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Computer Game Brain Saturation Syndrome

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To a computer game junkie, gaming sessions can cause hours, sometimes days, to disappear into oblivion. You might start a quick, friendly game of Counterstrike on Thursday morning, only to find that it is Saturday evening by the time you have killed your friends (in a virtual sense) enough times to satiate you. This entry covers one strange aspect of computer game addiction: if you play a game long enough, it will saturate your brain and affect your non-gaming hours.

Stage One - Inner Eye

The sign of a good game is that when you have finished playing it, you can close your eyes and continue to play it in your head. This is most apparent with visually simple games such as Tetris. Shaped blocks fall from the top of the screen and interlock together. Form a solid line, and that line dissolves away allowing the higher blocks to fall.

This is a similar symptom to the 'catchy tune' syndrome. Both can be got rid of in the same fashion: simply subject your senses to a new game or tune.

Stage Two - Dreams

A more advanced stage of brain saturation can be experienced when the mind tries to relax at night. Instead of pleasantly drifting off to dreamland, the mind will be a turmoil of images from the game. It is an effect similar to that experienced when one is suffering from a viral infection. The mind tries to make sense of the information overload but can't focus. Forget trying to sleep, just watch television instead or play some more computer games.

The whole experience is peculiar to new computer games, or games that one has come back to after a long time. Once the game has been played repeatedly the mind can digest the sensations quickly and the insomnia should go away.

Stage Three - Real Environment

Game junkies often step out into the real world. However, if one has played a particular game for, say, 100 hours or more, this will have an effect on their mental process. This is particularly relevant with games that emulate a real-world environment. As an example, after playing one of the Tony Hawk series of skateboarding games, one might start noticing interesting grinds and jumps in the architecture of a multi-storey car park. A SWAT 3 fan could find themselves regarding the tactical details of moving up a stairwell in the local shopping mall.

This isn't as bad as it might first seem. A real appreciation of cars can develop from playing Gran Turismo, even if there was no previous interest in motor sports. Any game from the Total War series could spark off visits to the library's history section. Games can be educational and fun, especially if they don't try too hard to be so1.

Stage Four - Digital Seepage

The extreme form of computer game addiction causes the subject to act upon the impulses described in Stage Three. While this could be harmless - greeting strangers with a wooden 'Excuse me...' and asking about the Mad Angels after playing Shenmue - the media have accused many games of influencing criminal activities. Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat, Kingpin and others have all fallen under the spotlight, while Night Trap on the Sega MegaCD was the first video game to receive a BBFC2 certificate. Whether or not such games have actually caused individuals to steal cars and beat people is up for debate. It is an issue similar to the accusations levelled at violent films. There have been many cases of 'copycat' killings that are believed to be influenced by scenes in films. Because computer games are more immersive than films, there is a worry as games increase in realism. Disclaimers are now a common occurrence in opening titles; anti-vandalism in Jet Set Radio, street racing warnings in Metropolis Street Racer.

However, the issue of digital seepage is not just that of violence. Consider the following:

  • Walking through town with some friends, you comment on the impressive drawing distance down the street.

  • You try to alter the source code to reduce the amount of traffic.

  • You start to speak like a character from The Sims; 'This graal is franchie!'

  • The sight of security cameras causes you to duck behind corners or attempt to shoot them down with an imaginary gun - known as Goldeneye vision.

These are, incidentally, real-life examples. The phrase 'digital seepage' sums it up: the digital world leaks into the real world and affects one's perception and the way one interacts with others. Somewhat reminiscent of David Cronenburg's film eXistenZ...

Pandering To Our Addiction

It's worth noting that a few advertisers have picked up on this syndrome, demonstrating what can happen if it goes too far, with scenes of deluded gamers dressing up as video game characters. For example, a man dressed up as Christie from Dead Or Alive 3 ungainly practising martial arts in the park, or various people clumsily leaping about and avoiding dogs like Lara Croft. The Japanese call this 'Cosplay'3.


On a serious note, please be sensible when engaging in a long gaming session. Have at least a 15-minute break for every hour sat in front of the screen. Sit correctly and comfortably unless you want severe back pains later in life. If the game is on a home console, put a few metres between your eyes and the television. Most importantly, don't forget your family and friends in the real world.


  • Counterstrike (PC) - a multi-player first person shoot-em-up, which can be played over the Internet. Something of a cult classic.

  • Tetris - with its roots in early 8-bit computers, its addictive gameplay spawned a whole range of 'falling block' games that continue to this day.

  • SWAT 3 (PC) - first-person tactical shooter. An attempt to simulate police assaults in hostage situations, the tactics of which go into some depth.

  • Gran Turismo 2 (Playstation) - a racing game. With lots of real-life cars to race. Lots of cars. The ability to tinker with the cars' innards makes each car your car, hence the addictiveness.

  • Total War (PC) - a series of historical wargames steeped in atmosphere and real-time battles.

  • Shenmue (Dreamcast) - a prime digital seepage candidate. A role-playing game and a brave attempt to create a detailed and believable world. Set in 1985 in a sleepy Japanese suburb it provides lots of 'real life' things to do like buying light bulbs and playing Space Harrier in the local arcades. The Western voice-over is amusingly bad.

  • Mortal Kombat (Arcade) - a beat-em-up that caused quite a stir with digitised images and excessive gore effects.

  • Jet Set Radio (Dreamcast) - one of the first 'cell-shaded' games; it involved tearing through urban streets spraying graffiti everywhere.

  • Metropolis Street Racer (Dreamcast) - a disclaimer was introduced because the game involved racing in real-life cars along accurately mapped and realistic looking versions of Tokyo, London and Los Angeles.

1For example, this Researcher started to learn Japanese just so that he could play imported role-playing games.2British Board of Film Classification - the body that determines what age-rating a film or video game should have.3'Costume Play', which is also popular in America, Italy and China but almost unheard of in England.

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