Highly Questionable Study Claims Gamers are Prone to Hallucinations

This new "research" is bound to get all the wrong headlines.
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This is the kind of so-called “scientific data” that the mainstream press just loves.

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According to a study recently published in the “International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction,” various experts at Nottingham Trent University’s International Gaming Research Unit have concluded that some gamers may be more prone to hallucinations. Or rather, the exact term is “altered visual perceptions.”

The research is based on 656 recorded experiences from 483 gamers, and this data was collected in online forums. Yeah, you read that correctly. Not only does it seem a little unorthodox – and hardly a controlled setting – but the researchers admitted that they didn’t have participants’ psychological profiles. Now, I’m no scientist, but shouldn’t that be a requirement for such a study?

Anyway, the data showed that some gamers reported “…distorted versions of real-world surroundings.” Others said they’d see certain video game images, like menus, pop into their field of vision during everyday routines. This study is the first in a series that seeks to explain “Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP),” which basically means that playing games affects a person’s senses (sight, sound, touch, etc.). The goal is to determine the psychological implications of playing games.

“In some playing experiences, video game images appeared without awareness and control of the gamers and, in some cases, the images were uncomfortable, especially when gamers could not sleep or concentrate on something else. These experiences also resulted in irrational thoughts such as gamers questioning their own mental health, getting embarrassed or performing impulsive behaviors in social contexts. However, other gamers clearly thought that these experiences were fun and some even tried to induce them.”

Psychology professor Mark Griffiths, after admitting that not knowing the participants’ psychological backgrounds could invalidate the data, said that some gamers “may be more susceptible to experience GTP.” He continued that the effects appear to be “short-lived” but some people experience them more often.

Inconclusive, questionable data means nothing to me

I don’t hold an advanced degree, but I do have a Psychology degree, and I recall at least some of my training. If I’m remembering it correctly, I’d say that all my professors would’ve agreed that this study was riddled with holes. Poorly constructed, vaguely defined, and worst of all, the data is completely inconclusive because you didn’t have patient histories for each participant. If you’re going to test someone’s propensity toward certain mental breakdowns, you really need to determine their overall stability first. Right?

Furthermore, these studies tend to isolate video games, as if this is the only form of media or entertainment that can cause “GTP.” I won’t deny that the interactive nature of games can have a more profound effect, but I maintain that this effect is almost entirely dependent on a person’s general mental stability.

The in-your-face nature of highly visceral movies can definitely cause similar problems, in my mind, as can any form of video content. Hell, I’ve even seen “images” before my eyes after reading compelling novels. It’s just a part of my imagination and memory working together to form the “hallucination,” but it’s rare and brief. And last I checked, it’s quite common.

I just hope no mainstream news outlet gets their hands on this. Before you know it, we’ll see news features on CNN about how gamers are hallucinating walking down the street.

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A gaming journalism veteran of 14 years, a confirmed gamer for over 30 years, and a lover of fine literature and ridiculously sweet desserts.