The Tetris Effect

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Ever watched a film just before bed and all you can see or think about when you close your eyes are parts of the film that you are now creating or roaming around the landscape of the game you’ve been hammering? Sound familiar? I know I’ve experienced it many times, especially with the vast range of amazing TV Series; I’ve been cooking meth before now with Walter White in my dreams and walked around Pallet Town a few times!

This usually happens when people spend lots of time playing a game or watching a film. In the gaming world, this is known as the Tetris Effect. I am assuming with an educated guess, that this is because Tetris was a huge hit on the Nintendo Gameboy in the mid-1980s, people would play for hours and hours and then visualize the Gameboy’s square screen with blocks floating down when trying to sleep. An interesting fact about Tetris is that it is the second most sold game ever with 170 million units sold, topped only by Minecraft, which has 180 million units sold.

I first really noticed the Tetris Effect in action when helping my Mum move house. She had paid for a ‘man with a van’ to help out, and I couldn’t help but notice how he stacked the van so compacted and organised. Impressed I praised the ‘man with a van’, and he told me he was an obsessed Tetris gamer back in the day, and he sees each job as an opportunity to stack the van in complete sections just like you would in the game.

Apart from having the Pokémon Gameboy theme tune embedded into my head, especially visiting nurse Joy and the healing tune that played, I had never noticed any gameplay spilling over into my real-life behaviour.

Since stumbling across the Tetris Effect, when looking for academic resources towards a Psychology assignment I have noticed that I do respond, have thoughts and see patterns in real life which I have experience within a virtual gaming environment. Although the Tetris Effect is strictly speaking a day dream-like experience, whereby we may visualise something game-related, the concept expands into awakened states too. This experience is known as game transfer phenomena which include more sensory, tactile and kinaesthetic perception, such as seeing a health bar above someone’s head as they walk past or using language terms learned from game environments in the real world.

I have a memory of walking around the shopping centre, noticing a lot more dome-shaped CCTV cameras and having a split second thought about taking them out. Why was this? At the time I had been playing a game called Rainbow 6 Seige. As an attacker on this game, you can gain a small advantage by taking out the enemies CCTV cameras to avoid detection and after racking up some serious hours of game time I’m noticing CCTV cameras everywhere!

Have you ever noticed the Tetris Effect happening to you?

Games, I feel, also have transferable skills, which can be huge in games as well as endless learning opportunities. Over the last week three weeks I have been tutoring some very entry-level sessions covering the Romans, looking at their empire, famous people, timeline and how the Roman’s helped Britain. At the end of each session for 20 minutes I used a very basic turn-based strategy game with young people (who are disengaged from mainstream schooling and have complex needs) who would attempt to take the Roman Empire by force or diplomacy just like the mighty Roman’s once did. I soon noticed this basic game helped re-enforce what I have tried to teach, covering Geography, Strategy, Money Management, Trait Skills, Odds, Estimates, Forward-Thinking and Problem Solving to name a few in a fun and entertaining way.

I also noticed that as I taught this session, I was visualizing a lot of what I was saying in my head while explaining, using visuals from films, games and documentaries that I have watched to help get my points across. Would this be classed as Tetris Effect assisted teaching?


I love utilizing games into learning opportunities, but even now I feel as though I have to justify this method of learning. Do you feel that games have a place in academic environments?

Anyhow, thanks for reading.