Category Archives: Reflexions

Game Transfer Phenomena & VR in Discovery News


In an interview for Discovery News discussing the advent of contemporary VR, Glenn McDonald summarized some of my insights about VR and Game Transfer Phenomena. Here are some extracts:

“Without a doubt, highly immersive technologies for entertainment bring exciting possibilities for the users — I’m a big fan! — but also raises important questions regarding the impact on their well-being.”

“Individual susceptibility is crucial,” Ortiz de Gortari said. “But I believe that GTP will
become more common as technology becomes more persuasive, more immersive and stimulates more sensorial channels.”

It’s important to note that GTP episoAngelica VRdes aren’t necessarily dangerous or negative, Ortiz de Gortari said. Usually, they’re just weird and funny.

Ortiz de Gortari is more optimistic. In fact, she hopes that further study of phenomena like GTP can help us navigate the virtual waters ahead.

“In general, I think that besides the psychological challenges new technologies posit to our malleable minds, there is a wonderful world of possibilities for entertainment, learning and therapy,” she said.

“Most of us will obtain benefits, but there will always be this small group that experience serious negative effects. Understanding GTP better can be useful to identify video game features likely to be associated with potentially unwanted effects — and promote those that bring benefits.”

Here you can read the full article: “Could VR Games Induce Hallucinations and Flashbacks?”


Game Transfer Phenomena: Echoes of Extended Gameplay

There is a tendency to think we have full control over our thoughts and actions, although, a large part of our daily actions happen automatically; songs get stuck in your head, after-images appear after seeing a bright light, segments of thoughts pop-up in your head and slips of the tongue intrude on conversations. Involuntary phenomena are part of our everyday lives, even when we don’t notice them; however, when these phenomena manifest recurrently, and with particular contents, they can become intrusive and distressful, and in extreme cases lead to serious mental illness.

In my search for novel ways of investigating the effects of interactive media such as Internet and video games, I started paying attention to involuntary phenomena and how environmental stimuli automatically activate cognitions, impulses and behaviors. My first realization in connection with technology came when I was travelling on the subway during a day of heavy snowfall in Sweden. Suddenly, a thought popped up in my mind: “I can get off at any station, because it does not matter where I get off, I’ll arrive at my destination anyway”. At first, this sounded rational to me but then a lightbulb moment made me realize how illogical this was. I had been using Google ceaselessly for days. Google completed my miss-spelled words, and the links took me from one interesting article to another one related to my topic, so for a moment I thought this strategy could be applied to real life!

Later on, the conversations of parents of players caught my attention: the parents were worried because their children were elaborating fantasies from the video games in real life scenarios. Some gamers told me how they had acted automatically as in the video game, and had violated traffic rules.

On one occasion, while in the supermarket shopping, I couldn’t read some labels that were far away and thought “If I had had the scope of the rifle from the game I could actually read the labels.” This was during a week of intense video game play at home. After this experience, I ran home convinced that I needed to investigate these phenomena.

Five years have passed since then. Together with colleagues, I have published several studies for understanding non-volitional phenomena with game content and their subsequent effect on gamers’ well-being. Over 3,500 gamers have reported a range of experiences, which I named “Game Transfer Phenomena” (GTP).

In an initial interview study, a gamer reported seeing health bars, observed when playing the video game, above football players during a live match.

“When I really was a hard-core player in WoW [World of Warcraft] when I got my adrenaline pumping I started seeing health bars above people’s. Only those that was in the football match though, never those that were looking or just walking by”.

Surprisingly enough, other interviewed gamers reported seeing text boxes when being in class.

“When my teacher said the word guitar, I thought of Guitar Hero and I suddenly saw the frets and the notes before my eyes and I could barely even hear her”.

            These experiences started to reveal how some GTP were triggered by automatic associations and were actually very easy to identify when looking at the video game features.

Further studies show how gamers also perceived real objects and environments as distorted, sometimes tinted with the colors and the visual effects used by the video games.

Additionally, the music from the game kept playing in gamers’ minds with such vividness that they have even checked if they left the console on by mistake. Others have heard sounds and voices, some coming from external objects: “’Loooook’, a shivering voice said when I passed a painting, after playing Clive Barker’s Undying for a couple of hours”, “’Overtime!, OVERTIME!, OVERTIME!’, a voice at the back of my mind has yelled, every time a football commentator has mentioned that a game might go into overtime”.

The peculiarity of re-experienced ghost sounds or images after playing is that these are typically associated with events in the game. Therefore, gamers’ responses (e.g. thoughts, behaviors or emotions) can be influence by the rules of a manufactured product, with ‘pinches of salt and pepper’ of the individuality of the gamer as ‘seasoning’. The consequences of the GTP experiences may depend on the individual self-control and the circumstances. ‘Seeing images while trying to sleep is rather different from seeing images while driving.’

“When playing Battlefield 2 a while back I once saw a landmine on the road [in real life] and I swerved to avoid it”.


Indeed, a large variety of thoughts and urges have been reported by gamers. Sometimes amusing spontaneous thoughts arose when gamers wanted to use video game elements that had been utilized repetitively in the game. The video game elements had become ‘phantom limbs’, almost as indispensable as cell phones.


On other occasions, experiences in the game have leaked into the real world, and temporarily colored gamers’ interpretation of events or objects, when they found themselves expecting that something as in the game would happen:” It is dark, the Creepers will appear”, “this car has flipped up-side-down, RUN, it is going to explode!”, “snipers may hide in the windows; are they aiming at me?” and “why are the trees round and not square?”


There are also reports of many behaviors with game content, which had been initiated without the gamers’ awareness. Behaviors include verbal outbursts, when gamers voiced out their video game related thoughts without intention.

You take point. I will cover rear”, a teacher voiced out while trying to get students in line after she had been playing war video games.

Also, gamers reported short episodes of lack of awareness or dissociation when they found themselves approaching objects related to the game, but then they realized they were not in the game and they held back.

“When I been playing a lot of Grand Theft Auto and it felt like I was still in the game. So I walked to the bike and thought about taking it when I realized what I was doing. I know it sounds fucked up”


In a survey with over 2,000 gamers, 97% reported having experienced GTP at some point and 95% had experienced GTP more than once.

GTP graphic green

Prevalence of GTP (published study)

Evidently involuntary phenomena with game content manifest in diverse ways. Those who have reported severe levels of GTP (i.e. frequent and different types of GTP) were more likely to have experienced distress or disability in some area of their lives, but as expected, these individuals were the ones who seems to suffer from underlying pathologies. In general, more gamers have reported GTP as something pleasurable rather than unpleasant and a significant number wanted to experience them again!

To sum up, beside enabling a pathway for understanding the effects of video game playing on the mind from a holistic, neural and integral approach, the GTP approach is useful for investigating involuntary phenomena in the non-clinical population to potentially understand the nature of many of the intrusions that trouble a number of the population in their everyday lives.

Further reading:

Ortiz de Gortari, & Griffiths. (2016a). Prevalence and characteristics of Game Transfer Phenomena: A descriptive survey study. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction. doi: 10.1080/10447318.2016.1164430

Ortiz de Gortari, A., Aronsson, K. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Game Transfer Phenomena in video game playing: A qualitative interview study. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 1(3), 15-33.

Ortiz de Gortari, A. B., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). Altered visual perception in Game Transfer Phenomena: An empirical self-report study. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 30(2), 95-105.

Ortiz de Gortari, A. B., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). Auditory experiences in Game Transfer Phenomena: An empirical self-report study. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning 4(1), 59-75.

Ortiz de Gortari, A. B., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). Automatic mental processes, automatic actions and behaviours in Game Transfer Phenomena: An empirical self-report study using online forum data. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12(4), 1-21.

Ortiz de Gortari, A. B., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Game Transfer Phenomena and its associated factors: An exploratory empirical online survey study. Computers in Human Behavior, 51, 195-202.

Ortiz de Gortari, A. B., H. M. Pontes, et al. (2015). The Game Transfer Phenomena Scale: An Instrument for Investigating the Nonvolitional Effects of Video Game Playing. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 10(18): 588-594.

This blog was originally published at Psychogy21c, and organization with 
the objective to inspire a new generation of psychologist and to improve 
the human-technological-scientific interaction which can impact the 
future of humanity through relevant psychological research.

How the research about GTP can potentially contribute to humanity

This week I was interviewed by Samit Sarkar from Polygon. He was wondering what this research can lead to in the end; what contributions can it make. So, I got motivated to remove the dust from some old writings and thoughts about the potential of GTP and give them some updates. Here are some areas where research about GTP can potentially contribute.

1. Understanding the post-effects of virtual immersion – Findings in the research can potentially help us to identify features (e.g. visual/auditory/haptic) in the video games that lead to either positive or undesirable effects. We can corroborate the experiences by observing video game features and in-game activities. A variety of GTP suggest that neuro-adaptive mechanisms are involved. To date, research that have addressed this question has been mainly conducted in high immersive environments and in virtual environment simulators but not with commercial video games.

2. Envisage what could be the effects of the use of augmented and wearable technologies -Some individuals are experiencing GTP simply by playing video games on the screen. This suggests that the use of head–mounted displays (e.g., Oculus Rift) and other virtual or augment technology may enhance these effects.

3. Developing effective engaging and learning video games – By identifying what features in the games are particularly appealing and how the association between auditory and visual stimuli are established.

4. Identify mind enhancement by playing video game – GTP studies have showed how skill acquired in the video games are applied to similar context as in the game (strategic thinking, fast responses time, visual memory).

5. Encourage responsible and safe gaming policies.

a. Demystify gamers’ experiences – Demystifying GTP experiences appear to be relevant to help gamers to interpret their own mental health, and stops gamers thinking it is a sign of psychological dysfunction; instead it encourages self-control, awareness and healthy gaming. In some cases, the misinterpretation of sensations or perceptions can result in anxiety and in extreme cases in the developing of pathologies. If we talk about GTP without been judgemental we may help the individuals that need it on time.

Here are some comments gamers have shared with me. This has really encouraged me to continue with my research.
It is nice to see that all those weird things which have happen to me, when it feels that my gaming experiences are sort of bleeding into my reality, actually has a name, and it wasn’t just me :P”
“Oh and here was me thinking, my seeing and hearing things that weren’t real was just a symptom of my severe bipolar depression. Turns out I have just been gaming too hard. Phew! That’s a relief”

b. Encourage gamers to play responsibly and reflect about their gaming habits – When GTP manifest, the unconscious contents become conscious and we become aware about how the media we consume influence us. The manifestation of GTP have invited gamers to reflect about their gaming habits, while some may keep an eye in their gaming habits, others may play more to induce GTP.

c. Encourage responsible and safe gaming policies- Research about GTP has pointed out the relevance of examining video game features and the need to provide more health guidance in the manuals of the games. Small letters or links to webpages with more information seem to not be enough.

d. Responsible and safe use of augmented and wearable technologies – It seems crucial to promote research in this area to provide advice about the use of technologies and try to prevent side effects in susceptible individuals.

e. Developing programs for encouraging responsible gaming – Every day we see more researchers and clinicians contributing to the understanding of gaming related problems. This doesn’t mean that video games are bad but some individuals actually can develop unhealthy patterns of behaviours than can end in behavioural addiction. Last year, for the first time “Internet Gaming disorder” (as named in the DSM5) was included as a condition warranting more clinical research, but it still miss arguments for encouraging more preventing programs. I remember back in 1998, I wanted to do my thesis for become psychologist about the problematic use of Internet and my teachers looked at me like I was out of my mind. It took me quite some time to convince them and to get a supervisor.

6. Develop instruments to measure problematic gaming/gaming addiction– Development new ways to address problematic gaming and identify what factors contribute to the development and the prevalence of the symptoms.

7. Develop instruments that potentially can be used in court to evaluate cases where the participation of video games is claimed. This is something I have not thought about but Peter Wright from DigitalLawUK suggested:
“In extreme cases,” he said, “it is not difficult to imagine the police having a test for drivers that they pull over after seeing them drive erratically to check whether they are in full control of their senses. Currently, such tests are focused on alcohol and drug use, but if a driver were asked to take a few paces, strand on one leg, [and] answer a few questions, it may establish if the driver is experiencing Game Transfer Phenomenon.” (1).

8. Understand symptoms of mental disorders – Many GTP experiences share similarities with symptoms of pathologies, e.g. obsessive compulsive disorders, hallucinations, delirium, perseverative mental states observed in disorders such as spectrum of autism disorders and other phenomena such as phantom limb and epileptic seizures.

9. Achieving further understanding of phenomena which we don’t know enough about at this point – GTP involve physiological, perceptual and cognitive mechanism and potentially can encourage the use of video games as a tool for understanding a large variety of phenomena . E.g., mind wandering mechanisms, neural adaptations and the role of emotions, the participation of associations triggering after-images, visual after-effects, involuntary auditory replays, and general understanding non-volitional phenomena.

(1)Crawley, D. (2014). Seeing things: When gaming messes with reality — and your brain  Retrieved 28 January, 2014, from

Absurd associations carried over from video games

I just found this video on Kotaku, originally created by BuzzFeedVideo. Check it out, is pretty funny and creative, and in fact it comes in handy to help me explain GTP experiences that occur by associations between real life stimuli and video game experiences.

There are a bunch of in-game activities such as searching for items, strafing, sneaking, climbing, jumping over things, walking through walls that are absurd and mostly impossible in real life. These activities are usually associated with certain elements in the game. Buildings that are climbable, menus are for talking to someone, fire places to buy items, cut down bushes to find items, roll over objects to become bigger etc. Also, some items have a function in the game; mushrooms to become bigger, plants to restore energy, text boxes for getting feedback, etc.

Through repetition in-game we learn these absurd associations. Therefore when some gamers in real life context encounter elements that have been simulated in the game or that somehow reminds them of their game experiences they respond automatically to these stimuli. I refer to these elements as ‘evocative objects’, which can trigger thoughts, emotions, sensations and perceptions. Some gamers have heard or seen something from the game; others have experienced automatic thoughts, urges, or involuntary movements of fingers and in extreme cases impulsive responses.

We actually constantly establish automatic associations in our daily life with all type of contents, but we do not notice them most of the time; the bizarreness of some video games’ contents is what calls our attention.

%d bloggers like this: