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Jan 11, 2005



I've lapsed in to computer-think on a several occasions. The most common one is when reading a book for research or class and thinking 'Ctrl+F' when I couldn't find what I was looking for immediately.

The most ridiculous instance though was when I was still playing Everquest regularly (constantly). I came downstairs and my roommate was watching The Fellowship of the Ring. The scene was in the mines of Moria, when Gandalf is fighting the Balrog. I stopped by the couch and watched the battle, then found myself wondering, 'What level wizard is Gandalf?'


Yes, "complete crack monkeys" denotes skepticism.

More to the point, a slight trance induced by repetitive activity is worlds apart from grabbing someone's steering wheel while they're driving because you think you're still playing Katamari Damacy.


I will confess to, during my days of playing UO, muttering "8 feathers" when someone pointed out a bird.


I often glance to the top of my car windshield ("windscreen") thinking there's going to be a compass up there, because that's where I always put my in-game directional aids. I've also glanced at other cars expecting to see a name above them with some kind of relevant info (level, aggressiveness, guild membership).


When I was deeply in to Vice City a couple of years ago I often found myself sizing up parked cars as I walked past them. There were also a couple of occasions when I got in to my car and took off down the road before I realised that I was in Nottingham and not Vice City.


I'll admit to thinking about things in video game terms after getting really into a specific game (like picturing someone's name floating over their head after playing an MMOG). However, people who go further with it are just simple-minded. Example: That Hoffman guy trying to Ctrl+Z his life (that is simply stupid if he is being truthful).


Ah yes, that distinct urge to shoot out streetlights and porchlights after playing Splinter Cell for too long. :-)


There's nothing like catching a real-life sunset and thinking, absent-mindedly, "great graphics. How'd they do that?"


I could not possibly mistake the real world for the video game world, personally I believe if you have trouble seperating the two, you may want to avoid violent video games...if not video games altogther. This thinking leads right to the road of hell...i.e. "The video game made me kill people".


When playing Quake 2 CTF heavily, I frequently found myself wishing I had a grappling hook.


I frequently wish I have hull mounted torpedo launchers on my car when stuck in traffic, but I don't think that has anything to do with gaming particularly.


I think Robin's comments about opportunism and -- somewhat more eerily -- trying to recreate pleasureable experiences are dead on. You look for symbols in the environment that have the affordances for whatever verbs you're given in the game.

For me:
Jet Set Radio: seeing rails to grind on
Splinter Cell: noticing motion sensors and cameras
GTAIII: wanting security trucks


Years ago I made a Quake 1 map of the first floor of the office building I worked in, where the lobby and most of the conference rooms were. We'd play after work... and I'd always get a little jumpy coming out of the elevators on the first floor to go home. It was a strange kind of deja vu. I'd always glance at the reception desk and smile because I knew that was where the shotgun was.


At one point, I was walking down the street with my sweetie, at a time when we were both playing a fair bit of GTA. A cop car was parked by the sidewalk, and we looked at each other, both clearly thinking it would be a good thing to boost.

Similarly, around the time of the last GDC, I had been playing a lot of A Tale In the Desert. Driving around the Bay Area, there's a tree with purple blossoms in the spring--looks a lot like one of the tree models in ATITD. I definitely gave it a close look before I realized I really didn't need to harvest any wood just then.

But unlike the article author, I don't think of these as "potentially dangerous negatives" or something alarming about games. Rather, it's the mark of a good game; it makes you look at the world with different eyes. So do good paintings, or good books; after finishing Gene Wolfe's Mage Knight series, for instance, I was, for several days, much more conscious of how many mundane, day to day actions are actually moral choices.


During my bouts of addiction to certain Tetris-like games, I experience visual burn-in; I can't help but see the general shape and colors of the board/playing field whenever I close my eyes, even on the days that I don't play the game.


Gamer answer: I have not experienced much game-related cognitive mapping, but I will confess to the same thing happening with abundant use of my TiVo. I have attempted (unsuccessfully) to pause live radio, my two-year old daughter, and the on-field action when I attended the Orange Bowl last week.

Professor answer: The technical terms are the automatization and rehearsal of cognitive schema. This could be practicing an action or task and then seeking to map it again in another context. It strikes me that it could also be practicing a level of control that we don't get in RL.

(OK, I will cop to a Tetris burn-in, by the way. I was a rotating fool for a month or two. Is that bad?)


Coming from a place where cops dont bother stopping you if you zoom out of a side street doing 100ks down a windy maze road (Malta), doesnt mix well with clocking too many hours on GTA.

Driving in Malta is already very game like in that you never know what's coming out of that side street, round that corner or which pedestrians decide to randomly play "cars" a (rather silly maltese game most ppl love which involves sprinting across a mainroad dodging cars). Couple that with the competition you ve had with your flat mates just before you left home: running over as many pedestrians as you can in five minutes, and your feet suddenly seem less compliant with pressing the breaks when you some idiot dashes across the width of your bumper.

As one visiting Italian friend of mine said, as we were zooming out to make a dinner reservation: "Oh my gottt I feel I should have an uzi in my hand- this place should be featured in the next installment for GTA"
Then there was a handbreak turn to avoid a 1950 Bedford bus, and his sentence was cut short as he was pancaked to the side of the Ford Ka.


Another anecdote: At one point I was playing the original Wing Commander after work on an enormous NEC monitor -- so large that looking into it was like looking through a life-size cockpit window.

One Friday night I spent several hours turning to get on the six of hundreds of Kilrathi pilots. As I was driving home, I suddenly realized that I was turning the steering wheel slightly whenever another car would drive by.

Definitely one of those "whoa!" moments.

Since then I've wondered what it was that caused this effect. Was it:

* repeated cognitive and kinesthetic actions
* 3D graphics (mimicing real-world spaces)
* life-like conditions (big monitor)
* youth (I was in my early 20s)

or some combination of these?

And why didn't it matter that using a keyboard to control motion is nothing like using a steering wheel?

As a bonus question: I was never one of those who became obsessive about Rubik's Cube, but for those who were, did you ever find yourself trying to manipulate other (non-Cube) objects?



As far as Tetris goes, the worst experiences I ve had, and they happened frequently at one stage, was not being able to sleep cause every time i closed my eyes these giant coloured blocks kept forming lines in my waking state, dreams and in between.

At one point they even made a loud crashing noise.


The worst burn-in for me comes from real-time strategy games. Total War: Shogun and WarCraft III left me with residual schema and visuals that managed to colonize my dreams.

In terms of the waking re-use of game mechanics in daily life, though, I do remember clicking over a lot of peoples' heads to get them to do things after playing The Sims.


Greg Lastowka> What are your experiences? Any ideas about whether these effects are amplified or muted in MMOGs? Any good paper references from the cog psych folks?

Very few situations provide the same interface, use of muscles etc as a computer game, so the effects should be less than what you get from other more embodied activities you practice a lot. Ever met a drummer that just can't stop drumming?


After playing long sessions of Frequency and Amplitude, I'd start to visualize tracks every time I heard a decent song on the radio or wherever. I'd take the song and divide the various elements (ie. bass) into three button combinations. I'd even rate tunes, in my head, on whether they were good for Frequency or not... regardless of my musical tastes.


A fav topic of mine Greg! I'm not sure I can properly describe it here (I usually have to demonstrate which is followed by much chuckling) but I once found myself needing to walk back from where I came from, just a couple feet or so and slightly to the side, but instead of turning around and stepping back, I found myself just moving backwards as my av does when I use the 'down arrow' key in EQ. Heh, goofy, I know. On a research note though, in my work on avatars I found this kind of (often embodied) blurring extremely common (I think I have some examples in a paper somewhere). Heck, I remember back in MUD days sort of thinking in text action terms and that too is something I have heard frequently from others.


I noticed this effect after playing Enter the Matrix a lot. I had the constant desire in real life to practise the stunts I performed in-game, such as doing backflips off walls or wall-walking.

In MMORPGs I have to admit that during my SWG days I have at times looked for pillars of light in the sky to mark out the waypoints to where I was going.


Long ago, I caught myself circle-strafing in real life when I wanted to view something from a different angle.

Needless to say, I had been playing a lot of Quake back then. =P


Oh, and a partial hit... I got so used to Homeworld's 3D interface that I found myself repeatedly trying to rotate and zoom interesting web page images and screenshots to get a better look.

In that case, I was actually using the same interface tools, so the cognitive disconnect was from in-game / out-of-game while still looking at graphics on the computer.


I always find that I much more actively survey my RL surroundings after having played a lot of FPS games. I tend to just zone out and slip into tunnel vision normally, but at the height of my Team Fortress addiction I recall catching myself scanning nearby windows and rooftops.

I'm not going to say that I was actually scanning for snipers, because that's cheesy, but my brain and eyes certainly got used to quickly identifying the type of dark sheltered places I had inadvertently trained it to associate with danger.

Someone's probably posted a similar example, but I haven't had time to thoroughly read the rest of the posts yet.


Developing a virtual world, I have noticed a dichotimy between an object's code, and an object's 3D model. The two are separate enties, and without any trouble, you can apply a teapot 3d-model to a piece of dragon code, or a dragon model to teapot code, and the world mechanics won't really care. This seems wrong.

I tried to figure out how the real world solved this problem and came to the realization that "The object is the code." And molecules are like RISC assembly instructions.

A branch of a real-life tree is just a large piece of code that describes its behaviours. Conveniently, it also controls how it looks. (A tree's bark, for example, is a mass of code designed to protect the tree from sunlight and parasitic programs such as worms, viruses, and insects.) If you break the branch off, you're breaking the code for the tree apart. If you burn the branch, you're scrambling the code.

Following this line of thought, DNA is the code that writes the code. To disassemble a tree and see how its code works, you cut it up into lots of very thin slices and look at the parts under a microscope.

... I've been spending too much time programming virtual worlds.


I agree with the "crack monkey" assessment. More specifically, this sort of cross talk is hardly limitted to video games. Excessive players of AD&D have already computed Gandalf's level. And anyone who has got really entrapped in a books world can attest to this sort of cognitive blurring of worlds.

What is somewhat computer game specific, and that I can definitely attest to, is visual burn in. Top down games tend to do it for me. After a few score hours, I can close my eyes and watch the game play with no need for a computer. Oddly enough, 3d games don't trigger this effect.

- Brask Mumei


This kind of phenomenon certainly isn't limited to computer games; Rona Jaffe wrote an entire book about it in 1981. Remember Mazes and Monsters? It's a story about college kids who play a Dungeons & Dragons game, and one of them loses himself in his character.

They're a similar concept; the inability to distinguish fantasy from reality, albeit that was more of a psychosis than more straightforward physiological memory.

With the increasing fidelity of simulated worlds, I can see where the threshold may blur more easily between fantasy / reality for some people. Assuming the technology is there to support it, how long will it be before we reach the point where the fidelity is high enough (on the other side of the "Uncanny Valley") where even educated/knowledgeable people have a hard time telling the difference?


When I was playing Morrowind I found myself staring at the real trees, considering how good they are rendered in real life.

Sometimes watching TV I expect stutters in the case of large crowds on screen.

Then "The Sims 2" is more obvious but when I play it I really start to manage my real life like the game...


The only major bit of ludorationality seepage I've experienced occured after playing GTA3 for a while. Back when I was in Berkeley, I might be walking up to an intersection when the cars had a red light. I'd then have this urge to run up to the front car, yank open the door, pull out the driver, get in and zoom away.

Alternatively, if I'd just finished a session of GTA3 and started driving around in my car, I'd have to fight the urge to slam the pedal down, run red lights and careen through the streets.


When I *first* start playing a game, and I'm playing it very heavily, this sort of effect can happen. I've had a couple of times where I've started to move my hand to double-click on a door in order to open it, and had to stop myself.

When I first started TinyMUDing, and was chatting online some 8+ hours a day, it started to affect my RL conversations. Instead of saying out loud "I think...", I would say, ": [colon] thinks ..." as if I were typing it out online. Or sometimes, even expand it and start talking about myself in the third-person, "Bruce wonders ..." It doesn't happen very often anymore, though, probably because I don't play nearly as much.

I also find that when I'm first playing a game heavily, I'll dream about it. This is part of the process of the brain actually figuring out what I'm doing all day long and processing it.

If any of this tells us about humanity, it's that our brains are highly adaptable in learning how to interact with the world around us. We don't know how to open a jar because we have learned the physics of torque and mechanical force. We learned it via trial and error as children, that you did X and Y was the result. When we game, we're doing to same thing, and if the game teaches us to open jars via double-clicking on them and we start to do that a lot, the brain may try to do that in real life.

I imagine if you could so some horribly immoral experiment on young babies, you could teach them early enough how to use a mouse and click on things on the computer but not interact with much else in RL. Then after a few years maybe you give them a jar in the real world, something they've only seen in the computer, and ask them to open it, and see what their first instinct is.



Players of the original Crowther & Woods Adventure game found themselves using game commands at the command interface, so wrote ash, the adventure shell. This meant they could THROW OBJECT AT PRINTER and it would work.

Slightly differently, some commands from textual worlds are particularly suited to being used in the real world. These are said to be real-world extensible. It's not that you use them by accident in some kind of confused state, but that they express a concept that doesn't have an exact counterpart in everyday language.

I should point out that there is also the reverse problem, in that people can become so engrossed in the real world that it has a detrimental effect on their playing of games. Unix users in a text MUD might type ls rather than l (for "look"), for example. On such occasions, one wonders whether the real world should be banned for the potentially lethal effect it has on people...



>I should point out that there is also the
>reverse problem, in that people can become so
>engrossed in the real world that it has a
>detrimental effect on their playing of games.
>Unix users in a text MUD might type ls rather
>than l (for "look"), for example. On such
>occasions, one wonders whether the real world
>should be banned for the potentially lethal
>effect it has on people...

ls, and yes I did that a few times and got quite frustrated when it didn't work. And the reverse: typing look in shell to try to get an ls. But that's easily solved via aliases or ash as you mentioned. :)

The ability to use the pose command to communicate thoughts or emotional states was something I took to quite naturally and wish there was a similar method of doing so in real life. Saying "I'm offended" aloud just doesn't convey the same sense as ":is offended." although perhaps that is just a sign of passive-agressive behavior. Of course, in real life you benefit from real-time facial expressions and tonal inflections and such to help convey emotions, and us poorly socialized geek types never really got the hang of that sort of thing. (It just seems so contrived and prone the error - I'd much rather just tell someone what I was feeling. But then, society dictates there are some things you just don't say -- hence the need for another way to communicate those words.)



one wonders whether the real world should be banned for the potentially lethal effect it has on people

I thought prolonged exposure to the real world was always lethal?

Someone should make a real world without permadeath.


Bruce Woodcock>>I imagine if you could so some horribly immoral experiment on young babies, you could teach them early enough how to use a mouse and click on things on the computer but not interact with much else in RL. Then after a few years maybe you give them a jar in the real world, something they've only seen in the computer, and ask them to open it, and see what their first instinct is. <<<

I bet they would still grab it. The human mind contains a priori knowledge of the real world, and simulacra are effective only in so far as they mirror parts of reality.


I find the way that we deal with the physical / reproduced / virtual to be fascinating. On the game related beat:

- I generally wish in crowds / parties that on could get Second Life like profiles on people and what with Bluetooth etc I see no reason why I can’t – people are just not trying.

- I will not drive a car immediately after playing Colin McRae Rally with a force feedback steering wheel as they urge to bounce round corners is too high, especially given that I live in the country side with road just begging to be ‘rallyied’.

I also like the more general blurring, I sometime fondly remember moments with friends looking a sunset or just resting and chatting, sometimes I wonder where exactly I was during these moments, then it dawns on me that I was in a virtual world somewhere – I have very fond memories of times in Tat in SWG which feel incredible ‘real’ to me.

Interestingly in these memories my brain fills in the feeling of the sun (or is it sun’s / stars) on my skin at dusk and the smell of dust in the air etc.

More broadly its interesting how typography bleeds into spoken language, I’ve been known to say ‘slash wave’ and ‘underscore that’ in conversation, and at dinner with a TNer the other day, they got up from the table and said ‘BRB’ – I had to translate for the rest of the table.

I also find the whole ‘I heart’ thing bemusing as the heart icon stands for ‘love’ so we are now de-referencing the original meaning.

The strangest thing for me and the one that really reminds me of the idea of the loss of aura commented on by Benjamin in his “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” – is that I was in New York over the weekend and still I cannot look at the Manhattan skyline and actually see it – the image of the physical thing before me constantly competes with the myriad if reproduced images of NYC that I seen in countless films and books, the physical thing in front of me is almost not there and I am thrown into this state where my actual surroundings are infused virtual ones – who needs a head up display.


Jim wrote:

Someone should make a real world without permadeath.

Working on it... see:

Mind Uploading

The MIND Project

the Wikipedia entry for Mind Transfer

as good starting points. =)


Bruce W.: "The ability to use the pose command to communicate thoughts or emotional states was something I took to quite naturally and wish there was a similar method of doing so in real life."

I've been thinking about this, too, after seeing this thread.

The one I've caught myself doing more than any other is using the word "yawn" as a shorthand for "I'm not interested in that." There's nothing that says a non-gamer wouldn't also do this (and it's interesting how easily non-gamers understand this particular usage), but I suspect the degree to which it feels perfectly normal to verbalize the action is probably conditioned by a couple of decades of verbalizing many other actions online.

"... in real life you benefit from real-time facial expressions and tonal inflections and such to help convey emotions, and us poorly socialized geek types never really got the hang of that sort of thing. (It just seems so contrived and prone to error - I'd much rather just tell someone what I was feeling. ...)"

Every word of that sounds right to me.

"'Grin', he said."


P.S. Notice how computer use is changing punctuation rules to allow commas to be moved out of quoted statements?


I've noticed things like this to. One of my friends is a heavy gamer and constantly uses 1337. it can get very irritating at times when he'll say "WTF" instead of the actual words. I myself often wish I could view the stat.s of different people to discern their: dating status, friendship status and the like. ((of course that probably stems from the "geek types never really got the hang of that sort of thing"))


I often find myself wanting to 'click' things after a long game session, such has been mentioned. I believe Hunicke hit it on the head with the 'wired in' theory. I don't find it surprising that people also form memories of their experiences, my understanding of the way memory works is to cobble together key elements of a situation and fill in the rest from other previous experiences. So to find memories of virtual experiences 'enhanced' makes sense. Similar to the way we look and recognize things, we don't actually examine the whole object we just see a few key points and say 'that's an orange' and stop with that. Later when we recall the orange our brains just give us those key points and we fill in the rest with vague elements. An interesting aside, oranges have more different characteristics than a human face, but we recall a human face far more clearly than an orange.


Thanks to everyone for all the great anecdotes in this thread. I confess to having had the much-maligned "where's the undo button?" reaction several times -- but this was back when I was doing computer-aided design work 10 hrs/ day. Like a lot of other people, I've found Quake and other FPS games tend to make me much more spatially sensitive.

Robin Hunicke has some more thoughts/links on her blog


I think there's a huge difference between games teaching you to see the world in a different way (or multiple ways simultaneously) and being unable to distinguish fantasy from reality.

All kinds of activities make you think different. Working on a farm and going hunting change how you think about food and man's place in the natural order. Rock climbing changes how you see tall buildings. Any kind of martial arts changes how you think about people (and makes you more aware of certain kinds of body language, just as always looking at one part of the face (eyes, mouth, etc) or prentending to be psychic will make you more aware of body language--possible cures for geeks who haven't figured it out yet). This is normal, even desirable.

Trying to pick up a mailbox with your Ford Katamari is a sign of mental illness or severely delayed development.

Maybe it's just because I see the world in terms of games (and vice-versa) frequently and think it's normal, whereas someone thinking they could get a mailbox to stick to their car is... a freak. And a danger to herself and others.


Flatfingers>Notice how computer use is changing punctuation rules to allow commas to be moved out of quoted statements?

That was always the case in England. You put in quotation marks whatever is quoted. I'll occasionally end sentences with ?". or even .". rather than put them into the quotation marks, although that is a little extreme.

It was a pain having to use the US system for my book, that's for sure.



Clive at Collision Detection offers some thoughts and picks up a bunch of similar anecdotes in the comment field:



I find that I don't dream about games or project elements of them into the real world, but use of games and editors still has some quite profound behavioural and perceptual effects on me.

Having devoted myself to stealth games for the past few years, I notice that I often gravitate toward shadows and cover rather than light. I also drive more aggressively after playing driving games.

However, I think the behavioural effects of games are not necessarily causative; I usually drive somewhat aggressively. Introversion made stealth and sneakery appeal to me, and I used to use them even in FPS. I have little to no desire to be aggressive to people in real life, and experience a diminished desire to be that way in games too. I suspect my propensities dictate my preferences in games, and they in turn sharpen my tendencies.

I find becoming absorbed in game spaces can make the real world more difficult to handle in terms of judging distances, but only for brief periods of adjustment. While working in the cloakroom of a nightclub, playing Castlevania on the GBA during quiet periods made it difficult to orient myself in real space: hanging coats suddenly became quite tricky.

I thought it might be the switch from 2D to 3D space, but I seemed to be able to handle the transition just fine while playing Zelda a few weeks later, and on another occasion I found it quite difficult to drive immediately after a 12 hour stint squinting at a 3D viewport in UnrealEd.


Mind Uploading, The MIND Project, the Wikipedia entry for Mind Transfer

Of course it could be that the real world is a virtual world (an idea I've encountered a number of times recently, on TV and in Iain Banks' latest book).

If that's the case we don't need mind uploading or mind transfer, we just need to lobby the real world's designers until they remove permadeath.


I rarely had experiences where I mixed up virtual and real life. One I remember was when I was still playing Everquest. In real life I passed a wall on which somebody had written in large letters "HG". And I automatically looked around for the hill giant. :)

I just wonder when somebody will use these episodes as proof that video games can make people violent. Although reading these I'd be actually more scared of the influence of video games on people's driving style.


I think such effects could make drivers more accident prone, but not make them run someone down for kicks or smash into cars willy-nilly.

There's a huge difference between feeling aggressive and actually picking up a chainsaw and making your way over to someone's house.

(IMO) behavioural effects != behavioural control.


Zonk does a Slashdot Games post that puts the game-life bleedover in a more sobering light:



Nice blog bro!


I am grateful to the good folks at "The Onanist Corner," whose comment spam caused me to look at this older post, which I hadn't seen before. My late addition:

Since playing Second Life, and especially after lengthy sessions, I tend to view people in RL in terms of how good their actual person, or clothes, jewelry or accessories would work as an avatar. That is not to say that I'm evaluating their physical beauty, as the standard for "good avatar" is not the same as "beautiful person." I just know that I'll be standing in a Starbucks or sitting, reading at a Barnes & Noble and look over and see somebody and think, "Wow. Their hair would look great on an avie."


It's one thing to look at buildings and say to yourself "those are nicely textured," or wonder how many prims they contain.

It's quite another when you wake up in the morning and before you are fully awake, you have a persistent thought: Somewhere, there's an avatar that is due to pay rent. The rent seems like a lot. Then you realize that avatar is you, and it's your RL apartment. You realize that your human self is an avatar, too.


@Prokofy: Now THAT'S interesting...

I continue to disagree with you that the avatars we create in games and VWs are individuated, ensouled beings...

But, on the flip side, to consider ourselves avatars? Of what? Created by whom? To play what games?

That's a thought worthy of a poem or two. Thanks.

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