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Animal Crossing: New Horizons is set in an aesthetically engaging biotic environment of multisensory abundance. 

Join me as I describe my indulgences in Animal Crossing, which have resulted in Game Transfer Phenomena permeating my everyday life.

Hello hello! Animal Crossing just got me! Since I started playing the game, I have been planting flowers, catching bugs and butterflies, fishing, and collecting building materials by hitting stones and cutting trees. Other engaging activities that extend beyond our normal natural capabilities include burying bells (the currency in the game) in a hole to harvest money from a tree. 

During my first few days of playing this life simulation game, as a naive player, I wanted to bend the rules of the game and nature itself. So, I buried a stone in a hole with the expectation that a new rock would rise from the ground as trees do. I assumed that this would allow me to collect more clay, rocks, bells, and gold. What a disappointment it was when on the next day, I realized that this logic was actually not so logical at all, neither in real life nor in Animal Crossing!

Animal Crossing (hereafter AC) is set in an aesthetically engaging biotic environment rich in multisensory content and random rewarding stimuli. AC touches some of the primal strings of human nature by activating our hardwired selective attention toward living beings and a fear of insects. As modern cavemen on an island with a capitalist-inspired ecosystem, we collect and exchange resources, hunt for bugs, go fishing, and politely interact with AI characters to establish ourselves in a peaceful world.

My 100+ hours of gameplay have resulted in several encounters with Game Transfer Phenomena (a broader understanding of what some refer to as the Tetris Effect). Resemblances between virtual and real stimuli have triggered most of my experiences.

Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP) comprise sensory perceptions, spontaneous mental processes, and behaviors derived from interactions with digital simulations in a video game environment.

The content and the characteristics of a particular video game (e.g., the visual field, auditory effects, and realism), the hardware utilized to control the game (e.g., gamepads), and the degree of immersion, embodiment, and flow are key factors influencing how GTP will manifest [1].

The bugs are bugging me! 
During my first few days of playing AC, spots on my walls and floor captured my attention as never before, and physical stimuli related to the game acquired additional meaning. For instance, I saw a mosquito on the wall and thought, “A mosquito! … Should I collect it?” Then it disappeared, and I thought, “Well, I couldn’t earn money from it anyway. Or, should I have thought of bells?” 

One morning, my smoothie seemed to be flooded with bugs. Funnily enough, I found myself focusing on the apple seeds in my smoothie. Then, when I poured in some flax seeds, I was mesmerized by how the seeds were sinking to the bottom of the container. My smoothie was not so appealing after this, but I still managed to eat it. 

I have never been a fan of bugs, but I am not really what one would call phobic. I wonder what impact the game’s immersion into the swarm of bugs can have on some individuals. Could AC work as a “successive approximation technique” for systematic desensitization against entomophobia (phobia of insects)? On the other hand, could the awareness of bugs in the game evolve into anxiety? Interestingly, Blathers, the museum curator, is afraid of insects, which suggests that the developers had indeed thought about this. 

What is the price of the fish in the river?
One day, after I had been fishing a great deal in the game, I looked at the river outside of my window, and I found myself wondering if there were any highly-priced fish to catch.

Another night, I indulged in collecting, accumulating, and hoarding fish. My inner dialogue seemed to be insisting, “One more fish! Come on, just one more! This one will be the last fish… Oh no! There is a bug there… I need to get it!” When I finally quit, my attention was focusing on shadows. Shadows? Why was I paying attention to shadows? The mystery was resolved when I realized that the fish in AC appear as dark shadows in the water.

The chimney is an island! 
“Look at that chimney,” Anders (my partner, who is also playing AC) said one day. “It looks like the AC island, with a tree, grass, and stones.” A great example of pareidolia, my love! Here was a clear illustration of this tendency to find meaning and significance in coincidental stimuli. 

My automatic thoughts and cognitive mishaps associated with AC are good examples of automatic cognitive processes that involve selective attention, associative learning, and priming[1]. My mind is now paying attention to stimuli that previously appeared to be trivial, but that, thanks to AC, have now become relevant and meaningful. By sharing certain features, the simulations of real-life objects in the game are facilitating the transfer of experiences from the game to real-life [2].

Sensorial alertness  
The multisensory environment of AC uses white noise and binaural sound techniques. You can hear smooth background music and low and high-pitched noises. The experience is replete with bugs flying around with subtle buzzing noises, mole crickets chirping from underground, and even your footsteps depending on the ground you step on (e.g., grass or sand). You can even feel haptic feedback when a fish bites the bobber, when you use the slingshot to take down balloons, or when you get an alert on the in-game phone. 

To learn more about AC sounds effects, I recommend the excellent analysis by Ryan Stunkel from Blipsounds of the sound effects used in AC:

And then there’s the balloon! A binaural wind sound effect announces random colored balloons in the air carrying surprises. Some have mentioned that they have re-experienced this sound after playing. 

Source Reddit

I myself have not heard the sound of the balloon after playing, but I have experienced earworms of some background melodies from the game. The hearing of music from video games outside of play is one of the most predominant forms of GTP, but players have also reported hearing other sounds and voices [3, 4]. In this regard, my first week of playing AC was the most interesting one. I was more alert to sounds in my environment; it was like my sensory acuity had heightened. I could hear my neighbor’s mobile phone vibration and the spinning of a washing machine. However, I should note that there is the possibility that my auditory hypersensitivity could have been a result of the lockdown, as traffic and other city noises were significantly reduced [3]. 

One very funny anecdote arose when I was holding a pair of tweezers and a pocket mirror in my hand. I guess I accidentally had moved the tweezers against the mirror, and they made a “crisp” sound. Anders and I looked around our apartment, trying to identify the location of the noise. It was incredibly fun to see the surprise on his face! This experience came as a relief as I realized I was not alone in experiencing this wave of GTP with AC.

Dropping my mobile phone from the 6th floor 
“I don’t have to worry. If I drop my phone [from the 6th floor], I can recover it!” This illogical thought popped up into my mind and made me afraid of slipping up and actually dropping my phone. I realized that my monotonous picking-up of objects from the inventory and dropping them onto the ground without any risk may have gotten to me. Now, I hope I can overcome the “pick and drop panic” the next time I take a photo with my phone over the edge of my balcony!

Fear of losing control over one’s actions is something that players have reported in some of my studies on GTP. However, it wasn’t until I experienced it myself that I fully understood it.


Compulsively aligning boxes 

I have spent quite some time rearranging the boxes and tanks of fish and bugs. To not run out of space, I meticulously align the boxes and pile them up in groups of two. One day, while cooking, I found myself slightly pushing a bottle of oil that was not straight against the border between my stove and the wall.

After aligning and piling up several transparent boxes of fish, with one in front of the other, a visual adaptation effect tricked me. After playing, when I returned to my text editor, one line of text looked like it was in front of another line; it was somehow slightly “sticking out,” so to speak. This is likely the result of a combination of my relatively poor eyesight, my widescreen monitor, and playing AC in handheld mode.

Building fences 
After I had been building fences in the game, I had another experience that involved text and neural adaptations. When I started to write a line situated between two other paragraphs of text that happened to be in bold and a large font size, the two surrounding bulky paragraphs gave me the sensation that I was typing between two fences. It seems that the game has made me feel more present in the virtual environment.

These latest experiences remind me of video game players reporting that they were perceiving text distorted after playing [5]. For instance,

These latest experiences remind me of video game players reporting that they were perceiving text distorted after playing [5]. For instance,

To finish up, I need to share this penultimate experience. I had just caught a huge and, to me, new fish. It was rewarding after having caught hundreds of the same old fish. By chance, that day we decided to buy long ciabatta bread for dinner. I probably do not need to tell you what I did when I held the bread in my hands to cut it and realized that it shared certain similarities with the fish. 

My fever for AC is coming down, and I have experienced various forms of GTP, including certain interfering thoughts, changes in sensory perception, sensory intrusions, and even automatic actions. What an enlightening journey it has been with the remarkable game of AC! It has spurred the development of some great ideas for experimental research along with some incisive insights about game features and game mechanics. It has also shown me how easily video games can permeate different aspects of our life, at least temporarily. The potential for developing commercial video games to promote genuine learning is already there, and there is no need to turn to “Serious games”. 

To learn more about Game Transfer Phenomena please participate in a on going study about simulation games.

1.    Ortiz de Gortari, A.B., Game Transfer Phenomena: Origin, development and contributions to the videogame research field, in Oxford Handbook of Cyberpsychology, A. Attrill-Smith, et al., Editors. 2019, Oxford University Press: Oxford. p. 532-556.
2.    Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. and M.D. Griffiths, Beyond the boundaries of the game: The interplay between in-game phenomena, structural characteristics of video games, and Game Transfer Phenomena in Boundaries of Self and Reality Online, J. Gackenbach and J. Bown, Editors. 2017, Academic Press: San Diego. p. 97-121.
3.    Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. and M.D. Griffiths, Auditory experiences in Game Transfer Phenomena: An empirical self-report study. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 2014. 4(1): p. 59-75.
4.    Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. and M.D. Griffiths, 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, 2014. 12(4): p. 432-452.
5.    Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. and M.D. Griffiths, Altered Visual Perception in Game Transfer Phenomena: An Empirical Self-Report Study. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 2013. 30(2): p. 95-105.