Playing a video game is a demanding visuomotor activity. It requires processing of a variety of sensory stimuli and puts in practice cognitive, perceptual and motoric skills.

Training with video games for specific purpose have demonstrated to enhance numerous skills, particularly “serious games” or “good games” which are used for learning or therapeutic purposes. Even commercial video games, which aim to purely entertain, have been associated with positive outcomes in tasks that measure for example visuomotor skills, memory and fast reaction time. For example, an increase in grey matter in the brain regions related to spatial orientation, memory formation, strategy planning and fine motor skills have been reported when playing Super Mario 64 for two months.

Some studies suggest that the enhancement of skills goes beyond the tasks specific to the game, where knowledge and strategies can be flexibly used across a variety of tasks and contexts. Although, others studies have showed that training gained from video games is mainly short-term and have specific training effects rather than generalized ones.

In research about Game Transfer Phenomena gamers have reported engage in mental acts as replaying game strategies in real life contexts out of the blue. These experiences can be interpreted in two extremes as: (i) transfer of implicitly learned abilities from the game to new contexts, or as (ii) stereotypical transfers of mental processes that show cognitive inflexibility and swift failures between virtual and real life tasks. These type of GTP experiences usually manifest shortly after stopping playing.

A gamer said that after trying to catch a special creature in a Pokémon game for a long period of time, when he was taking a break to eat, he found himself eating as a way to lower the health of the creature. He described the experience as “odd” and he felt as if the hate for the creature had “invaded” him.

Another gamer explained that he tried figuring out how to make the Lemmings walk across sentences in his word processor software. A few months ago, after being constantly climbing in the game Uncharted, I experienced something similar when typing some sentences after playing.


Other gamers have found themselves evaluating how to climb on the ledges of buildings, scanning for objects in corners, arranging objects in sets or engaging in mental rotations of figures they encounter in real life.

Our malleable brain quickly becomes accustomed to following patterns of responses to succeed in the game task. We easily get stuck on sequences of responses, which later on can become activated by game-related cues or when real life context provides the affordances for the transfer to occur.

Having this in mind some questions are opportune:
• How can this “stuck into patterns of responses” be used to induce processes in day-to-day context with therapeutic or educative values using video games?
• How can we induce these phenomena in non-clinical populations for understanding perseverative states that are the hallmark of disorders such as Autism?
• When can being stuck into such patterns of responses be maladaptive and become problematic?

In particular, doing repetitive activities for prolonged periods of time, as is the case of playing video games, facilitates mental fatigue. Under periods of mental fatigue, we are more at risk to commit executive-control failures. Our thoughts and actions are easily diverted by external stimuli. Associations between real life stimuli and video games have been found to be the triggers of many GTP experiences.

The compromise of executive functions under fatigue is probably the most important reason, hence the recommendation to not engage in activities such as driving or controlling machinery after being highly engaged in a video game; especially, when the game re-enacts real life objects or activities.

See related posts:

GTP Adventures – Lemmings crossing the sentences
GTP Adventures – Your steps are limited 


Further reading:

Ortiz de Gortari, A. B., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). Automatic Mental Processes, Automatic Actions and Behaviours in Game Transfer Phenomena: An Empirical Self-Report Study Using Online Forum Data. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4(12), 1-21.

Ortiz de Gortari, A. B., Aronsson, K., & Griffiths, M. D. (2011). Game Transfer Phenomena in Video Game Playing: A Qualitative Interview Study. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning 1(3), 15-33.

Kühn, S., Gleich, T., Lorenz, R., Lindenberger, U., & Gallinat, J. (2014). Playing Super Mario induces structural brain plasticity: gray matter changes resulting from training with a commercial video game. Molecular psychiatry, 19(2), 265-271.

Melby-Lervåg, M., & Hulme, C. (2013). Is working memory training effective? A meta-analytic review. Developmental psychology49(2), 270.

Adachi, P. J., & Willoughby, T. (2013). More than just fun and games: The longitudinal relationships between strategic video games, self-reported problem solving skills, and academic grades. Journal of youth and adolescence42(7), 1041-1052.

Van den Linden, D., Frese, M., & Meijman, T. F. (2003). Mental fatigue and the control of cognitive processes: effects on perseveration and planning. Acta Psychologica, 113(1), 45-65.