South Park Self

silhouettes and shadows

This is an interesting, if slightly superficial, article from New Scientist about game transfer phenomenon, which is effectively the response to real life as though you're in a computer game. The article drifts off a bit into burble about visual hallucinations, but what really caught me was the writer's description of their own experience driving icy roads and pulling out of a vehicle slide by instinctively using a move from a computer driving game.

Embedding yourself in a computer game for extended periods can have really weird real-life effects, particularly if you're tired and a bit spacey - after the Dragon Age marathons earlier this year, I would catch myself coming out of a social interchange or work interaction and thinking, "Hell, that didn't go well, I need to reload and make different conversation choices". A sort of mental groping for the escape key to access the menus. But it particularly interests me because I think there are similar effects with non-computer gaming, specifically roleplaying.

About fourteen years ago I was the victim of an armed robbery/home invasion; the guy barged into the house, waving a gun, when bumpycat opened the door to him, and proceeded to tie up both of us and force me around the house at gunpoint, demanding I show him where all the valuable goods were. (A bit doomed; this was back in the impecunious grad student days, and there really wasn't much of value in the house). Fortunately the burglar slamming the door behind him had set off the house alarm; I'd heard the fracas at the front door and, while half asleep, was able to answer the phone for about three seconds when the armed response company phoned to check, and tell them to come quickly. Which they did; but there was an incredibly surreal moment when the armed response guy, receiving no answer from the front door, came round to the bedroom window, to see me, half naked and with my hands tied behind my back, kneeling on the floor. (I'd just woken up, and was wearing only a dressing gown, which had fallen down around my waist. I still remember the puzzled, slightly embarrassed tone of voice in which the guy asked "Is everything all right, ma'am?" I think he was afraid he'd interrupted kinky sex games).

The burglar, hearing the knock at the door, had moved himself out of line of sight by putting his back up against the wall next to the window, keeping the gun trained on me; he'd hissed at me to send the armed response away or he'd shoot me. The interesting thing is that I still have a very vivid memory of exactly how I reacted, which was to suddenly see the whole thing like a hastily sketched roleplaying tac-map - room layout like this, threat here, ally out there, these are your resources, what do you do? It was an astonishingly clear mental image, I can still see it in my head. I reacted exactly as I would have done in, for example, a cyberpunk scenario with rumint putting us through the wringer again: tactically, and with an analytic calm which detached me from the situation in exactly the same way you are detached while gaming. However emotionally invested you are in the moment, there's always a meta level of thinking about what's happening. I told the armed response guy that there was a burglar with a gun, but he'd gone round the back of the house. The armed response guy promptly rushed off after him, allowing the burglar to leave via the front door without actually shooting anyone. It was very neat. Serious experience points there.

The thing is, the response wasn't just about using gaming tools; it was, effectively, for those few vital seconds, to access the game mindset and, vitally, reflexes. I didn't have to think about it; there was no conscious decision of "OK, let's think tactically now." I think you have to be a lot more experienced with having guns pointed at you in real life to be able to consciously employ tactical thought in that sort of situation. I didn't have to; the gaming reflexes kicked in. I honestly don't think I would have been able to respond as cogently if I hadn't had that experience behind me, and that mindset to access.

I'm playing through Skyrim at the moment as an archer. It would be fascinating to see if the repetitive experience of focus/draw/aim in firing a computer game bow actually had any measurable effect on my extremely basic real-life archery skill. But in a more global sense, shouldn't the in-game experience of a tactical approach to efficiently completing quests give me more facility with real-life goals? I might attain a job I actually wanted if I collected all these journal articles before speaking to the key person at the other end of the map. And, to return to the tabletop issue: we played Fiasco! last night. The reflex in Fiasco! is towards making each particular scene punchy, cinematic and dramatic, with a slant towards disaster. If there's any logic in the world, habitual Fiasco! players should be self-destructive drama queens. Probably it's a good thing we don't play more often.
Go! Go!Team Apocalypse!
So you fix toilets, *and* react tactically when under personal physical threat? Yup, you are a permanent fixture on my Apocalypse Team list.
Re: Go! Go!Team Apocalypse!
I think you may be planning your apocalypse on insufficient data points; to date I have fixed one toilet and survived one personal physical threat via tactical thinking. Perhaps I've now filled my personal quota for above, and in future iterations will simply wibble vaguely as God intended? :> I think if you're taking this apocalypse appropriately seriously, more field testing is probably required. You could try forcing me to fix toilets at gunpoint?
I'd forgotten about your horrific home invasion - 'gaming saved my life' would be a great title for your autobiography.

Let's hope gaming experience doesn't translate too directly, as my current cyberpunk gamers are performing a bank robbery. Then again, bumpycat is unlikely to be able to grapple bank security staff as well as his uplifted octopus character did - 'no one expects a sudden large cephalopod to the face' ;)
The thought of bumpy as an uplifted octopus grappling bank security staff has materially lightened my horrible day. Thank you. Also, I miss Cyberpunk.