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 quite 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.

Lorenzo Veloria

Many years ago, Lorenzo Veloria was a Senior Editor here at GamesRadar+ helping to shape content strategy. Since then, Lorenzo has shifted his attention to Future Plc's broader video game portfolio, working as a Senior Brand Marketing Manager to oversee the development of advertising pitches and marketing strategies for the department. He might not have all that much time to write about games anymore, but he's still focused on making sure the latest and greatest end up in front of your eyes one way or another.