Tetris Effect

Game Boy

The Tetris effect occurs when people devote sufficient time and attention to an activity that it begins to overshadow their thoughts, mental images, and dreams. People who play the video game Tetris for a prolonged amount of time may then find themselves thinking about ways different shapes in the real world can fit together, such as the boxes on a supermarket shelf or the buildings on a street. In this sense, the Tetris effect is a form of habit. They might also dream about falling Tetris shapes when drifting off to sleep or see images of falling Tetris shapes at the edges of their visual fields or when they close their eyes. In this sense, the Tetris effect is a form of hallucination or hypnagogic imagery.

The Tetris effect can occur with other video games, with any prolonged visual task (such as classifying cells on microscope slides, weeding, picking or sorting fruit, flipping burgers, driving long distances, or playing board games such as chess or go), and in other sensory modalities. For example, there is the tendency for a catchy tune to play out unbidden in one’s mind (an earworm). In kinesthesis, a person newly on land after spending long periods at sea may move with an unbidden rocking motion, having become accustomed to the ship making such movements (known as sea legs or mal de debarquement). Computer programmers and developers sometimes have similar experiences, and report dreaming about code when they sleep at night.

It has been proposed that Tetris imagery is a separate form of memory, likely related to procedural memory. People with anterograde amnesia, unable to form new declarative memories, reported dreaming of falling shapes after playing Tetris during the day, despite not being able to remember playing the game at all. Tetris-like video games may help prevent the development of traumatic memories. If the video game treatment is played soon after the traumatic event, the preoccupation with Tetris shapes is enough to prevent the mental recitation of traumatic images, thereby decreasing the accuracy, intensity, and frequency of traumatic reminders. It interferes with the way sensory memories are laid down in the period after trauma and thus reduces the number of flashbacks that are experienced afterwards.

The effet Tetris (French: Tetris effect) is a similarly named, but quite different phenomenon found in evolutionary AI systems related to the concept of bounded rationality. In the game of Tetris the player has two demands on their attention: the choice of an optimal placement for the new piece and the ability to maneuver that piece in the time allotted. The effet Tetris then, is the effect whereby a hasty, but imprecise course of action is better than calculating an optimal move where such a calculation would not be completed in time; in short, evolutionary systems often find local rather than global optima.

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