“I played for five minutes, I still see falling blocks in my dreams” 

The above is a line from the trailer for the “Tetris” movie.

Jeffrey Goldsmith, described the Tetris Effect in Wired 1994:


The Tetris effect is a biochemical, reductionistic metaphor, if you will, for curiosity, invention, the creative urge. To fit shapes together is to organize, to build, to make deals, to fix, to understand, to fold sheets. All of our mental activities are analogous, each as potentially addictive as the next. […]

‘The main part is visual insight. You make your visual decision and it happens almost immediately. Insight means emotion: small, but many of them, every two, three seconds. The second mechanism is unfinished action. Tetris has many unfinished actions (that) force you to continue and make it very addictive. The third is automatization: In a couple of hours, the activity becomes automatic, a habit, a motivation to repeat.’

Garth Kidd further described it 1996 in a forum about the future risks of virtual reality:

Many people, after playing Tetris for more than an hour straight, report being plagued by after-images of the game for up to days afterwards, an ability to play the game in their head, and a tendency to identify everything in the world as being made of four squares and attempt to determine “where it fits in”.

My studies on Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP) have expanded the Tetris Effect into a large variety of phenomena involving all sensory modalities, thoughts, behaviours, and body sensations related to all types of video games.

Tetris has been the main actor in a large body of experimental research. One fascinating piece of research related to GTP, is the induction of hypnagogic images in a laboratory setting to understand the continuity between sleep and awake experiences. The first study with this focus was conducted by Stickgold et al. (2000) to compared amnesic and non-amnesic patients and found that even those that do not remember having played the game reported seeing hypnagogic images of Tetris pieces.

My research on GTP has demonstrated that re-experiencing game images do not occur only during hypnagogic stages but also in awake situations. Images can appear with the blink of an eye; sometimes these images are triggered by physical objects that remind the player of the game, by chaotic environments and patterns that our minds automatically try to put in order. This process can occur not only in one’s mind, but images from the game can appear as overlaying physical objects or embedded into physical objects like puzzle pieces.

Stereotypical mental processes can also occur; players find themselves applying the rules of the game to real-world contexts in various ways. After playing tile puzzle games such as Tetris, players have reported mentally combining or arranging objects or packages to fit as well as possible. This phenomenon seems to occur spontaneously at first but later develops into an entertaining way of arranging everyday things. Sometimes actions can be accompanied by hearing music from the game or engaging in humming melodies from the game.

Other studies have used Tetris in clinical interventions. In Emily Holmes’s studies, the game has been used as a “cognitive vaccine” to prevent, interfere or reduce intrusions from post-traumatic events. Further studies have expanded this approach into the prevention of imagery, which is key in the formation of cravings for smoking, eating, and addictions.

GTP is fairly common among gamers, with a prevalence ranging from 75% to 99%, according to a review of sixteen studies. Most gamers have experienced GTP at least once in their life or during the last 12 months, and the majority have experienced several forms with low frequency. 

The most common phenomena are those that occur as inner or endogenous phenomena which correspond to visual imagery, music imagery, and intrusive thoughts. 

However, phenomena corresponding to afterimages and hallucinations, such as seeing images with open eyes or hearing sounds from the game coming from objects or the gaming device when turned off, have also been reported.

The images below show prevalences obtained in 16 different studies on GTP.

I cannot wait to see the Tetris film! It was about time!

Further readings

Goldsmith, Jeffrey, (1994, May), This Is Your Brain on Tetris, Wired, https://www.wired.com/1994/05/tetris-2/

Holmes, E. A., James, E. L., Coode-Bate, T., & Deeprose, C. (2009). Can playing the computer game “Tetris” reduce the build-up of flashbacks for trauma? A proposal from cognitive science. PLoS ONE, 4(1), e4153.

Kidd, Garth, (1996, February), Possible future risk of virtual reality, The RISKS Digest: Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems., http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/17.78.html#subj1

Ortiz de Gortari, A. B. (2019). Game Transfer Phenomena: Origin, development and contributions to the videogame research field. In A. Attrill-Smith, C. Fullwood, D. Kuss, & M. Keep (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Cyberpsychology (pp. 532-556). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ortiz de Gortari, A. B. (2022). The Scope and Trajectory of Research on Game Transfer Phenomena. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 11(1), 235.

Ortiz de Gortari, A. B., & Diseth, Å. (2022). Multidimensional assessment of Game Transfer Phenomena: Intrusive cognitions, perceptual distortions, hallucinations and dissociations. Frontier in Psychology.

Skorka-Brown, J., Andrade, J., Whalley, B., & May, J. (2015). Playing Tetris decreases drug and other cravings in real world settings. Addictive Behaviors, 51, 165-170.

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.