Have you experienced the Tetris Effect? Photo: Sally Mahoney on Flickr via Creative Commons
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How gaming behaviour can spill over into real life

These phenomena tend to occur when video game players become so immersed in their gaming that, when they stop playing, they sometimes transfer some of their virtual gaming experiences to the real world.

Back in the early 1990s, I used to play the video game Tetris on my Nintendo Game Boy. I was really good at it – if I do say so myself – and I used to play for hours every day. When I went to bed I would see falling blocks as I closed my eyes. I often experienced the same thing when waking up.

And it turns out, it wasn’t just me. Many other gamers experience this too – so many that it’s actually called “The Tetris Effect” when you devote so much time and attention to an activity that it patterns your thoughts, mental images and dreams.

In the late 1980s I started researching the area of video game addiction. One of the papers I cited a lot in my early research concerning the side effects of excessive playing was a 1993 case study published in the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine by Sean Spence. This reported the case of a female video game player who suffering from delusions of being persecuted, exhibiting violent behaviour and experiencing constant imaginary auditory hallucinations triggered by the music of the Super Mario Brothers video game. This case study and the Tetris effect are both examples of what I and my research colleague Angelica Ortiz de Gortari call “game transfer phenomena”.

These phenomena tend to occur when video game players become so immersed in their gaming that, when they stop playing, they sometimes transfer some of their virtual gaming experiences to the real world. They can occur both visually and aurally, as well as in the form of unconscious bodily movements.

The symptoms

Our first study into game transfer phenomena, published in the International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning was an exploratory one. We found that in the small sample size of gamers we interviewed, all experienced some type of involuntary sensations, thoughts, actions or reflexes in relation to video games when not playing them. For instance, one gamer reported witnessing a maths equation appearing in a bubble above his teacher’s head while another reported health bars hovering over football players from a rival team.

The findings provoked some sensationalist and misleading press coverage and, unsurprisingly, angered some of the gaming community.

Since then we have published three more studies, cataloguing more than 1,600 gamers’ experiences (all had experienced some form of game transfer phenomena) in various academic journals. Our findings have shown that some gamers:

  1. Are unable to stop thinking about the game after playing.

  2. Expect that something from the game will happen in real life.

  3. Display confusion between video game events and real life events.

  4. Have impulses to perform something as in the video game.

  5. Have verbal outbursts.

  6. Experience voluntary and involuntary behaviours.

While some gamers qualify their experiences as funny, amusing, or even normal, others said they were surprised, felt worried, embarrassed and their experiences were a reason to quit playing. Based on our research so far, game transfer phenomena appear to be commonplace among excessive gamers. But the good news is that – for most – the phenomena are short-lasting, temporary and appear to resolve of their own accord.

Beyond the Tetris effect

Despite instances of game transfer phenomena elsewhere in the psychological and medical literature, we argue there are important reasons for not using the Tetris effect concept when studying game transfer phenomena across the board. Among the most important is that this early definition is very broad, not emphasising the importance of the association between real life stimulus and video game elements as a trigger of some of the transfer experiences.

Plus, the name itself is unhelpful. Inspired by the one specific stereotypical puzzle game, Tetris, the name indicates that it is repetition that triggers the transfer effects. But there are other factors involved in game transfer experiences and modern video games are much more complex than Tetris and similar games.

Our latest study that is in the works surveys over 2,500 gamers. We are still analysing the results, but preliminarily they do further indicate how common game transfer phenomena is among players – especially those who play heavily.

It could be that some gamers are more susceptible than others to experiencing game transfer phenomena. Although for many gamers the effects of these experiences appear to be short lived, our research also shows that some gamers experience them recurrently.

This is a relatively new area of research and more needs to be done to understand the cognitive and psychological implications of game transfer phenomena. Our studies to date show there is a need to investigate neural adaptations and after-effects induced by video game playing as a way of encouraging healthy and safe video game playing.

The ConversationDr Mark Griffiths has received research funding from a wide range of organisations including the Economic and Social Research Council, the British Academy and the Responsibility in Gambling Trust. He has also carried out consultancy for numerous gaming companies in the area of social responsibility and responsible gaming.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Shami Chakrabarti’s fall from grace: how a liberal hero lost her reputation

Once, it was trendy to say you liked the former director of Liberty. No longer.

It might be hard to remember now, but there was a time when it was trendy to like Shami Chakrabarti. In the mid-2000s, amid the Iraq War backlash and the furore over identity cards, speaking well of the barrister and head of the human rights campaign group Liberty was a handy way of displaying liberal credentials. She was everywhere: Question Time, Desert Island Discs, Have I Got News For You. A young indie band from Worcester called the Dastards was so keen on her that it even wrote a song about her. It included the lyric: “I turn on my TV/The only one I want to see/Is Shami Chakrabarti.”

The daughter of Bengali immigrants, Chakrabarti was born and brought up in the outer-London borough of Harrow, where she attended a comprehensive school before studying law at the London School of Economics. Her background was a great strength of her campaigning, and during the most authoritarian years of New Labour government she burnished her reputation.

Fast-forward to 13 September 2016, when Chakrabarti made her House of Lords debut as a Labour peer. Baroness Chakrabarti of Kennington wore a sombre expression and a rope of pearls looped round her throat beneath her ermine robe. It was hard to recognise the civil liberties campaigner who was once called “an anarchist in a barrister’s wig” by Loaded magazine.

Yet Chakrabarti has also been cast in another role that is far less desirable than a seat in the Lords: that of a hypocrite. On 29 April this year, Jeremy Corbyn announced that Chakrabarti would chair an independent inquiry into anti-Semitism and other forms of racism in the Labour Party. The inquiry was prompted by the suspensions of Naz Shah, the MP for Bradford West, and Ken Livingstone, for making offensive remarks that were condemned as anti-Semitic. On 16 May Chakrabarti announced that she was joining Labour to gain members’ “trust and confidence”. She said that she would still run the inquiry “without fear or favour”.

The Chakrabarti inquiry delivered its findings on 30 June at a press conference in Westminster. The atmosphere was febrile – there were verbal clashes between the activists and journalists present, and the Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth was reduced to tears. The report stated that Labour “is not overrun by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism” but that there was an “occasionally toxic atmosphere”. It listed examples of “hateful language” and called on party members to “resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons”. Many Labour supporters were surprised that the report’s 20 recommendations did not include lifetime bans for members found to have shown anti-Semitic behaviour.

Then, on 4 August, it was revealed that Chakrabarti was the sole Labour appointment to the House of Lords in David Cameron’s resignation honours. Both Chakrabarti and Corbyn have denied that the peerage was discussed during the anti-Semitism inquiry. But critics suggested that her acceptance undermined the report and its independence.

In particular, it attracted criticism from members of the UK’s Jewish community. Marie van der Zyl, vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “This ‘whitewash for peerages’ is a scandal that surely raises serious questions about the integrity of Ms Chakrabarti, her inquiry and the Labour leadership.” A home affairs select committee report into anti-Semitism in the UK has since found that there were grave failings in the report for Labour.

Two further incidents contributed to the decline in Chakrabarti’s reputation: her arrival on Corbyn’s front bench as shadow attorney general and the revelation that her son attends the selective Dulwich College, which costs almost £19,000 a year in fees for day pupils (£39,000 for full boarders). She said that she “absolutely” supports Labour’s opposition to grammar schools but defended her choice to pay for selective education.

Chakrabarti told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “I live in a nice big house and eat nice food, and my neighbours are homeless and go to food banks. Does that make me a hypocrite, or does it make me someone who is trying to do best, not just for my own family, but for other people’s families, too?”

This was the end for many of those who had respected Chakrabarti – the whisper of hypocrisy became a roar. As the Times columnist Carol Midgley wrote: “You can’t with a straight face champion equality while choosing privilege for yourself.”

Hypocrisy is a charge that has dogged the left for decades (both Diane Abbott and Harriet Harman have fallen foul of the selective school problem). The trouble with having principles, it is said, is that you have to live up to them. Unlike the right, the left prizes purity in its politicians, as Jeremy Corbyn’s squeaky-clean political image shows. Shami Chakrabarti started the year with a campaigning reputation to rival that of the Labour leader, but her poor decisions have all but destroyed her. It’s difficult to recall a time when a liberal icon has fallen so far, so fast. 

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood