Prof clarifies Game Transfer Phenomena

"I'm not in any way anti-gaming."

Professor Mark Griffiths, co-author of the Game Transfer Report that has captured media attention worldwide, has offered Eurogamer an explanation of his work as well as condemnation against those who spun it.

The exaggerated notion, he said, of a gamer one day not being able to tell difference between a game or reality is "rubbish".

"That's rubbish. That's just not true," Griffiths said.

"I've got three 'screenagers' myself, who all probably spend a disproportionate amount of their day-to-day lives in front of screens playing video games. Even my youngest son can tell the difference between reality and fantasy.

"What we're talking about here are these kind of carry-over effects, whether they're auditory, whether they're tactile, whether they're visual. And people may have a nano-second or half-a-second when they think it's almost like they're in a game, but it's almost like a conditioned response and people know, very very quickly, that they are in the real world. And a lot of the time people are just amused by it. It's not something that's in any way causing problems."

"I'm telling you now that most of these are positive or have little or no lasting affect on people's lives. Certainly, nowhere in the paper do we say that people can't tell the difference between reality and fantasy. That is something that journalists make up to sell newspapers."

Suggesting, as the Daily Mail did, that Game Transfer Phenomena and the Royal Navy submarine shooting were in some way linked was a cheap shot at both a headline and a scapegoat.

"Even if you could show that some games have some kind of effect, at best it would be a contributory factor. The whole point about the guy who just murdered someone else, we don't know how much violent television he's watched in his life, we don't know how much violence he's seen in real life. There's loads of confounding factors. And even if he does play Grand Theft Auto all-day every-day, he wasn't doing that from age zero, and there are lots of other things that have happened in his life," said Griffiths.

"My guess is that there was something within him, even without Grand Theft Auto existing, that would probably have made him do what he did. But obviously pinning it on Grand Theft Auto is easier - people chose the simplest explanations as a way of trying to justify what people do, but most behaviour is very very complex and you have to take into account people's life experiences, the environment in which they were brought up in and the interaction between the two.

"It's just too easy to pin it on a game," he added. "There is no research that has ever said that this one game causes this particular affect, and you'll never get that, because there will be too many other confounding variables.

Griffiths' research into Game Transfer Phenomena, the full paper of which he shared with Eurogamer, is far more innocent. It attempts to name a phenomena - a not unpleasant one - that has existed for years. All that's new is the name and taxonomy of the different types of experiences gamers have. Griffiths' report recorded many different types of GTP, from mentions of games in dreams to game-related jokes applied in real-life situations and shared with friends.

  • "Me and my friends were on a road trip and on a stop for some reason looked at a shower drain. For some reason in my head it looked like the face of a Combine from Half-Life 2. I actually pointed it out to my friends and they agreed as well," said James, 20.
  • "I can still try to find good camper spots IRL without thinking about it like, ooh, that would be a nice spot to be a sniper, but then I realise that I don't need camper spots in real life," said Linus, 19.
  • "I did hide in a box like Solid Snake does to scare a friend of mine," said Adrian, 21.
  • "My gaming friends and me will often joke with each other; like 'this school lunch looks like a barbecued locust'," said Aron, 15.

The innocent anecdotes are plentiful. But there are, also, darker quotes.

  • "I pretend to curb stomp when they [my friends] trip," Aron, 15, also said.
  • "If your teacher is irritating, you just want to grab a gun and shoot her. I would never do something like that. Yep, fantasy. Weird I know. It comes in a scene where she is being tortured, not by me, by someone else. It makes me glad," said Anton, 15.
  • "I just felt like throwing myself in front of a car just to get the insurance money as they do in Saints Row," said Eva, 16.

Read sensationally they could be alarming, but they're the minority rather than the majority of the anecdotes shared.

"In the paper there's this one little, and it can't be more than four or five lines, where some people were talking about - they're walking along and they see a rock and they think, yeah, that will be a good place to be a sniper from. They play games and they have to think strategically about where's the best place I can see people and they can't see me," revealed Griffiths.

"It's not that they're going to go and do it in real life. But there will always be one or two people that might think - that game carry-over effect - might be a contributory factor to something they're going to do. But my guess is that that would be within the person anyway.

"Even the studies that have shown, for instance, going into people that are delinquent offenders and finding that they play significantly more violent video games than people who are not delinquent. The point about that of course is that delinquent people are more attracted to those games in the first place," Griffiths added.

"There's something within themselves that makes them want to watch violent films or play violent games. It's no surprise that amongst people who break the law or are delinquents that they have a high incidence of playing violent video games. But what people have done is separate that it's these people who are pre-disposed to playing those types of games in the first place."

The new study, Griffiths said, will further explore any negative results.

"We do want to look at whether some of the more negative carry-over effects - they need to be looked at further. And this will hopefully help game developers and publishers and players think about how much they're playing," Griffiths said.

"My guess is that someone who plays games for five minutes a day isn't going to have any GTP. But people who are intense gamers, playing games four-to-five hours a day - they're the people who are probably more likely to experience this kind of phenomena."

What Griffiths wanted to get across most was that he supports gaming. "If anyone thinks I've got an anti-gaming bone in my body they're wrong," he said. "The stuff we're talking about in this paper is pretty neutral."

"I hope you can get from the way I'm speaking to you now that a, I'm not in any way anti-gaming; b, it's quite obvious that I believe positives far outweigh negatives; and c, if any of your gamers want to read my paper and actually see what it says then they're quite welcome to do so. But don't base everything you believe in 200 words in the Metro."

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