Associations – Video Game Effects Phenomena

POSTED: 07/31/14 10:40 PM

Decades ago our little godson Ryan came to visit us from Northern Ireland. One day, when we were going for a little trip and he sat content on the rear seat in my car, we heard him hum a tune – endlessly. Later we found out that this tune stems from a computer game he used to play at home for hours and hours at a time. The game also gave him a form of epileptic attacks. All that changed for the better when his parents curbed his computer game playtime. Ryan is now a healthy young man in his thirties with a beard that competes with the one of the goalkeeper of the American soccer team, Tim Howard. In a way, he survived his gaming addiction.

But the negative and sometimes weird effects computer games have on players have not disappeared. On the contrary. The Gaming Research Unit of the Nottingham Trent University researched the after effects. Are you still hearing bleeps after you have closed down your faming computer? Do you still hear explosions or screaming? You are most likely not crazy, because this is a well-known phenomenon, the researchers found.

Hearing sounds from the first-person puzzle game Portal upon entering a futuristic building. Suddenly hearing the crackling radio signal from the horror game Silent Hill while it is pitch dark – a sign that monsters are nearby. Not being able to sleep because behind your closed eyelids you constantly see Tetris-blocks falling down. Getting up because you are thinking incorrectly that you did not switch off your computer. These are all examples of what the researchers call game transfer phenomena. These occur in the mind of gamers after long playing sessions.

The existence of these phenomena has been known for quite some time, but this is the first time researchers did a specific analysis of sound. Electronic bleeps, the sound of a swooshing sword, the “kading”-sound when Super Mario grabs a coin – they have all been heard by people while they were not playing the corresponding game.

In many cases it was about music from the games, the researchers found – just like pop songs that stay in your head after you have heard them. I catch myself humming the St. Maarten song more often than normal people would consider healthy. But some gamers also hear sounds, or for instance voices. This often occurs when they want to go to sleep. This is why some gamers get up to check whether they have switched off their computer, lead researcher Ortiz de Gortari told the British newspaper The Guardian.

The researchers collected stories from 1,244 gamers, amongst others via gaming chat boards. Twelve percent of them spoke about audio snippets from games that haunted them in the real world.

According to The Guardian the study has met with a lot of criticism. The group of gamers involved in the research was too small, one critic noted, and it is difficult to check the truthfulness of their statements. There have been several studies into game transfer phenomena, but the scientific world remains skeptical.

The researchers at Nottingham Trent University hope to use their results for further study into the functioning of the human brain. “This research tells us how the brain works and how it makes certain associations. That could be handy for instance for learning new languages,” De Gortari says. “There has been a lot of research into the effects of music, but not into the effects of sounds. There is therefore still a lot to learn.”

I am not a scientist, but I tend to believe that the experiences the gamers reported to the researchers are truthful. When I was a little boy, I loved to go fishing in the canal that ran in front of my grandmother’s house. I spent hours upon hours near the water, staring at my floater and wishing for some fish to take my bait.

Guess what? When I went to sleep at night and closed my eyes, I only saw one thing: my floater shooting below the surface when yet another fish came calling.

If the brain makes these associations with images and with music, why would it not do the same with sound?

Next time you hear you child hum a tune over and over again, it is time to check on the time he or she spends with a gaming computer. Send them fishing instead.

Hilbert Haar

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