I had the pleasure of visiting Incheon, South Korea, a few months ago, which is a modern city located just south of Seoul. It was an unforgettable experience! I enjoyed admiring the view of the traditional Korean architecture contrasting with the skyscrapers in the background. The clouds floated by the towering buildings, and I could have stared at them for hours. At night, one could feel the warm breeze blowing, accompanied by the symphony of thousands of chirping crickets.
To my surprise, when I went back home, I discovered that one of the maps in the video game Battlefield 2042 was based on Incheon. Initially, I was filled with excitement at the prospect of virtually experiencing Incheon from the comfort of my home. However, my enthusiasm slowly faded away as a shadow of sadness fell over me. The simulation of Incheon turned a peaceful location into a warzone, with unexpected and dangerous events unfolding.
It is one thing to want to spend our time on Earth escaping into fantasy worlds and losing ourselves in the experience. But it is another thing entirely when the games we play add some spice to our reality and make us see the world in new and different ways.
The portrayal of a familiar place in a movie can trigger nostalgic memories; “Look, Washington Square, we were there a few years ago!” but being part of a realistic simulation of a location can be more powerful, it can make us feel like we are really there. Immersing ourselves in virtual environments that offer sensory appeal, emotional engagement and the possibility to embody virtual entities can make our experience highly memorable.
Lingering game experiences can influence how we perceive and respond to real-world simulated scenarios.
In my research on Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP), I have come across reports of gamers who have felt nervous about being observed by snipers in windows, scanning open fields strategically, thinking about the best spots to hide, expecting soldiers to appear, hearing explosions outside their windows, and seeing virtual heads-up displays (HUDs) from the game in their peripheral vision.
GTP occur spontaneously and without individual control or premeditation, resulting in temporal effects. However, when there is a strong association between stimuli, it can lead to perpetual internal voices or thoughts with game content. In some cases, individuals have even reported changes in their behaviours because of GTP, for example, finding themselves hiding, approaching certain objects, and avoiding places.
The proteus effect is another example of how virtual simulations can alter our self-perception and, consequently, our behaviour. Research has shown that embodying a virtual entity can result in adjusting our behaviour to conform to the digital representation.
Studies utilizing priming paradigms have revealed that exposure to sounds, images, or other stimuli can temporarily affect how we interpret the same or similar stimuli later, potentially impacting both our cognition and behaviour. Additionally, research on cue reactivity has revealed that brain regions associated with rewards are activated when individuals encounter stimuli associated with drinking, smoking, or gaming.
Priming and cue-reactivity paradigms can explain why finding a bottlecap on the pavement can trigger a craving for Coca-Cola, but if you’re a fan of the Fallout series, you might react differently, as in Fallout, bottlecaps are the standard currency.
Suddenly experiencing GTP can have the ability to transform mundane moments into bursts of excitement or fear, especially when the real-life stimuli are automatically associated with memories, sounds or images from the game.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, I investigated if the incorporation of video game elements could offer some benefits to the perception of the world during the pandemic. The findings revealed that the majority of the participating video game players reported experiencing a positive influence of GTP. Slightly over 50% perceived mundane tasks as enjoyable and reported feeling more creative or intelligent. Additionally, 48% expressed a desire for the real world to emulate a video game, while 16% reported concerns about the real world becoming more like a video game. Given the unusual circumstances surrounding the pandemic and social isolation, these results aren’t entirely unexpected.
Players who possess high levels of resilience and are skilled in coping with stress through effective mechanisms, such as viewing stressful life events from various perspectives, were more likely to benefit from GTP by interpreting it as a positive experience.
In terms of the negative impact of GTP, it was found that almost one-third (32%) of the participants reported feeling confused and disoriented, 28% felt as if they were losing their sanity, and 22% expressed feelings of losing control over their actions. The negative effects of GTP were linked to engaging in more COVID-19 preventive measures and heightened concerns regarding contamination, indicating anxiety. The findings suggest that it is important to understand individual characteristics and to be mindful of individuals whose GTP creates a negative impact, as they are at a higher risk of experiencing distress and dysfunction due to their experiences.
The effects of GTP appear to be contingent on how the gamers perceive the transfer of game experiences. While the media content directs the orchestra, it is ultimately up to the individual to appraise the impact of GTP.
The fact that one place can be experienced as two worlds with different meanings, all due to the blurring of boundaries between the virtual and physical realms with the help of simulation technologies and our malleable mind, demands our careful consideration.
It’s a reminder to consider the balance between the benefits of technological advancements and the importance of preserving the natural world and our connection to it.
To what or to whom do we give the privilege to modify our reality when we can still have the option to enjoy peaceful silence and listen to the crickets singing? This is a worthy reflection of who we are or who we aspire to become.