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The game is on, and you have gone
—Helloween, The Game is On
You've been playing a game for so long that you start seeing it everywhere outside the game.
The game follows you. Every time you stop playing, you feel like you still have some pending business. You're seeing passwords in your Alpha-Bits. You try to power-slide on the drive to class. Clouds are looking suspiciously like troop formations to you. You may even begin to dream about tetris blocks and playing cards. The game is the only thing you can think about, even, and especially when you should be concentrating on other things.
Don't feel bad. It's happened to the best of us. The Tetris Effect—when a game permeates every aspect of your life. Named after the original, Tetris, which has superimposed itself on more ceiling tiles and eyelids than any other video game ever.
An amusing variant can occur if you've got two such intrusive games (or two characters in the same game—even worse if they both have good points) at once, and have to split your time between them. Once they start intermingling in your head, the result can be anything from laugh-out-loud ridiculous to seriously creepy.
Extreme cases lead players to say: "I Know Mortal Kombat!".
There are as many examples as there are gamers—which is why this trope neither needs nor wants specific ones. If you'd like to discuss yours, might we suggest our fine forums.
This effect is likely due to the process your brain is thought to undergo when learning a new skill through repetition. In order to separate the 'noise' of non-repeating activities from the 'signal' of activities which will need to be performed frequently, and should thus be optimized for recall and performance (within procedural memory/Muscle Memory), the brain relies upon consistent manual repetition of an activity to identify the activity as a candidate for optimization (thus, 'practice makes perfect'). During this process, activity in the brain of the same sort generated by the undertaking of the activity is observable, as the brain undertakes to optimize the patterns of behaviour within the given activity. This can result in the sometimes distracting and disconcerting organization of other aspects of Real Life according to the patterns of a game skill in the process of being optimized - and thus, the specific symptoms of The Tetris Effect.
This trope can drive one to insanity, especially when combined with the game music also being stuck in your head.
This is not about games that keep you playing until three in the morning, although most examples of this will be a result of that. That trope is Just One More Level.
- 1 Video Games
- 2 Non-video game examples
- Try to avoid driving immediately after playing Mario Kart. It's not just the temptation to shoot Koopa shells at passing cars that you should be worried about...
- Immediately, heck, if you've ever played Super Mario Kart, when driving a motorized vehicle you need to keep in mind at all times that you don't actually have a jump button.
- F-Zero GX has your racer regularly going at speeds greater than 1000 km/h. And the game allows you to put it in a first-person perspective and is compatible with a gaming wheel and pedals. Any speed less than 70 mph is going to seem ridiculously slow if you just got done playing an hour or two of the game.
- Galactic Civilizations II: referenced in one notable Let's Play that crossed this over with Earthshattering Kaboom and The All-Solving Hammer.
It's my answer to everything. How did I try to mend relations with the Terrans? I destroyed a sun. How did I vanquish the Dread Lords? I destroyed their sun. How did I tackle the volatile Drengin? Destroyed all their suns. Drath relations dodgy? Gear up to destroy some suns.
First Person Shooter
- Wolfenstein 3D and Doom made older games feel the urge to strafe around real-world corners.
- Play Modern Warfare 2 and be scared shitless whenever you hear a plane in fear that it's a Harrier, or start diving into cover whenever you hear a low series of metallic clinks because you think that the grenade proximity alarm has gone off.
- How many Left 4 Dead players steer clear of the sound of crying, and twitch when they hear a cough or see someone wearing a hoodie?
- Thanks to Team Fortress 2, many are proud of obtaining rare, silly hats in real life, and attempting to trade them for other hats.
- Some Spy players may start to think that human backs could really use a knife in them.
- Snipers, similarly, will find themselves scanning roofs for others of their ilk.
- Beware of auditory hallucinations: spies decloaking, sentries beeping, dummkopfs bleating "MEDIIIC!"...
- BioShock (series). Who plays this for a few hours and then is not scared shitless every time they hear footsteps or metallic noises? Not to mention turning around after staring at something for a few seconds...
- Not to mention imagining the outside as underwater on occasion.
- Half Life gives us the Barnacle, which not only has people looking for its long "tongues" in other games, but can and does make one paranoid when you see things-that-look-like-tongues hanging from ceilings.
- And oh dear god, one mustn't forget the headcrabs.
- One could argue that any FPS genre game (any WASD key game in general, actually) will forever alter your hand's natural position on the keyboard.
- Playing The Darkness for very long will have you scanning your surroundings for light sources everywhere you go, just try to remember not to break all of them
- Katamari Damacy strikes in this Xkcd. The game builds so much momentum with its "always roll forward" pressure that the character starts to see objects on the sidewalk as potential things to make into stars or planets or whatever. Bonus Ear Worm for "Na naaaa na-na na-na na na naaaa..."
- Heavy Rain. Every time your character does anything short of walking there'll be symbols floating in the air to follow. Soon anything you do can be accompanied with an imagined symbol telling you which direction to press.
- Turning a door handle will suddenly seem challenging.
- Stealth games like Assassin's Creed, Metal Gear, and Splinter Cell may have you studying your environment in search of the best spots to hide, plant mines or gently push people.
- The first game (if wearing a hoodie) has a tendency to make one walk slower and bow your head when you don't want to be noticed.
- Touhou players may hear a "grazing" sound every time they brush up against something.
- Experienced Touhou players should also avoid listening to the soundtrack while driving. Heavy traffic is NOT an opportunity to display your ability to weave between tight spaces, no matter how small you think your hit box is.
- The classic variety also applies. Get ready to see beautiful patterns of bullets dance behind your eyelids.
- Fire Emblem players may see imaginary arrows marking their pathway every time they walk somewhere. It does not help that most sidewalks already have the squares right there in front of you.
- Rodent's Revenge Good luck typing properly after a few HOURS of this game.
- FUCKING SOLITAIRE. 'Nuff said.
- Pretty much any game that's been part of a Windows game pack (Rattler Race; Rodent's Revenge; fucking solitaire; Galactic Pinball; etc...).
- Depending on whether you fought or embraced your addiction to these games, you're either pissed or relieved that most of them are not part of the more recent Windows gamepacks.
- Try getting a high score on any given Wario Ware microgame, especially the ones from Mega Micro Games$! Watch your score climb, and the beats just get faster and faster, and the "da da DA" sound get more frantic every time... then leave, do something calm, and the frantic pace STAYS with you.
- Playing Pong for long periods of time will often result in players trying to bounce small objects back and forth.
- You know you've played too much Shenmue when QTEs begin to pop up IRL, whether it be in fights or doing menial tasks.
- The trope namer is, of course, Tetris (and it's various clones). People have reported seeing falling blocks in their sleep after playing the game.
- Early Nintendo ads for the game played on this phenomenon, referring to such people as "Tetrisized."
- Recently, players of Picross 3D have reported that after a few hours of playing, you can see blocks with numbers in your head and some have even tried to paint their bathroom's tiles red.
- Many older puzzle games can have this effect, but Klax stories seem to pop up fairly frequently.
- Portal players frequently find themselves speculating what they would do with an Aperture Science Portal Device in real life. Now you're thinking with portals!
- Even if you've never played the game, it's still entirely possible for you to go through this. After all, who wouldn't want a real life Portal gun?
- Try wondering what would happen if you put portals on roofs in a suburb, as a slanted spot for a puzzle, then realizing that it's the wrong surface for portals because it has shingles, and it isn't white and smooth.
- It gets worse. "Okay, so I just arrived at my (school/work/insane asylum) and I need to get to my (class/office/padded cell) fast. I could just walk there, but I'm in a rush and that would take too long. I could run faster, I guess, or put a portal over there and my other one there and DAMMIT."
- Ever looked around, and seen an oddly portal-shaped part of a wall that is more white than the rest of the entire area and thought, "Oh, I found the portalable wall, now I can escape this level."
- Play Braid for an hour or two and you'll find yourself forgetting in which direction time goes.
- A joke told by Marcus Brigstocke (that's been circulated around the internet) is that "If Pac-Man had affected us as kids, we'd all be running around in dark rooms, munching pills and listening to repetitive electronic music." It's more a humorous commentary on the Murder Simulators concept, but it arguably also qualifies here.
- Super Collapse 3 and its ilk have the unfortunate side effect that playing too long will leave an afterimage of a field of Collapse blocks— still being popped, just like the player does— visible when you close your eyes.
- Catherine, Atlus' block-ascending puzzle-adventure game, has caused this among players. Many mention seeing blocks when they try to go to sleep, and even dream about them. Hopefully these players haven't been cheating on their partners lately, or else they may never wake up...
- Edge. Who would've thought a voice sample could turn into an Ear Worm?
- Irisu Syndrome will cause you to see shapes slowly fall down, collide in midair and disappear just behind your eyes. If this happens, do NOT score under 20,000 points in your head.
- Angry Birds will often leave you with the uncomfortable need to hurl heavy objects through windows, metal beams, boards, and similar structures.
- Minesweeper will cause you to play game after game in your head while you try to fall asleep.
- VVVVVV may cause you to attempt to flip gravity when walking through a crowded hallway.
- After playing anagram-forming games such as Boggle, Jumble, or TextTwist, don't be surprised if you get stuck at a stop sign trying to form anagrams out of it ("pot", "pots", "post", "tops", etc.).
- If you play Beatmania, Dance Dance Revolution, Pump It Up, Guitar Hero, Rock Band, or the like for long enough, listening to music on the radio will start to evoke a picture of a note track, not to mention moving your fingers (or feet) like you're playing the song you're listening to on an invisible controller. Air Guitar Heroing, if you will.
- Related is an effect called "velocitization" that players of games with note tracks scrolling toward the player (Frequency, Amplitude, Guitar Hero, Rock Band) will notice after playing a song. After looking at the same spot, watching the notes scrolling towards you, for a few minutes then suddenly looking away, you'll notice your perspective seems to warp at the new spot you're staring at. It's not exactly the same thing but a more short-term phenomenon of your eyes themselves adjusting to constant movement in a certain dimension. When you look at a surface that isn't moving towards you, your eyes still try to compensate for the previous situation, leading to the feeling that it is in fact moving/warping away from you.
- Scantron test sheets have been compared to Guitar Hero solos because they have 5 slots for an answer corresponding to the five buttons in Guitar Hero, and only one is filled in. There is a Facebook group dedicated to this phenomenon.
- One player of a DS rhythm game started seeing little circles closing in on his focus, like the keys on his keyboard or... well just where he looked. Turns out it came from an overdose of saving the world with AWESOME.
- Go play Rhythm Heaven, get a "perfect" on one of the minigames, and then listen to the minigames song by itself. Needless to say, you'll likely be imitating the movements that you do in the game!
- Dwarf Fortress is notorious for causing people to start dreaming in ASCII.
- After playing Diablo 2 (especially with friends who quickly grab everything), you will start to hear the "ding" noise that happens whenever a jewel/rune drops.
Role Playing Game
- People who played Persona 3 or/and Persona 4 might check their relationships with other people in terms of the Social Links, making sure that they advance it, not reverse it in an already established relationship while "forming" a new one when they make new acquaintances.
- People who have played Okami have discussed drawing circles with their finger around dying vegetation, or where one would be placed to get it to come to life.
- When meeting up with friends, it's common for some people to remark that their friend has just joined the party.
- Many MUD players (including this troper) have reported dreaming in text.
- Good horror games will leave players in pant-wetting fear of certain noises or places, especially in the dark.
- Dead Space ... one word: Anus Cakes.
- If you take the time to learn the insane scrawls left all over the game (the cypher is hidden on a viewscreen of the Ishimura), you will eventually try to decypher spraypaint writings left by graffiti artists.
- Amnesia the Dark Descent players probably avoided water for quite some time. And pretty much everything else that could make a sound. Loud crashing noises were the worst.
Turn Based Tactics
Finally, I finished my first game, and proceeded to stumble about for weeks after, having paranoid delusions that aliens really were invading Earth, cautiously looking for a flashing red "enemy in sight" warning in my peripheral vision.
- Play through 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors a few times and you'll be calculating digital roots for weeks.
- Try playing any Ace Attorney game for a few hours then get into an argument with someone without shouting Objection!...
- And even then, try not to point while shouting. Good luck!
Wide Open Sandbox
- Players of Wide Open Sandbox games, especially ones with extra mobility options, like Spider-Man 2, Prototype, or Just Cause 2, are often found remarking in various online community forums that they wish they could web-sling around town (or run up walls) to make it easier to get around town and that they occasionally fantasize about what it'd be like to do so at the local mall.
- Likewise, players of Assassin's Creed will start seeing paths of horizontal lines up every building they go by. It's even worse with Mirror's Edge.
- Similarly, Crackdown may cause an effect of seeing passable ledges on real buildings, as well as the ability to estimate what agility level you'd need to be in order to scale the building.
- On that note, real traceurs, after a while, instinctively see routes through, over and around any area they're in.
- Despite all the fears generated by the Grand Theft Auto games, one key thing was missed: the temptation created to just drive on the pavement killing dozens of innocent pedestrians or barge other cars out of the way when players are on the road IN REAL LIFE.
- In other words, bad driving in general.
- Similarly, after playing Grand Theft Auto, many people find themselves identifying real life cars by their GTA counterparts.
- After playing GTA for about 10 straight hours when I was sick, I found my self unconsciously eyeballing sports cars while walking down the road the next day, and calculating if I could make it to the door of the car before it sped away.
- After San Andreas, graffiti tags start setting off little lightbulbs in your head.
- Trying to enter the wanted level cheat when seeing a police car drive down the street after playing GTA for hours. This has happened more than once.
- Players of Minecraft have reported starting to see everything as cubes.
- Walk up behind a Minecraft player and make a hissing sound. Ideally you should be wearing a football helmet when you try this.
- Play or watch the game for half an hour. You will never take the real meaning of the word "creeper" seriously again, trust me.
- Playing In Famous for extended periods of time may make one thirst for that extra boost, and start eyeballing power boxes, lamp posts, and even possibly cars.
- Specialise in Alchemy in Oblivion or Skyrim and after awhile you'll find yourself staring speculatively at shrubs and flowers you see in real life, wondering if they're worth harvesting for their magical effects.
- And feel the urge to eat them in order to discover such effects.
Non-video game examples
Anime & Manga
- In the manga version of Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei, insane Neat Freak Chiri's spring cleaning ultimately indulges in this trope. She becomes obsessed with filling dead space and starts stacking objects and people like blocks. Harumi comments that Chiri was always good at Tetris.
- Psycho. Showers.
- Jaws. Beaches
- Many movie goers who saw It Follows spent weeks afterwards making sure nothing was following them. The movie was that creepy.
- In Neil Gaiman's book Smoke & Mirrors, a collection of his more obscure short stories, is a narrative poem called Virus. It's only two pages long, but describes the speaker finding a computer game that consumes his entire life. One of the first signs that things have gone wrong is when he realizes he's playing the game in his head whenever he closes his eyes and seeing elements from it everywhere.
- In Terry Pratchett's Only You Can Save Mankind, Johnny experiences this early in the second chapter where he dreams that he's inside the eponymous video game, and recognises the experience from a previous game he played. This time, however, he actually is.
- In Christopher Brookmyre's A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away, Raymond Ash has just survived an assassination attempt by diving into a river. The next chapter featuring him opens with him making his way towards a ladder out of the water... and he hears the sound of a quad-damage powerup, and now his attackers are carrying railguns instead of handguns. He wakes up, realises that he'd conflated the events of the previous night with a computer game, and recalls the times when he was playing another game, would spot a fire extinguisher or barrel and automatically think "switch to melee" to blow his way into the next room.
- In the Psych novel Mind-Altering Murder this is why Macklin Tanner went into hiding. He got so into his virtual-reality game Criminal Genius that he killed Walon O'Malley in a hit and run, trying to earn extra points. He immediately regretted it, destroyed the car he had used, and stayed among the homeless to punish himself.
- In Beverly Cleary's book "Strider", Leigh, the narrator, has a job sweeping floors. He says he feels like he can see the floors' tile pattern in his sleep.
- In the first chapter of Don Quixote, we see that Alonso Quixano, a Impoverished Patrician with way too much time at his hands, is a Fan Boy of Chivalric Romance books, then he evolutions as to be Fan Dumb, then he wants to write a Fanfiction about The tale of Don Belianis of Greece:, but he insteads decide to change drastically his life by becoming a Knight Errant changing his name to Don Quixote.
- The book Math Curse by Jon Scieszka has a teacher tell her class that almost anything can be thought of as a math problem. One girl in the class begins to see math problems in everything, even something as simple as a trip to the store.
Live Action TV
- One part of a Drake and Josh episode in which Josh had to spend several days without playing video games showed him imagining his teacher as the Damsel in Distress in a Save the Princess game.
- GURPS players often start statting random everyday items, because they can. Similarly, almost every GURPS player has tried making a character sheet for their real-life self.
- D&D or SPECIAL games have been known to make people think in terms of stats, perks, etc. D&D alignments are especially dangerous: see tropes like Lawful Stupid for illustrated examples.
- This has reached far enough that the first thing many authors do is figure out what a characters alignment would be in D&D
- Mekton players on the Mekton Zeta Mailing List have drawn up stats for most anime mecha, most real military vehicles and even stats for Tupperware.
My brain was being rewired. I began to see diagonal lines of force emanating out of the corners of any orthogonal pattern such as the tiles of a floor or the legs of a chair.
- Awkward Zombie: Anyone had this happen in real life?
- Homestuck: The official forums have threads full of people talking about what the webcomic has made them do, including more than a few mentions of attempting to captchalogue items and jumping at the sound of bicycle horn honks.
- The Cracked.com article "When Video Games Get Stuck In Your Head" is a short story about the effect of too much Portal.
- This QDB quote.
- Doug got a Super Pretendo. When local bully Roger Klotz bothered him in class, he imagined his game's targeting system locking on.
- The Simpsons did this once, when the family buys too much stuff at a yard sale, and Homer goes through a Tetris sequence to fit everything inside the car... except himself.
- When Lisa became a crossword puzzle addict, she started to see crosswords in everything.
- Apu sometimes answers with his trademark quote outside of work.
Thank you come again.
- In one episode, Homer attempts to jam Lennie's head into a jigsaw puzzle while trying to complete it, hallucinating he fits the spaces perfectly. Lennie ends up with several jigsaw pieces in his eye, as is usual for him.
- Watch enough Transformers and you could find yourself visualizing what every vehicle or household appliance would look like if it spontaneously turned into a robot.
- This is not limited to gaming. If you've ever had a repetitive job that involves working with large quantities of the same kind of object all day long, you probably dreamed about them on the night after your first day.
- Try working a job that has you answering the phone a lot. Ever answer your phone at home with the name of the company you work for?
- Or end a casual conversation with a friend by thanking them for calling?
- This effect is demonstrated near the beginning of the Charlie Chaplin film Modern Times with a factory worker continuously going through the motions of his task even when not working.
- Or if you work at a job (like bagging groceries) where you literally are playing Tetris with the objects.
- Off duty taxi drivers will sometimes look for the meter if they are driving their friend in their regular, non-taxi car.
- Try working a job that has you answering the phone a lot. Ever answer your phone at home with the name of the company you work for?
- People who grew up (or spent a substantial part of their lives) during the period when films, and later television, were in black-and-white had a tendency to dream that way. For years it was assumed that some (non-colorblind) people just naturally didn't dream in color, or at least not exclusively... until sleep studies performed on people who were born after color TV proved otherwise.
- The name of the programming forum Dream.In.Code refers to this phenomenon.
- The Tetris effect is so strong, that people with short-term memory loss can experience the effect, despite not remembering even playing the game.
- Better than that. It showed scientists that humans have a secondary type of memory. So Tetris actually helped advance science.
- Professional copyeditors and proofreaders are usually among the most thorough and unrelenting Grammar Nazis in existence. Some have claimed to have actually proofread love notes sent to them out of sheer habit.
- There's a story, probably a legend, of a 40 year Marine Veteran with Alzheimer's who only responded to a few commands from the Marine Drill manual.
- Spend a few days on a LEGO project and try not to see the blocks on the insides of your eyelids.
- If you spend enough time learning music theory, it is very difficult not to conduct along to every song you hear. Or, as xkcd put it...
- Late author Robert Asprin attributed his creation of the first Myth Adventures book to this trope, as his deep immersion in writing the grim corporate-mercenary novel Cold Cash War was causing him to regard people, and even family members, as potential threats or targets. Writing a comic fantasy was his way of canceling out this alarming effect.
- Chess tournaments. Play in one and while trying to sleep at night, you'll start playing games in your head.
- Go on, just try and avoid speaking or at least thinking in terms of tropes when discussing or reflecting on Real Life.
- The live-action game Assassin, usually played on college campuses, is known for its paranoia-inducing effects on dedicated players. Always sitting with one's back to the wall, hanging out near exits, scanning for snipers....
- Watching films or playing games of any genre will likely get you thinking about your life in terms of the same cliches, though it's advisable to retain a sense of the distinction between reality and fiction.
- Unfortunately, this is actually a big problem in the military. Many battle-trained soldiers must undergo "deprogramming" to get the "anything could be out to kill me" mindset out of their heads, among other ideas that are useful in a war zone, but not conducive to civilian life. When it gets too bad and they will never be the same, they call it PTSD.
- If you watch too much My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, you will say "everypony" sooner or later.
- When discussing something with somebody you know you might just start pointing out recurrent tropes by name without realizing it.
- After spending quite a bit of time on any graphic design or art program (such as Photoshop or Blender), it's difficult not to start looking at the lines on the roads or various architecture and think, "Now how would I make that in [the program]?"
- People who knit and/or crochet, often times, will see a knitted/crocheted item and try to figure out how to reproduce the results after admiring it for a short time.
- If you go to sleep shortly after studying for a final, chances are you'll dream of anatomical charts, periodic tables, legal cases, math tables, or whatever else you were studying.
- People who regularly drive a manual transition will sometimes use their left foot to feel for the clutch when they get into the driver's seat of an automatic.
- Although, technically, the game's standard display is CP 437, not ASCII.