Last week I was contacted by a journalist at the Red Bulletin Magazine who was “looking for an expert in gaming psychology to talk to for a piece on the mental benefits of endless running games, i.e. ‘the gameplay building strong reward learning in players’. It should be a fun and practical guide…Just let me know if you’d be interested.” I was interested. I had been teaching in the morning so I didn’t get the email until a couple of hours after it had been sent. I scribbled down a few notes, got back in touch, but by the time I did, the journalist had already interviewed someone else for the feature. Since I’d already made a few bullet points, I thought I would use them for the basis of a blog. (I really don’t like things going to waste).
Although much of my research examines problematic gaming, I am not anti-gaming (and never have been), and I have published many papers on the benefits of gaming including therapeutic benefits, educational benefits, and psychological (cognitive) benefits (see ‘Further reading’ below). Some of you reading this may not know what endless running games are, so here is the Wikipedia definition from its entry on platform games:
“‘Endless running’ or ‘infinite running’ games are platform games in which the player character is continuously moving forward through a usually procedurally generated, theoretically endless game world. Game controls are limited to making the character jump, attack, or perform special actions. The object of these games is to get as far as possible before the character dies. Endless running games have found particular success on mobile platforms. They are well-suited to the small set of controls these games require, often limited to a single screen tap for jumping. Games with similar mechanics with automatic forward movement, but where levels have been pre-designed, or procedurally generated to have a set finish line, are often called “auto-runners” to distinguish them from endless runners”.
Endless running games are incredibly popular and played by millions of individuals around the world (including myself on occasions). One of the best things about endless running games is that because they can be played on smartphones and other small hand-held devices they can be played anywhere at any time. Like any good game, the rules are easy to understand, the gameplay is deceptively simple, but in the end, it takes skill to succeed. The simplicity of endless running games is one of the key reasons for their global success in terms player numbers. For successful games, the mechanics should be challenging but not impossible. Such games can lead to what has been described as a state of ‘flow’ (coined by Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi in his seminal books Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience  and Flow: The Psychology of Happiness ).
With the flow experience, a game player derives intense enjoyment by being immersed in the gaming experience, the challenges of the game are matched by the player’s skills, and the player’s sense of time is distorted so that time passes without it being noticed. For some video game players, this may then mean repeatedly seeking out similar experiences on a regular basis to the extent that they can escape from their concerns in the ‘real world’ by being continually engrossed in a flow-inducing world. However, something like flow – viewed largely as a positive psychological phenomenon – may be less positive in the long-term for some video game players if they are craving the same kind of emotional ‘high’ that they obtained the last time that they experienced flow when playing a video game.
Flow has been proposed (by Jackson and Eklund, 2006) as comprising nine elements that include: (i) striking a balance between the challenges of an activity and one’s abilities; (ii) a merging of performance of actions with one’s self-awareness; (iii) possessing clear goals; (iv) gaining unambiguous feedback on performance; (v) having full concentration on the task in hand; (vi) experiencing a sense of being in control; (vii) losing any form of self-consciousness; (viii) having a sense of time distorted so that time seems to speed up or slow down; and (ix) the undergoing of an auto-telic experience (e.g., the goals are generated by the person and not for some anticipated future benefit). Endless running games are one of many types of videogame that can result in ‘flow’ experiences (which for the vast majority of gamers is going to result in something more positive (psychologically) than negative.
There are many studies showing that playing video games can improve reaction times and hand-eye co-ordination. For example, research has shown that spatial visualisation ability, such as mentally rotating and manipulating two- and three-dimensional objects, improves with videogame playing. Again, endless running videogames rely very heavily on hand-eye co-ordination and fast reaction to on-screen events. In this specific area, I see endless running games as having nothing but positive benefits in terms of improving hand-eye co-ordination skills, reflexes, and attention spans.
Although I’m not a neuroscientist or a neuropsychologist, I know that on a neurobiological level, when we engage in pleasurable activity, our bodies produce its own opiate-like neurochemicals in the form of endorphins and dopamine. The novelty aspects of endless running games will for many players result in the production of neurochemical pleasure which is rewarding and reinforcing for the gamer.
I also believe that endless running games have an appeal that crosses many demographic boundaries, such as age, gender, ethnicity, or educational attainment. They can be used to help set goals and rehearse working towards them, provide feedback, reinforcement, self-esteem, and maintain a record of behavioural change in the form of personal scores. Beating one’s own personal high scores or having higher scores than our friends and fellow gamers can also be psychologically rewarding.
Because video games can be so engaging, they can also be used therapeutically. For instance, research has consistently shown that videogames are excellent cognitive distractors and can help reduce pain. Because I have a number of chronic and degenerative health conditions, I play a number of cognitively-engrossing casual games because when my mind is 100% engaged in an activity I don’t feel any pain whatsoever. Again, endless running games tick this particular box for me (and others). Also, on a personal level, I am time-poor because I work so hard in my job. Endless running games are ideal for individuals like myself who simply don’t have the time to engage in playing massively multiplayer online games that can take up hours every day but will quite happily keep myself amused and pain-free on my commute into work on the bus.
As I have pointed out in so many of my research papers and populist writings over the years, is that the negative consequences of playing almost always involve a minority of individuals that are excessive video game players. There is little evidence of serious acute adverse effects on health from moderate play, endless running games included.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Csíkszentmihályi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper and Row
Csíkszentmihályi, M. (1992). Flow: The psychology of happiness. London: Random House.
Griffiths, M.D. (2002). The educational benefits of videogames Education and Health, 20, 47-51.
Griffiths, M.D. (2003). The therapeutic use of videogames in childhood and adolescence. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 8, 547-554.
Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Can videogames be good for your health? Journal of Health Psychology, 9, 339-344.
Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Video games and health. British Medical Journal, 331, 122-123.
Griffiths, M.D. (2005). The therapeutic value of videogames. In J. Goldstein & J. Raessens (Eds.), Handbook of Computer Game Studies (pp. 161-171). Boston: MIT Press.
Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Adolescent video game playing: Issues for the classroom. Education Today: Quarterly Journal of the College of Teachers, 60(4), 31-34.
Griffiths, M.D. (2019). The therapeutic and health benefits of playing videogames. In: Attrill-Smith, A., Fullwood, C. Keep, M. & Kuss, D.J. (Eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Cyberpsychology. (pp. 485-505). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J., & Ortiz de Gortari, A. (2017). Videogames as therapy: An updated selective review of the medical and psychological literature. International Journal of Privacy and Health Information Management, 5(2), 71-96.
Jackson, S.A. & Eklund, R.C. (2006). The flow scale manual. Morgan Town, WV: Fitness Information Technology.
Nuyens, F., Kuss, D.J., Lopez-Fernandez, O., & Griffiths, M.D. (2019). The experimental analysis of non-problematic video gaming and cognitive skills: A systematic review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 17, 389-414.
Following my recent blogs where I outlined some of the papers that my colleagues and I have published on mindfulness, Internet addiction, gaming addiction, workaholism, and youth gambling, here is a round-up of recent papers that Dr. Angelica Ortiz de Gortari and I have published on Game Transfer Phenomena.
Ortiz de Gortari, A.B., Oldfield, B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). An empirical examination of factors associated with Game Transfer Phenomena severity. Computers in Human Behavior, 64, 274-284.
- Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP) (i.e. altered perceptions, spontaneous thoughts and behaviors with game content) occur on a continuum from mild to severe. This study examined the differences between mild, moderate and severe levels of GTP. A total of 2281 gamers’ participated in an online survey. The majority of gamers experienced a mild level of GTP. The factors significantly associated with the severe level of GTP were: (i) being students, (ii) being aged 18 to 22 years, (iii) being professional gamers, (iv) playing videogames every day in sessions of 6 h or more, (iv) playing to escape from the real world, (v) having a sleep disorder, mental disorder or reported dysfunctional gaming, and (vi) having experienced distress or dysfunction due to GTP. In addition, having used drugs and experiencing flashbacks as side- effects of drug use were significantly less likely to be reported by those with mild level of GTP. In a regression analysis, predictors of severe GTP included positive appraisals of GTP, distress or dysfunction due to GTP, and tendency to recall dreams. In general, the findings suggest that those with severe level of GTP share characteristics with profiles of gamers with dysfunctional gaming (e.g., problematic and/or addictive gaming).
Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Game Transfer Phenomena and its associated factors: An exploratory empirical online survey study. Computers in Human Behavior, 51, 195-202.
- Previous qualitative and quantitative studies examining Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP) have demonstrated that GTP experiences are common. These studies have shown that many gamers report altered perceptions, involuntary thoughts and behaviors after playing video games (e.g., pseudo-hallucinatory experiences, automatic motor activations, etc.). However, the factors associated with GTP are unknown. In the present study, a total of 2362 gamers were surveyed using an online questionnaire to examine the relationship between GTP and socio-demographic factors, gaming habits, individual characteristics, and motivations for playing. Results showed that having a pre-existing medical condition, playing for 3–6 h, and playing for immersion, exploration, customization, mechanics and escape from the real world were significantly associated with having experienced GTP. Those who were 33–38 years old, playing sessions for less than one hour, being a professional player, being self-employed, and never recalling dreams, were significantly more likely to have not experienced GTP. The findings suggest that attention should be paid to young adults and the length of gaming sessions, as well as taking into consideration underlying factors such as medical conditions that may make gamers more prone to GTP.
Ortiz de Gortari, A.B., Pontes, H.M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The Game Transfer Phenomena Scale: An instrument for investigating the non-volitional effects of video game playing. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 18, 588-594.
- A variety of instruments have been developed to assess different dimensions of playing video games and its effects on cognitions, affect, and behaviors. The present study examined the psychometric properties of the Game Transfer Phenomena Scale (GTPS) that assesses nonvolitional phenomena experienced after playing video games (i.e., altered perceptions, automatic mental processes, and involuntary behaviors). A total of 1,736 gamers participated in an online survey used as the basis for the analysis. Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was performed to confirm the factorial structure of the GTPS. The five-factor structure using the 20 indicators based on the analysis of gamers’ self-reports fitted the data well. Population cross-validity was also achieved, and the positive associations between the session length and overall scores indicate the GTPS warranted criterion-related validity. Although the understanding of Game Transfer Phenomena is still in its infancy, the GTPS appears to be a valid and reliable instrument for assessing nonvolitional gaming-related phenomena. The GTPS can be used for understanding the phenomenology of post-effects of playing video games.
Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Auditory experiences in Game Transfer Phenomena: An empirical self-report study. In: Gamification: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications (pp.1329-1345). Pennsylvania: IGI Global.
- This study investigated gamers’ auditory experiences as after effects of playing. This was done by classifying, quantifying, and analysing 192 experiences from 155 gamers collected from online videogame forums. The gamers’ experiences were classified as: (i) involuntary auditory imagery (e.g., hearing the music, sounds or voices from the game), (ii) inner speech (e.g., completing phrases in the mind), (iii) auditory misperceptions (e.g., confusing real life sounds with videogame sounds), and (iv) multisensorial auditory experiences (e.g., hearing music while involuntary moving the fingers). Gamers heard auditory cues from the game in their heads, in their ears, but also coming from external sources. Occasionally, the vividness of the sound evoked thoughts and emotions that resulted in behaviours and copying strategies. The psychosocial implications of the gamers’ auditory experiences are discussed. This study contributes to the understanding of the effects of auditory features in videogames, and to the phenomenology of non-volitional auditory experiences.
Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Prevalence and characteristics of Game Transfer Phenomena: A descriptive survey study. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 32, 470-480.
- Previous qualitative studies suggest that gamers experience Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP), a variety of non-volitional phenomena related to playing videogames including thoughts, urges, images, and sounds when not playing. To investigate (i) which types of GTP were more common and (ii) their general characteristics, the present study surveyed a total of 2362 gamers via an online survey. The majority of the participants were male, students, aged between 18 and 27 years, and “hard-core” gamers. Most participants reported having experienced at least one type of GTP at some point (96.6%), the majority having experienced GTP more than once, with many reporting 6 to 10 different types of GTP. Results demonstrated that videogame players experienced (i) altered visual perceptions, (ii) altered auditory perceptions, (iii) altered body perceptions, (iv) automated mental processes, and (v) behaviors. In most cases, GTP could not be explained by being under the influence of a psychoactive substance. The GTP experiences were usually short-lived, tended to occur after videogame playing rather than during play, occurred recurrently, and usually occurred while doing day-to-day activities. One in five gamers had experienced some type of distress or dysfunction due to GTP. Many experienced GTP as pleasant and some wanted GTP to happen again.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Griffiths, M.D. & Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. (2015). Musical hallucinations: Review of treatment effects. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1885. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01885
Ortiz de Gotari, A., Aronsson, K. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Game Transfer Phenomena in video game playing: A qualitative interview study. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 1(3), 15-33.
Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). An introduction to Game Transfer Phenomena in video game playing. In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Video Game Play and Consciousness (pp.223-250). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science.
Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Altered visual perception in Game Transfer Phenomena: An empirical self-report study. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 30, 95-105.
Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Auditory experiences in Game Transfer Phenomena: An empirical self-report study. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 4(1), 59-75.
Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Automatic mental processes, automatic actions and behaviours in Game Transfer Phenomena: An empirical self-report study using online forum data. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 432-452.
Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Playing the computer game Tetris prior to viewing traumatic film material and subsequent intrusive memories: Examining proactive interference. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 260. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00260
Gaming addiction has become a topic of increasing research interest. Over the last decade there has been a significant increase in the number of scientific studies examining various aspects of video game addiction. This has resulted in a wide-ranging selection of review papers focusing on different aspects of the topic. These include general literature reviews of video game addiction, reviews of online (as opposed to offline) gaming addiction, reviews of the main methodological issues in studying video game addiction, reviews of structural characteristics and their relationship with video game addiction, reviews of video game addiction treatment, reviews of video game addiction and co-morbidity/convergence with other addictions such as gambling addiction and Internet addiction, and miscellaneous review papers on very specific aspects of video game addictions such as social responsibility, screening instruments, or reviews refuting that video game addiction even exists.
Furthermore, the amount and the quality of research in the gaming addiction field has progressed much over the last decade but is still in its infancy compared to other more established behavioural addictions, such as pathological gambling. Today’s blog briefly provides a considered (and somewhat speculative) examination of what might happen in the gaming addiction field from a number of different standpoints (e.g., methodological, conceptual, technological). These are taken from a paper I recently published in Current Psychiatry Reviews with Dr. Daniel King (University of Adelaide, Australia) and Daria Kuss (Nottingham Trent University, UK). These trends were loosely modeled on a 2011 paper I wrote on the technological trends in gambling and published in Casino and Gaming International.
- There is likely to be an even bigger increase in empirical research into problematic video game playing and video game addiction. This will of course be dependent on both appropriate funding streams and/or whether gaming addiction ends up being included in future psychiatric disorder classifications (e.g., Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, International Classification of Diseases, etc.). Future research is likely to include more epidemiological and/or general population data on media use, leading to better insights into the onset and course of problematic video game play and addiction.
- Given the many different screening instruments that have been developed over the last decade, there is likely to be a refinement of video game addiction measures and greater consensus on its conceptualization, either as a single disorder and/or incorporated into other known disorders (e.g., impulse control disorder). This is also likely to lead to improved assessment tools based on such conceptualization(s).
- Measures of gaming use and subsequent behaviour are likely to diversify in terms of media use, including social networking sites (SNS) and associated Internet resources. Already, games such as Call of Duty and Battlefield 3 are being released with their own SNS (e.g., COD Elite) that track player behaviour and provide feedback to players as to how to improve their game (thus functionally reinforcing video game play and thus have implications for excessive and/or potentially addictive play).
- Given the pressure on media enterprises to ‘monetize’ their business and look for different revenue streams, there is likely to be even greater media convergence between gaming and other more profit-making activities such as gambling. Given the well established addictive potential of gambling, this may also have implications for the incidence of video game addiction.
- Gaming on the move is likely to be a big growth area that may have implications for excessive gaming via ‘convenience’ hardware such as handheld gaming consoles, PDA devices, mobile phones, tablet computers, and MP3 players.
- Given the fact that the Internet is gender-neutral, there is likely to be increasing feminization of gaming where increasing numbers of females not only engage in the playing of online games, but also develop problems as a result. Casual gaming online is already popular among females. However, the biggest difference between male and female gaming is likely to be content-based (e.g., males may prefer competitive type gaming experiences whereas females may prefer co-operative type gaming experiences).
- Given the increasing number of research teams in the gambling field being given direct access to gambling companies behavioural tracking data, there is likely to be an increasing number of such collaborations in the gaming studies field.
- Given the increased importance of additional research into the structural and situational characteristics of consumptive behaviours (e.g., smoking nicotine, drinking alcohol, gambling, etc.), it is likely that research on design features within games and their psychological impact (including potential addiction) will increase as well. Such research has already begun (including quite a few studies by our gaming research unit).
- As the diagnosis of video game addiction becomes more legitimate in psychiatric and medical circles, it will lead to better randomized control trials on interventions for problematic video game play than the ones already carried out. There is also likely to be an increase in the online medium itself being used as a treatment channel. The reasons that people like to engage in some online leisure activities (i.e., the fact that the online environment is non-face-to-face, convenient, accessible, affordable, anonymous, non-threatening, non-alienating, non-stigmatizing, etc.) may also be the very same reasons why people would want to seek advice, help and treatment online rather than in face-to-face situations.
Based on our review paper there are several noticeable trends that can be drawn from our recent reviews of problematic video game play and video game addiction.
- There has been a significant increase in empirical research decade by decade since the early 1980s.
- There has been a noticeable (and arguably strategic) shift in researching the mode of video game play. In the 1980s, research mainly concerned ‘pay-to-play’ arcade video games. In the 1990s, research mainly concerned stand alone (offline) video games played at home on consoles, PCs or handheld devices. In the 2000s, research mainly concerned online massively multiplayer video games.
- There has been a noticeable shift in how data are collected. Up until the early 2000s, data about video game behaviour was typically collected face-to-face, whereas contemporary studies collect data online, strategically targeting online forums where gamers are known to (virtually) congregate. These samples are typically self-selecting and (by default) unrepresentative of the general population. Therefore, generalization is almost always one of the methodological shortcomings of this data collection approach.
- Survey study sample sizes have generally increased. In the 1980s and 1990s, sample sizes were typically in the low hundreds. In the 2000s, sample sizes in their thousands – even if unrepresentative – are not uncommon.
- There has been a diversification in the way data are collected including experiments, physiological investigations, secondary analysis of existing data (such as that collected from online forums), and behavioural tracking studies.
- There has been increased research on adult (i.e., non-child and non-adolescent) samples reflecting the fact that the demographics of gaming have changed.
- There has been increasing sophistication in relation to issues concerning assessment and measurement of problematic video game play and video game addiction. In the last few years, instruments have been developed that have more robust psychometric properties in terms of reliability and validity. However, there are still some concerns as many of the most widely used screening instruments were adapted from adult screens and much of the video game literature has examined children and adolescents. In other papers I have co-written with Dr. King, we have asserted that to enable future advances in the development and testing of interventions for video game-related problems, there must be some consensus among clinicians and researchers as to the precise classification of these problems. (In fact, we’ve just had a major review paper accepted on assessing video game addiction in Clinical Psychology Review which I examined in a previous blog).
Clearly, there exist a number of gaps in current understanding of problematic video game play and video game addiction. There is a need for epidemiological research to determine the incidence and prevalence of clinically significant problems associated with video game play in the broader population. There are too few clinical studies that describe the unique features and symptoms of problematic video game play and/or video game addiction. While the current empirical base is relatively small, gaming addiction has become a more mainstream area for psychological and psychiatric research and is likely to become an area of significant importance given the widespread popularity of gaming.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Additional input: Daria Kuss and Daniel King
Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Online video gaming: What should educational psychologists know? Educational Psychology in Practice, 26(1), 35-40.
Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Technological trends and the psychosocial impact on gambling. Casino and Gaming International, 7(1), 77-80.
Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & King, D.L. (2012). Video game addiction: Past, present and future. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 8, 308-318.
King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). The psychological study of video game players: Methodological challenges and practical advice. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 7, 555-562.
King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Video game structural characteristics: A new psychological taxonomy. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 90-106.
King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The role of structural characteristics in problem video game playing: A review. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace. Located at: http://www.cyberpsychology.eu/view.php?cisloclanku=2010041401&article=6.
King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The convergence of gambling and digital media: Implications for gambling in young people. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26, 175-187.
King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Cognitive behavioural therapy for problematic video game players: Conceptual considerations and practice issues. Journal of CyberTherapy and Rehabilitstion, 3, 261-273.
King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H., Griffiths, M.D. & Gradisar, M. (2011). Assessing clinical trials of Internet addiction treatment: A systematic review and CONSORT evaluation. Clinical Psychology Review, 31, 1110-1116.
King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Clinical interventions for technology-based problems: Excessive Internet and video game use. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, 26, 43-56.
King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H., Griffiths, M.D. & Gradisar, M. (2012). Cognitive-behavioural approaches to outpatient treatment of Internet addiction in children and adolescents. Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session, 68, 1185-1195.
King, D.L., Haagsma, M.C., Delfabbro, P.H.,Gradisar, M.S. &, Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Psychometric assessment of pathological video-gaming: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 331-342.