Dude, Want to Alter Your Consciousness? Try Video Games

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Playing a video game isn’t quite like taking an LSD trip: You’re not infused with a sense of well being, and you don’t acquire insight into the workings of the universe. But as with some hallucinogens, video games can alter your consciousness.

Researchers have known for some time that video gamers can experience “ game transfer phenomena” (GTP), that is, altered visual, auditory, and body perceptions as a result of playing games. But until recently, they hadn’t known how frequently they occurred. They do now.

According to Dr. Angelica Ortiz de Gortari, Nottingham Trent University, Division of Psychology, a whopping 96.6% of “hard-core” gamers have experienced GTP. 

Dr. Ortiz de Gortari, who spoke by telephone, said that some gamers who play intensively experience a kind of “hypnagogia,” that is, a waking dream state. I’ve felt it myself. When I close my eyes, I can see the game I’m playing behind my eyelids (I’m looking at you, Guild Wars 2–even with my eyes closed). I had dreams about Bioshock: Infinite and Riven that were as real to me as playing the game itself.  But there’s more to GTP than that. 

“The most interesting thing is when gamers see images with open eyes, like text boxes above people’s heads,” she said. “There are also altered perceptions, where real-life objects distort in color and shape.”

The game world intrudes into reality in other ways. Dr. Ortiz de Gortari said, “The way GTP manifests, some gamers actually see a camera or a CCT camera and react to it.” While a non-gamer would acknowledge the camera, a gamer may try to hide from it, because in some games, staying out of the view of the lens keeps your character alive.

As Dr. Ortiz de Gortari and co-author Dr. Mark D. Griffiths write in “Prevalence and characteristics of GTP,” which will be published this year, “Other altered perceptions include feeling the body stiffen, feeling that time has slowed down, experiencing uncoordinated body movements, and/or moving automatically as they would do in the videogame.”

And although GTP can be fleeting and last mere seconds, some gamers can experience these sensations for an entire day.

There is no trigger for GTP. Dr. Ortiz de Gortari said, “Some people may more more susceptible to [GTP] than others.” But the only way to experience is is to “play intensively.” And as it turns out, GTP isn’t limited to videogames. Playing an extensive game of, say, solitaire (with cards) can also elicit these reactions. ( I have experienced this as well.)

However, some gamers find the experience “worrisome.” But these gamers tend to have “underlying conditions,” such as anxiety or panic disorder. This is why Dr. Ortiz de Gortari said she wants to “demystify this phenomena.” By explaining that most hard-core gamers have experienced GTP, the ones who are stressed by it may take comfort knowing that it’s a common occurrence.  According to the unpublished paper, “20% of the gamers had experienced distress” over GTP.

I’ve never found the experience distressing, although I do find it intrudes on my sleep. Because of this, I turn off the computer an hour before bedtime. But because there’s no way to activate GTP, there seems to be no way to turn it off either. I surmise that if intensive gaming is the only way to trigger GTP, walking away from the game console would therefore keep the game off your brain.

LSD is illegal in the United States. But as we’re learning, video games may actually provide a legal way to turn on, tune in, and drop out.

Feature Image Credit: Doublefine Productions

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