December 2011 Archives

Gaming with Multiple Personalities

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Over the last several months I've been playing a lot of role-playing games on my Nintendo DS. For those who don't play video games, a role-playing game usually involves going on an adventure with a party of other people. Often, the game allows you to name those people in your party, or partially name them. You're given a prefix--"Chrono," for example--which you can then personalize by typing a name. Your party would then be filled with people with names like ChronoTeresa, ChronoSybil or ChronoJoe.

From what I've learned talking to other players, it's common to name members of your party after friends and family. The same names wind up being used over and over, with different characters in different video games. It's what I do when I play.

A travelling party in Tactics OgreEarlier this year, I was playing an older role-playing game called Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis and I had named a flying hawk man character after my friend Joe. Hawk man Joe was very powerful in battle situations, and as I was playing, I found myself pausing for a moment to think fondly and gratefully about my time spent gaming with hawk man Joe. Then I began to think about all the other "Joe" characters I'd adventured with in video games. All different, yet tied together by their namesake, my real friend, Joe.

It seemed really cool to me that there were these different Joes running around in a digital multiverse. I enjoyed all these layers of memories of times I'd spent with the game version Joes, which were in turn layered on to my feelings of friendship for the real Joe. I felt suffused with positive emotions and camaraderie until I considered a potential downside.

I've known a few people who have fought with friends in dreams and then held a grudge against those same friends in real life. I always thought that behavior was downright crazy. Was I doing something similarly dangerous with the gaming Joes and real Joe?

I found my answer in The Daily Mail, which all reasonable people uphold as a benchmark of normalcy. As reported in this riveting story, researchers have identified something called Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP), which occurs when gamers transfer their "screen experiences into the real world."

The researchers mentioned in the article are mainly concerned with the type of behavior that results from GTP, which in some cases appears to be violent. I was more interested in gamers' attempts to access menus in real-life situations, or other bizarre effects:

Almost all the participants had experienced some type of involuntary thoughts in relation to video games. They thought in the same way as when they were gaming, with half of participants often looking to use something from a video game to resolve a real-life issue. In some cases these thoughts were accompanied by reflexes - such as reaching to click a button on the controller when it wasn't in their hands - while on other occasions gamers visualized their thoughts in the form of game menus.

I have wished for power-ups in my daily life but I don't think I've ever searched for a button to click while walking around town. Now that I think about it, though, I'd be happy to see game menu options such as "Mine Gold," "Flatter," "Throw Fruit" or "Mount Dragon" appear in my daily life.

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