour, shape aftereffects or time disortions.  This can be triggered by an association between a real-life object and its videogame counterpart. 132 reported such perceptual distortion.

3. Visual misperception: Seeing real-life objects as something from a videogame and admitting this confusion or mistakenly seeing it as such. An example include seeing a frying pan with a silhouette around it after a bout of Left 4 Dead. 43 reported such visual misperception.

4. Unspecified Visual GTP: when gamers’ experiences don’t fit any of the categoris or did not disclose enough information.


The take home message is that visual game transfer phenomena do exist as reported by gamers across many videogames and seem to occur after long videogame sessions (e.g. 6 hours or “all day”). The authors argued these experiences can be explained by the interplay of physiological, perceptual, and cognitive mechanisms. These visual game transfer phenomena share similarities with other psychological phenomena, such as positive visual phenomena and side effects from drug use. The authors cautioned that these experiences can be misunderstood as psychological problems which is not the case as gamers reported the awareness of these unreal experiences. So no jumping conclusions about videogames and schizophrenia. An analogy I’d like to make is like watching optical illusions for some time and seeing the cool aftereffects. Perhaps certain features of videogames tapped into the same mechanisms as optical illusions do.

The authors noted that gamers reported these experiences while under the influence of something. Sleep deprivation, drug influence or being sick is reported alongside the experience, however I should note that this is what forum users posted and they may have misattributed their experiences to these factors. Interesting anecdotes and it is something to look out for in a systematic manner. But I would not pin it down as certain.

The length of the visual game transfer phenomena is usually around a few seconds or minutes and these experiences are considered positively or negatively. My thoughts about this length of time lead me to suggest that how similarly you watch something bright and you close your eyes, the cells are still stimulated up for a certain time. Similarly, video game visual aftereffects persist for some time within cognitive processes that are still stimulated (after several hours) rather than the cells of the eyes. As the authors noted that game transfer phenomena often occur automatically without the individuals’ input, examining automatic cognitive processes would be a good start. Stimuli triggers may be due to a long-term cognitive process, such as priming and associative conditioning as noted by the authors somewhere in the paper.

The authors cautioned that the study is limited by their reading of gamers’ accounts of their experiences in online game forums. Information about the posters are extremely limited, not everyone reveals their age, personality profiles or anything that the authors can systematically collect. But hey, this is a good start and they might come up with some self-report measures based on what they found. Finally, the authors argued further study about game transfer phenomena as it helps gamers understand that it is not a sign of mental dysfunction.

On a side note for a future study, I should conduct an reaction time task with Assassin’s Creed players (or those that finished at least one of the games) and have them judge architectural feature as realistically climbable or not. Those church steeples looked climbable for me (I think).

Ortiz de Gortari, A. B., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). Altered visual perception in game transfer phenomena: An empirical Self-Report study. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 30 (2), 95-105. DOI:10.1080/10447318.2013.839900


4 thoughts on “Now you’re seeing with portals (Ortiz de Gortrari & Griffiths, 2014)

  1. another thing to take into account would be the motivation for players to write about those phenomena. Without looking too much into the topic, I’d say that there’s a strong bias from showmanship when posting something like that in a forum. From that, it’s only a small step between having experienced something similar and thinking or wanting to have experienced something similar, even when, after playing wow 20 hrs straight you knew that your roommate didn’t look like that dwarf in the game, but he WAS smaller than you AND had a beard.
    Besides that, I can relate to the phenomenon specifically in the case of Assassin’s Creed and numerable buildings I could surely have climbed.

  2. Yeah, that methodology isn’t very convincing, relying as it does on self report in a very non-standardized way. Not even really self report, if the authors simply scraped information from messageboard posts. This sounds a lot more like a preamble to a study –a kind of “we noticed people talked about this phenomenon, so we set out to test it empirically” comment that would be part of a lit review or theory section.

    • Although helpful for a first exploration on the subject, the use of online forums does brought some problems to the believability of the reports. For example, I don’t understand whether some of the players saw or heard something clearly and in full detail, or just experience a blurry sensation similar to the one reported. Either way, future researchers will have to learn from this limitations and find ways to solve them. For me at least, the subject is totally worth the effort.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s