Tetris Effect: Video Games, Dreams and Hallucinations

If you are an avid gamer, then there is a high probability you’ve dreamt about one of your interactive experiences. In fact, when someone plays a game for too long, he may even start hallucinating about it.

If any of this happens to you, you’re not alone. This phenomenon is called Tetris Effect. According to Wikipedia, Tetris effect is an effect that occurs when people devote so much time and attention to an activity that it begins to pattern their thoughts, mental images, and dreams. In layman’s terms, Tetris effect is when you start playing a game so much that it begins to screw with your day to day lives. It is named so to describe people who play the heck out of Tetris and start dreaming of falling tetrominos, think about how different shapes can fit in the real world, et al.

It is not limited to a single game. I know of a Call of Duty player who constantly thinks of ways to snipe people standing on rooftops in real life, and there are many who experience similar effects after playing different video games like Runescape, 2048, Guitar Hero, and countless other titles. One of the craziest thing here is, people with amnesia also experience tetris effect even after they’ve forgotten they played the game.

Tetris effect is not even limited to gaming. Computer programming has resulted in dreams about coding, and Mathematicians have reported dreaming of numbers or equations.

The reasoning behind this is not just ’emotional investment’ in a game. When we learn a new process through repetition, our brains experience this effect. Researchers have proposed that the memory brought about from any game imagery is most likely related to procedural memory/ muscle memory, which is based on implicit learning (something that happens when our brain learns something from repetitive playing) and not conscious recall.

It is remarkable that while our brain is remembering the actions of gameplay throughout the day, new neural networks are formed in order to improve our performance. The study and application of Tetris effect in fields that require human learning can really pick the business up. It is also proven that gamers have less nightmares and more control over their dreams than non-gamers.

Not everything about it is super awesome, though. Extreme forms of Tetris effect can result insomnia, minor neural disorders and hallucinations. It may sound cool to relate an environment of a game with your external surroundings, but hallucinating about that game in real life takes it to an entirely different level.

There is still a need of deep research in this field, and to identify if this effect is a bane or a boon. Till then, all we can do is to drive carefully after a marathon GTA session.

Image Courtesy: Tom

6 Comments

  1. I’ve actually experienced mild hallucinations after a stretch of playing video games. The individual session times need not be particularly lengthy (relative to my own “lengthy” play sessions) – about an hour or two – but extended across 4 or 5 days of play. As an example, in Tom Clancy’s: The Division, when items drop for the player, a beam of light is presented at the item’s location. I have, on occasion, seen similarly projected beams of light when closing my eyes or when walking around during my non-playing time. Certainly an odd phenomenon that would tell me that I’ve played too often and need to step away for a while.

    • Do you live in New York by any chance? I can see that being a factor.

  2. I was pretty obsessed with Call of Duty 3 and played it for a few weeks from 10pm – 4am every day. I stopped playing altogether when I started saw a Nazi soldier pop up on a rooftop while I was driving. I have never had any other hallucinations, and I assumed it was my brain being rewired to be hyper-sensitive to that pattern of “head peeking above rooftop”

  3. yup i had that effect for a few days from actually playing alot of tetris during a relaxed semester at uni. in a boring class i was playing tetris on my laptop, on the bus home i way playing tetris in my head.

  4. back in the days of playing a ton of guitar hero i use to see like the walls crawling up slowly. was weird man.

  5. After playing lots of Rocket League, I expected my car to do front flips on the highway … weird feeling.

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