Glenn McDonald

Could VR Games Induce Hallucinations and Flashbacks?

By: Glenn McDonald Posted:
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A new study shows that a startling number of gamers who binge on PC and TV video games experience hallucinations and flashbacks.

Could immersive virtual reality games be even worse?

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To find out, DNews spoke with experts including the study's lead research psychologist Angelica Ortiz de Gortari, who coined the term Game Transfer Phenomenon, or GTP, which describes the cognitive hangovers gamers experience after prolonged playing.

“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,” said Oritz de Gortari, currently a research fellow with the University of Hertfordshire in the U.K.

In the study, which she conducted at Nottingham Trent University with co-author Mark D. Griffiths, 2,000 gamers were given a survey with questions related to GTP.

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GTP might present as spectral Tetris blocks falling behind one's eyes before sleep. Or give the sensation of moving through dungeon passageways on a walk to the bathroom. In extreme cases, a person might experience actual hallucinations of game scenarios playing out in the real world, or find his body involuntarily reacting to these cognitive ghosts.

About 97 percent reported experiencing hallucinations and flashbacks related to prolonged video game binges. More than half said they experienced sensations of movement and 44 percent reported involuntary body reflex reactions associated with gaming.

How VR will affect people is a question that has Ortiz de Gortari and other researchers interested, and perhaps concerned.

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Until now, highly immersive VR technology has been largely confined to academic, therapeutic and military applications. But the Oculus Rift and its competitors are literal game changers, bringing hyper-realistic virtual reality into our homes for the first time.

“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 episodes aren't necessarily dangerous or negative, Oritz de Gortari said. Usually, they're just weird and funny. In the survey, only 20 percent of those surveyed said they were distressed by their experiences with GTP.