A recent study completed by Nottingham Trent University (soon to be published in the International Journal of Cyber Behaviour, Psychology and Learning) has shone a bright light into the darkest corners of our gaming minds and discovered that those of us who live and breathe video games are having some trouble disconnecting when we hit the off switch. The study shows that some of us can no longer distinguishing between the real world and our video games, with many of us seeing conversation menus a la Mass Effect, or even QTE’s as we do our daily chores.
Game Transfer Phenomenon, or as I like to call it Blended Reality, may sound like a terrifying previously unknown affliction waiting to crash down on unsuspecting gamers and ruin their lives, but it is more likely that a small side-effect of a lifetime of gaming is being blown out of proportion. There are certainly plenty of critics of the size of the study (42 gamers aged 15-21) and those stating it doesn’t happen, but I’m here to say it does happen, to a lot of us, and it’s really not a big deal.
We’ve all been to the lesser stages of Blended Reality, especially those of us old enough to have played Tetris on the original GameBoy. With gaming choices limited you cloistered yourself and fired up the game. You joyfully lined up your pieces… only to discover that in a flash it was now five hours later and past your bedtime. Crawling into bed exhausted you shut your eyes and it began. Where you were hoping for darkness you saw Tetris. You saw the blocks falling in your mind and you were compelled to watch helplessly as you ended up with a sleepless night. But the next stage, the stage studied, is actually far more innocuous, at least to your nightly slumber.
My most vivid memory of Blended Reality has to be back in my Tony Hawk days. I’ve never even attempted to skateboard in real life but when it came to the pixelated playground I ruled. I spent many happy hours pwning all and sundry online but it was only a matter of time before I couldn’t leave it behind. When you look at the real world it is filled with lines to trick on if only physics would take it’s virtual form. For weeks I was surrounded by visions of skateboarders tricking and flipping on rooftops, railings, cars, anything that was remotely feasible. I couldn’t help but mentally follow the lines and imagine I was in the game. It wasn’t scary, it wasn’t disturbing and it didn’t ruin my life. So I had slight hallucinations for a while but it didn’t lead me to act differently or start a spiral into deviant behaviour. If it affected me at all it was a positive – you can’t help but walk around slightly amused when you’re surrounded by something so entertaining.
Blended Reality is sometimes caused by a particular game being played excessively but it can just as easily happen with things that are uniform across multiple games. The classic oil barrel and gas cannisters are good examples of this. Even if you’ve never experienced anything as full-blown as my boarding problem any gamer worth their salt will notice any an oil barrel or a gas cannister. They’re not things you see a lot of these days but whenever you catch sight of one I guarantee there’s a little part of you that sees someone shooting it. It’s just what you do. And that’s far from the only example. Who hasn’t been driving, got stuck in a queue and considered using turbo down the outside? Who hasn’t imagined a save point before a huge decision? Who hasn’t at some point reached for their virtual weapon of choice?
These things don’t make us dangerous any more than any other aspect of video games. And in some ways help us release some stress in a safe comical way. After all, imagining yourself in Burnout whilst you’re stuck at the lights is a damn sight safer than actually driving like you’re in Burnout. Sure seeing your speech options appear is a little strange but if it leads people to consider their actions before they open their mouths then I’m all for it. Over the last few years video games have heavily emphasised that actions have consequences and whilst they may be more black and white than everyday life (I don’t want an orphanage or a whore house, Fable III. Why can’t I have a sodding library?!) that’s a good lesson to remember in the real world. Whether you’re venting or merely taking any extra second to think, if the occasional hallucination can help us do this then I’m all for it.