The effect of computer gaming on subsequent time perception
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  • 1. The Effect of Computer Gaming on Subsequent Time Perception Stefanie Luthman1 , Thomas Bliesener2 , Frithjof Staude-Muller3 1 University of Cambridge, United Kingdom 2,3 University of Kiel, Germany Abstract Losing track of time upon gaming is a phenomenon often reported by players of computer and video games. However, the few studies addressing this issue show mixed results and do therefore not allow final conclusions about the effect of gaming on time perception. Even less is known about whether and how time distortion continues after a play session. Therefore, the present experiment tested the effect of gaming on the perception of time subsequent to a game session at a LAN party. 40 players produced standard time intervals of 10 s and 60 s before and after having played computer games. Results show a significant increase in time productions after gaming for the short interval, indicating that game-induced time losses continue even after a game session. In contrast, the reverse was true for the longer interval. We discuss how this result may be explained in terms of participants’ motivational states during the experiment counteracting subjective time losses. Key words: time perception, computer game, LAN party Abbreviations: LAN = Local Area Network Introduction Time distortion is a common phenomenon in events of exceptional negative or positive evaluation. In an unpleasant setting such as waiting for a bus when already being late, time might be experienced as passing very slowly. In contrast, pleasant situations often cause the subjective feeling that time passes too quickly. However, time distortion is not only limited to extraordinary events but can also emerge in daily life situations. A person who is completely absorbed in performing an activity might reach a state of flow, a mental condition that is marked among other characteristics by a distorted sense of time (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Such flow experiences are often reported by people who play computer and video games (Chou & Ting, 2003; Wood, Griffiths, & Parke, 2007). Despite the pleasure of forgetting time and space in electronic games, time loss can also have negative consequences for the player such as missing appointments (Esser & Witting, 1997; Wood et al., 2007) and has been linked to video game addiction (for a critical review of video game addiction see Griffiths, 2008). However, neither is video game addiction regarded as a mental disorder (APA, 2007), nor does time loss offer much diagnostic value for video game addiction as time loss is reported by high- and low frequency players alike (Wood & Griffiths, 2007; Wood et al., 2007), warranting more research into the nature of video game addiction and the role of time loss in this context. A question that has not been addressed so far is if, and how, time distortion continues after gaming. It may run out quickly, persist for a while, or even rebound in the absence of the game. In the present study, we test the assumption that computer gamers experience time loss whilst gaming because attentional resources allocated towards the processing of nontemporal (i.e. game) stimuli are subtracted from the attention paid to the processing of temporal stimuli (Zakay & Block, 1996) and that this time distortion persists
  • 2. temporarily after gaming as players transfer time processing schemata activated during the game session to real-life situations (Fritz, 1997). An answer to the question how computer games influence time perception subsequent to gaming is crucial since many activities of daily life such as driving in traffic and operating machinery require precise time perception. While occasional time losses during game sessions might be appreciated by some gamers (Wood et al., 2007), persistent time distortions after gaming could have detrimental effects on real-world performance and the safety of gamers and their surroundings. Although the study of time perception is a well-established research field, the partially inconsistent terminology across and within publications can lead to confusion. Following the specifications of researchers who have tried to standardize the terminology in time perception studies (Bindra & Waksberg, 1956; Block & Zakay, 1997; Zakay, 1990), a short introduction into the nomenclature of time perception is presented here in order to enhance the comprehension of the present experiment and the studies that are referred to in this article. In time perception studies with a prospective paradigm, the participant is forewarned about the upcoming task of temporal judgment. In studies with a retrospective paradigm, the subject experiences a time period and will only afterwards be informed about the need of giving an estimate of its duration. In addition to these study paradigms, there are three different methods for executing the judgment. In the method of verbal estimation, subjects are asked to verbally estimate the duration of a time interval (the standard) that they have experienced. The second method is called production, in which the experimenter instructs the subject to attempt the exact production of a given time interval (e.g. by a stop watch). In the method of reproduction, the experimenter demonstrates a standard (e.g. by sound) that the subject subsequently tries to reproduce. Inaccurate time judgments can be attributed to deviations of subjective time flow (i.e. the psychological time) from the objective time. A decreased subjective time flow is usually experienced as the feeling that time flies, while an increased subjective time flow is often experienced as a dragging of time. The outcome of such time distortions in time perception studies depends heavily on the applied method. In a verbal estimation task, a decreased subjective time flow will result in an underestimation of the standard time. Using a production task, however, a subject with decreased subjective time flow will produce larger time intervals than the standard. As with the method of production, a decreased subjective time flow during the reproduction of a standard time interval will cause an overreproduction. An increased subjective time flow will cause the opposite effects, meaning an overestimation or under(re)production of the standard, depending on the utilized method. Theoretical and empirical background of time perception Theories and studies on time distortion in relation to playing computer games are rare. Myers (1992) theorizes that subjective time during a game session becomes more drawn out when the player’s experience with the game increases. However, his model was derived from reflections on games of the early nineties and has not been tested on contemporary computer games. Another theoretical inquiry on time distortion with regard to video games is the transfer process model by Fritz (1997). He proposes ten types of schema
  • 3. transfers between the real and the virtual world, including the transfer process of time. According to his model, time schemata learned and applied in a game are transferred to post-game experiences. Both models are interesting approaches to explain the underlying processes of time perception whilst and after playing electronic games. However, empirical studies on time distortion among computer game players have rather drawn on models that were developed to explain the phenomenon of time perception in general (for reviews on such models, see Block, 1990; Block & Zakay, 1996). Since attentional processes play a key role in prospective time judgments (Block, 1992), as measured in the present study, one model focusing on attention in time perception shall now be illustrated in more detail. The attentional-gate model (Block & Zakay, 1996; Zakay & Block, 1996) combines the assumption of an internal clock with that of attentional processes in time perception. Briefly, pulses that are produced by a pacemaker of an internal clock are seen as the raw material of time information. These pulses accumulate in the clock’s cognitive counter and are transferred to working memory. There, time judgment is made by the comparison of the number of accumulated pulses with the average pulse number assembled in similar time periods of the past. In contrast to other internal-clock models, the number of accumulated pulses in the counter depends not only on the clock’s pulse rate, with high arousal increasing the pulse rate and low arousal decreasing it, but also on the transmissibility of the pulse stream into the counter. According to this model, a gate between pacemaker and counter determines the transmission of pulses between both. The gate in turn is influenced by the allocation of attentional resources between the processing of time and nontemporal stimuli. If a person assigns more attention to the passage of time, the gate opens and more pulses from the pacemaker accumulate in the counter, leading to longer duration judgments. Contrary, if an event demands more attention and resources shift from time processing to the more salient task, the gate closes and fewer pulses accumulate, causing a shortening of the subjective duration of a time interval. In addition to attentional processes, diverse situational variables can influence the perception of time. Angrilli, Cherubini, Pavese, and Manfredini (1997) have found interaction effects between affective states and arousal on time judgments, with underestimations of display times of attention-absorbing stimuli (here aversive low-arousal pictures) and overestimations of display durations of less captivating stimuli (pleasant low-arousal pictures). The reverse was found for highly arousing stimuli. Drugs can also alter the sense of time. As for the more common drugs, two prospective studies have showed reductions in duration estimates due to caffeine intake (Gruber & Block, 2003, 2005). Alcohol seems to have a similar effect on time perception as studies have found overproductions of time following alcohol consumption (Lapp, Collins, Zywiak, & Izzo, 1994; Tinklenberg, Roth, & Kopell, 1976). In summary, time perception proves to be a complex phenomenon sensitive to personal and situational variables, with the latter apparently exerting their influence by affecting a person’s arousal and/or attention. The following chapter reviews to what extent the use of electronic games as a situational factor can alter the sense of time. Time distortion among computer game players When examining the effects of computer and video games, most studies include the amount of time that participants play their games, in addition to the variables of main interest. Yet, there is little research on time perception itself
  • 4. during or after gaming. This paragraph gives an overview of the few quantitative and qualitative studies that have connected time perception and electronic games. So far, most experimental studies examining the effect of gaming on time perception have used a design in which subjects retrospectively judged the duration spent in the virtual world (see table 1). They yield mixed results and indicate an additional influence of subjects’ gender and game experience on time perception. With regard to the prospective design of the present study, prospective studies show some tendency towards an underestimation of time and an equivalent overreproduction. In addition to quantitative studies, qualitative studies help to reveal further aspects of time perception in computer gamers. For instance, all participants of a qualitative interview study reported that they lose track of time during a game, and many apply strategies for avoiding time loss, for example setting alarm clocks (Esser & Witting, 1997). An online survey among computer gamers revealed under what conditions subjective time loss occurs (Wood et al., 2007). Game characteristics most associated with time loss were high complexity and a game plot, followed by games providing multi-levels and missions, as did beating high scores and multiplayer interactions. Nearly half of the participants claimed that they experience time loss frequently, one third even every time they play. Their feelings towards time loss reached from relief of boredom and stress to guilt for wasting time. In summary, the question of how electronic games influence time perception of gamers cannot be settled conclusively. Although players frequently admit losing track of time whilst playing, experimental studies have shown mixed results. The low number of studies in combination with their differences in design, methods, and subjects necessitate further research efforts before a concluding answer to this question can be made. Table 1: Overview of experiments on time distortion using electronic games