Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP) comprise sensory perceptions, spontaneous mental processes and behaviours derived from interactions with digital simulations in a video game environment.
The content and the characteristics of the video game (e.g. the visual or auditory effects, realism), the hardware utilised to control the game (e.g. gamepads), and subjective phenomena such as immersion and embodiment appear to influence the manifestation of the Game Transfer Phenomena experiences.
The research on GTP considers all human senses (e.g. sight, hearing, touch). GTP can manifest in a single sensory modality, multisensory (e.g. seeing video game elements while hearing the music from the game) or cross-sensory modalities (e.g. seeing images from the game triggered by hearing a word from the game).
The research establishes the differences between voluntary/self-generated phenomena and involuntary/non-self-generated phenomena (e.g. using slang from video games for amusement vs. saying something involuntary from the game).
GTP tend to occur after playing but has also been reported during playing, particularly in AR games that allow switching between the virtual and the real world.
Research on GTP examines the effects of game design and in-game phenomena on users’ everyday life without being limited to a video game genre, platform, online/offline or dysfunctional gaming.
The term “Game Transfer Phenomenon/a” (GTP) was coined by me (Angelica B. Ortiz de Gortari) in my seminal study on GTP in 2010 – an interview study with 42 Swedish frequent gamers: “Game Transfer Phenomena in video game playing: A qualitative interview study”. The study was later published in collaboration with my master and PhD supervisors in 2011.
Some individuals may be more prone to experience GTP. However, different people have had remarkably similar experiences after playing the same games.
An outstanding GTP experience that initiated the pathways into this area of research was the
gamer that started seeing health bars above peoples’ heads.
“When I really was a hardcore player in WoW’ [World of Warcraft]…when I got my adrenaline pumping. I started seeing health bars above people’s heads” –Charlie, 17 years old.
The involuntary phenomena observed in GTP do not only happen due to playing video games. However, key factors involved in playing video games (usually for prolonged periods of time) such as sensory overload, high cognitive load, trance states and emotional engagement appear to ease the occurrence of such phenomena.
Characteristics of GTP
- Most GTP occur in the fully awake state while engaging in everyday tasks, but GTP can also manifest under hypnagogic states -borderline states between awake and sleep or while waking up.
- In many cases, GTP occurs triggered by associations with game-related stimuli (e.g. objects/events simulated in the game).
- GTP usually last for seconds or minutes, but there are reports of experiences for days, weeks or longer.
- Reality testing remains intact, meaning that gamers know that the manifestations are not real.
- However, sometimes the vividness of the sensory intrusions (e.g. hearing sounds as coming from nowhere or seeing images overlaying objects) and game-related objects that evoke emotions has resulted in impulsive responses (e.g. involuntary actions). These appear to happen during episodic moments of dissociation where gamers feel as being in the game or believe for moments that the game elements are real.
Facts about GTP
- GTP is common among gamers (82-96% experience GTP at least once during the last 12 months or in their life; N>6,000, 15–60 years old).
- No gender differences have been found in most of the studies.
- Younger players (15-22 years old) tend to be more prone to GTP, experience GTP more frequently and in a variety of forms. However, comparisons between minors (15-17 years old) and adults have shown significant differences only regarding GTP manifesting as automatic thoughts and altered body perceptions.
- Usually players appraised GTP as positive rather than negative.
- Most gamers have no reported negative consequences due to GTP. Although, a substantial minority (16%) reported medium to high levels of negative consequences and when GTP is severe (i.e. many times and in several forms), 58% of gamers reported associated distress and/or dysfunction.
- Confusion and sleep deprivation due to GTP has been recurrently reported.
- Most gamers are not under the influence of a substance (e.g., medicine, psychoactive substance) when they experience GTP.
- Most gamers who experience GTP have never used drugs; nor do they have a mental or neurological condition. However, mental disorders and drug use increase the propensity to experience GTP
It is important to remember that some of the GTP can be misunderstood as pathological due to their similarity with symptoms of mental conditions (e.g. hallucinations).
I am particularly concerned and interested to inform and demystify GTP to avoid that gamers and other misinterpret GTP. Therefore, I have created a series of cartoons: “GTP adventures” to communicate my research.
Dichotomizing video games (violent vs. pro-social) is not enough for understanding the effects of video games. The transfer of effects does not depend only on the game contents, but also on the affordances found in the real world that facilitate the associations and transfers. Even harmless acts such as jumping can, when taking place in certain contexts and places, be dangerous.
Beyond the potential risks that GTP can pose to certain individuals and in certain circumstances if we understand the underlying mechanisms of GTP we can apply GTP to obtain benefits (e.g. in therapy or learning).
The occurrence of GTP invites us to reflect on our vulnerability to the exposure to synthetic stimuli and the challenges that the human mind will affront due to the technology advances that are still to come.
Impact of GTP in media
•BBC News, 2015 •Episode of the series “CSI: Cyber”, 2016 •Televisa Monterrey, 2000 •Multimedios Estrella de Oro, 2006, 2000, 1999.
•Die Zeit 2017 •The Telegraph – Science 2016, •Washington Post, 2016 •TV2 Norway, 2016 •The Sydney Morning Herald, 2016 •El Reforma, 2015, •The Independent, 2014 •Guardian, 2014 •Boston Globe, 2014, •The International Herald Tribune, 2011 •El Norte, 2005.
Radio & Podcasts
•BBC Digital Human, 2016 •Formula, 2015 •Late Night Gamers, 2014 •Piensa Indigo Media, 2012 •Brain Gain or Drain, 2011 •BBC World Service – Click, 2011 •Radio Nuevo Leon, 2006 •Radio Multimedios, 2000.