Playing video games as a novel visuomotor activity has been used in experimental studies by Stickgold et al. (2000) , Wamsley et al. (2010)  and Kusse, et al. (2012) to understand the continuity between awake and sleep experiences, memory consolidation and learning. These studies have focused on investigating “hypnagogic mentation” manifesting as vivid hallucinatory replays of novel activities, which occur both during sleep onset and when waking up. Professor Robert Stickgold has conducted two of these studies [1,2].
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure to share my findings on Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP) with the brilliant Stickgold and his insightful team at the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Harvard Medical School. We had a rich discussion and hope we can strengthen our forces to understand the human mind in collaboration.
The trailer of the recently launched new version of Tetris, called “Tetris Effect”, features the seminal study conducted by Stickgold and colleagues in 2000. In this study even amnesic participants reported seeing images from Tetris, demonstrating that hypnagogic images are of unconscious nature, not mediated by declarative memory systems but rather by implicit memory. The procedural memory that allows us to automatically ride a bike, drive a car or remember the button sequence for a combo attack in a video game.
GTP in various sensory modalities, as thought processes and automatic behaviours has been reported in a large variety of video games, from Call of Duty to Pokémon Go [4-6]. Gamers tend to experienced GTP when being awake, but also when lying in bed or falling asleep rather than when waking up .
Below are experiences most common among players of tile-matching puzzle games such as “traditional” Tetris, which is stereotypical and repetitive [4,6]:
• Seeing images recurrently or episodically with closed eyes, almost like retinal sensations that arise at every blink of the eye rather than imagery  – visualizing/seeing images with closed eyes is one of the most common forms of GTP (74-77%) [8-9]
• Seeing images everywhere, even with open eyes, sometimes for days.
• “Playing” a session from the video game in the head rather than only visualizing the game.
• Rotating physical objects in the mind.
• Hearing the background music, sometimes with such vividness that gamers believe from a moment that they left the device on (71-74%) [8, 9].
• Multisensory experiences when seeing images and hearing music from the game simultaneously.
• Sometimes the experiences are triggered by associations (e.g., seeing a tile floor, supermarket aisle, boxes).
• Still being in the mind-set of the game after playing; e.g., trying to align and match physical objects (63%) .
Seeing, hearing, perceiving objects/environments distorted triggered by physical stimuli associated with the game is what I find most interesting, making us aware how much our perceptions and understanding of our surroundings are guided by predictions based on our previous experiences. I initially, noticed that associations and affordances found in the physical world were key for many forms of GTP, therefore I included the word “transfer” to refer to the gamers’ experiences as “Game Transfer Phenomena”.
I cannot wait to try the game Tetris Effect. I will let you know if I experience some GTP. My predisposition to experience it may make me even more prone!
- Stickgold, R., Malia, A., Maguire, D., Roddenberry, D., & O’Connor, M. (2000). Replaying the Game: Hypnagogic Images in Normals and Amnesics. Science, 290(5490), 350-353.
- Wamsley, E. J., Perry, K., Djonlagic, I., Reaven, L. B., & Stickgold, R. (2010). Cognitive replay of visuomotor learning at sleep onset: Temporal dynamics and relationship to task performance. Sleep, 1(33), 59-68.
- Kusse, C., Shaffii-Le Bourdiec, A., Schrouff, J., Matarazzo, L., & Maquet, P. (2012). Experience-dependent induction of hypnagogic images during daytime naps: A combined behavioural and EEG study. Journal of Sleep Research, 21(1), 10-20.
- 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.
- Ortiz de Gortari, A. B. (2017). Empirical study on Game Transfer Phenomena in a location-based augmented reality game. Telematics and Informatics, 35(2), 382-396.
- Ortiz de Gortari, A. B., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014a). Altered visual perception in Game Transfer Phenomena: An empirical self-report study. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 30(2), 95-105.
- Ortiz de Gortari, A. B., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014b). Auditory experiences in Game Transfer Phenomena: An empirical self-report study. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 4(1), 59-75.
- Dindar, M., & Ortiz de Gortari, A. B. (2017). Turkish Validation of the Game Transfer Phenomena Scale (GTPS): Measuring altered perceptions, automatic mental processes and actions and behaviours associated with playing video games. Telematics and Informatics, 34(8), 1802-1813.
- Ortiz de Gortari, A. B., & Griffiths, M. D. (2016). Prevalence and characteristics of Game Transfer Phenomena: A descriptive survey study. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 32(6), 470-480.