Games make you hallucinate, according to study. But where'd they get the data?

We've all done our share of research papers, science projects, and book reports in nearly two decades of schooling. And to prevent students from pulling random facts out of their collective asses, all of these assignments typically required some sort of legitimate source. This might seem old fashioned now, but using something like Wikipedia was totally frowned upon when I was in school. And I could never imagine writing the word "Google" in my bibliography. But, funny enough, according to a report published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, Google--and the forum posts it turned up--are legitimate sources of data for a study on video games and the, erm, hallucinations they cause. Uh, what?

The study was done as a part of a series to determine the psychosocial implications of playing video games for extended periods (and who among us hasn't). The report takes statements from over 400 gamers on their experiences with Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP). Some of them describe getting the famous "Tetris Effect," while others allegedly succumb to even more severe instances, like seeing racing sim HUDs while driving a real car. Crazy stuff, right? I mean, I've been playing games my entire life, and the only GTP I experienced was the "carpet swirlies" after playing Guitar Hero for too long.

So, how did these experts get these statements from said gamers? I'm no scientist, but they must've done something like interview focus groups filled with psychologically stable people, conducted experiments on control and expose groups, then had those test subjects record their experiences for analysis. There were likely one-way mirrors and hidden recording devices. That sounds like it would yield reliable results, right? Well, that's not <i>quite</i> how it worked.

The report states that the data was collected as follows: "Video game gamers’ forums were searched with the Google search engine using the keywords 'Tetris Effect,' 'Game Transfer Phenomena,' 'bleeding effect AND video games,' 'hallucinations video games,' 'video games AND/OR real life/reality.'” With a data collection statement like that, you have to question the validity of the results.

If you've ever been part of a video game forum, livestream chat, or article comment section, you probably wouldn't consider the average user to be the most scientifically reasonable source for reliable information. In fact, more often than not, you'd likely have a hard time considering them human at all. Not to knock on forum members or anything, but those discussions are completely open to anyone with an Internet connection who could say anything and everything they want. Worse, these participants weren't even properly identified or approached by the researchers.

Name, age, physical health, or psychological profile was not required (and rarely recorded). They were not asked any questions or given an opportunity to explain the context of their statements as far as the study states. And after seeing the forum post examples the researchers used, like, "I saw the Grenade indicator when scanning the video store. Fortunately, I realized it was a hallucination before I went commando rolling. (Janus)," or "Every time I talk to someone, the “Mass Effect” conversation wheel comes up at the bottom of my vision. (Pats)," it makes you wonder how many of these posts were genuine hallucination complaints and more of a statement saying, "I've been playing way too much [insert game here]."

I'm not saying that we shouldn't be studying the effects of playing video games. But if you're going to conduct a study and publish your conclusions, it should be done right. Pulling comments off a video game forum means there isn't a certified professional to witness the event (like an eye doctor, brain surgeon, rocket scientist, or whatever), record the findings, and document credible report. What is less compelling, or enlightening, is leaving it all up to a Google search, like an undergrad that slept in and has a 10 page paper due in 3 hours.


  • Owndapwn - January 10, 2014 5:41 p.m.

    After building a fucking HUGE (140 blocks tall, IIRC) 3D model of Princess Luna on a Minecraft Survival server, I recall being able to look at floor tiles and see the thin black border of the "selected" block. However, keep in mind the groutless tiles like you see in many new buildings already have a black line around them from gaps in the tile, and the effect did not persist to other materials. I'd also like to note that this sort of line-blurring effect can happen from lack of sleep as the eyes lose focus, but the brain doesn't drift from what you're looking at and superimposes what it expects to see. Anyone who has ever pulled an all-nighter doing anything tedious has probably experienced this. I never once thought the grid was really there, nor did I think I could punch it and pick up a cube of the floor, and when you consider the size of the project and the fact that I made the statue out of wool and iron, it's a bigger surprise I don't wake up screaming trying to escape the 32760 sheep I had to sheer (I found the project file) or the 17226 iron ingots I had to mine, or the I don't even know how much dirt I used to make a scaffold system around and inside the moon pone to actually build the damn thing, or the incredibly complicated process I had to do to remove every dirt block I placed around her in a server without WorldEdit or fly from all sides, starting from the top. That amount of time and effort spent on any project will result in mental fatigue that can cause things to appear distorted later on. IMO, unless you're trying to interact with entities, you should be fine. I think knowing what you are experiencing is a result of mental fatigue makes it not a hallucination. This is my only experience with with an effect like this other than when I get into a really intense race, my left foot and right arm will twitch when the engine reaches its ideal shift point, but I first started driving a manual when I was five, so I doubt that's from the video game itself.
  • ZeeCaptain - January 10, 2014 12:02 p.m.

    So Google is talking about people getting crazy video game Esq driving huds while driving a car, uh huh, and tell us Google, what is that project your working on that does the same thing, oh that's right its called Google glass, hypocrites.
  • Shayz - January 10, 2014 3:16 a.m.

    I think there's definitely a connection between short-term side-effects and videogames if you play them for too long, but these happen from effects in games, not the games themselves. These kinds of effects in real life can cause short term effects too. Completely normal. In Dust 514, the objectives you have to control blink in the corner of your screen when they are being hacked, and after a long gameplay session I can still see blinking lights in the corner of my eye when my eyes are closed.
  • Shigeruken - January 10, 2014 12:33 a.m.

    Very sick of this type of research designed to cash-in on whatever is the hot topic at the moment.
  • taokaka - January 10, 2014 12:28 a.m.

    Next you're going to be telling me the moon landing is fake. Gamesradar has turned into crazy conspiracists, this is Gamz jarnalizm at its finest. Whenever I want a trippy adventure I put a copy of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves™ in the black box and I hallucinate a man is inside my telly, and for recreation I put a whole bunch of shrooms in my mouth and contemplate the geopolitical nature of pink elephants.
  • theguyinthecloset - January 9, 2014 10:56 p.m.

    To be fair, in the paper itself, they refuse to make a conclusion, which is the same as saying "this means absolutly NOTHING." but fox news and the like won't get that I'm sure.
  • Cyberninja - January 9, 2014 8:08 p.m.

    Thats pretty sad, I just checked the credentials and from what the authors claim they have done this is really embarrassing
  • tomasfr89 - January 9, 2014 7:04 p.m.

    "Games make you hallucinate, according to study. More news at 11 in Fox News" It's going to happen.
  • GoldenEagle1476 - January 9, 2014 7:14 p.m.

    Was gonna post something about Fox, you beat me to it.
  • brickman409 - January 9, 2014 6:45 p.m.

    Well, you can't put anything on the internet that isn't true. Where did you hear that? The internet.
  • GOD - January 9, 2014 6:45 p.m.

    Well there's the scrolling effect after playing a lot of scrolling stages or Guitar Hero, but that's just caused by your eyes constantly tracking to the side or up, and can be caused by other things as well where you're trying to follow something with your eyes. Seriously though, this study's "evidence" is basically jokes that people have made on forum posts. "I saw the Grenade indicator when scanning the video store. Fortunately, I realized it was a hallucination before I went commando rolling. (Janus)" He even made a joke about commando rolling in the very next sentence! I can't tell if this is stupidity, arrogance, or desperation on the "researcher's" part. :/
  • shawksta - January 9, 2014 5:57 p.m.

    Some people are just flat out desperate to make Video games look bad. Its already bad enough we have people attracted to this medium for the wrong reasons.

Showing 1-12 of 12 comments

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000