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The Tetris Effect

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When the game shows up in your Real Life.

"One of the first formal studies of the phenomenon was at Harvard Medical School in the year 2000. Participants played the game for seven hours each, spread over the course of three days. Remarkably, 63% of the participants - almost two thirds - reported seeing imagery from the game hours after they finished playing."
Announcement trailer for Tetris Effect (2018)
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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.

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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 this phenomenon.

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This trope can drive one to insanity, especially when combined with the game music also being stuck in your head.

On an interesting note, TV Tropes can have this effect, as evidenced by this page.

Compare Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality.

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!.

Not to Be Confused with the official Tetris game titled Tetris Effect, though this trope is the reason for the name.


In-Universe Examples Only:

    open/close all folders 

    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.
  • An in-universe non-gaming example in Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid: Elma's OL Diary. Elma tries to erase Tohru by mashing delete on an imaginary keyboard after spending extra time at the office due to a deadline coming up.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • In Computer Chess, Shelley remarks that she has started seeing people as chess pieces during the tournament.

    LARP 
  • 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....

    Literature 
  • In Neil Gaiman's book Smoke And 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.
  • 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. Science Verse, written by the same author, has a boy suffer from a similar condition after his science teacher says that everything can be thought of as a science experiment.
  • This happens to Eragon in the first book of the Inheritance Cycle. As he learns to read, he starts to see letters in his head even when he closes his eyes.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Brooklyn Nine-Nine Captain Holt gets addicted to a Candy Crush-style game called Cwazy Cupcakes (the w is backwards), and acknowledges that he has a problem when he makes two men in a police lineup swap places so that three people with the same color shirt are standing next to each other.
    Gina: It's so addicting, right? I play so much that when I close my eyes at night, I just see cupcakes now, instead of my normal dizzying array of flashing lights.
  • One part of a Drake & Josh episode in which Josh had to spend several days without playing video games showed him imagining his teacher as the Distressed Damsel in a Save the Princess game.
  • 30 Rock: Liz complains that she's out of whack in "Winter Madness" because she'd been playing online Boggle all night.
    Liz: Okay, this is my stop. STOP. POTS. TOPS. OPTS. POST...
  • In one episode of Spaced, Tim ends up taking drugs and playing Resident Evil 2 for days. He starts seeing zombies everywhere and ends up punching out Vulva, mistaking him/her for a zombie attempting to attack Brian.
  • Arino spent a long time of the Act Raiser episode of Retro Game Master doing the city building segment.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed:
    • Assassin's Creed II has the idea behind the Animus' "bleeding effect"; Desmond relives Ezio learning his skills, and as such, knows them through memory and muscle memory alike. The bad news is that spending too long reliving your ancestors antics in the Animus can cause some major Sanity Slippage. Just ask Subject 16.
    • Due to his exposure to the Animus, Desmond in Assassin's Creed III views his sequences in Brazil and Italy with "counter" prompts and "awareness" indicators, both of which were not visible the last time he was in a battle in the present day in Assassin's Creed II. Also, if it is not a Translation Convention, the exposure also gives him enhanced language acquisition, as he is able to understand Portuguese enough for it to be translated in subtitles as he passes people by. Essentially, the exposure since finding his Synch Nexus has had added beneficial components, while lacking the Sanity Slippage.
  • Catherine: Inverted in-game with Rapunzel. The prequel novel reveals that Freddie McGoohan created the game to help men to break free from the nightmares, however Thomas Mutton turned it into the current version by inserting subliminal messages into it in order to draw people into them instead.
  • Subverted in Fallen London. After taking a commission to sketch encoded tattoos, your character starts seeing tattoo-code in everything from the false-stars to doilies, and the Lemony Narrator comments "You've been at this too long." And then you stumble across some real code symbols in back-alley graffiti.
  • In Five Nights at Freddy's, the protagonist starts hallucinating throughout the week, seeing suit faces and "IT'S ME" when he blinks or changing camera views. Golden Freddy is the sole exception, being real.

    Web Comics 
  • From Scott McCloud's My Obsession With Chess:
    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: Katie sets her ringtone to be the Metal Gear "enemy spotted" tone... and freaks herself out whenever the tone actually sounds.
  • 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.

    Web Original 
  • The Palmashow skit "Lionel's secret life" is about an out-of-work movie actor living like he's in an action movie, acting around his entourage like someone with PTSD-type paranoia would. Another actor, one who specializes in stage theater, does asides in real life and is upset when his wife reacts to them.

    Web Videos 
  • Mike of Outside Xbox exhibits this with regard to Peggle 2.
    Mike: This week, I've been playing a lot of Peggle 2. Too much Peggle 2. I'm having trouble distinguishing reality from Peggle 2.
    [Clip of Mike throwing scrunched-up paper at the bin, only for it to go into slow-motion and play Ode to Joy when he manages a hit]

    Western Animation 
  • The Doug episode "Doug's Lost Weekend" had Doug winning a Super Pretendo and becoming obsessed with beating a game called Space 'Munks. When Roger Klotz bothered him in class, he imagined his game's targeting system locking on.
  • The Simpsons had several in-universe examples.
    • When the family buys too much stuff at Rainier Wolfcastle's yard sale, and Homer goes through a Tetris sequence (complete with the 8-bit Korobeiniki theme lifted directly from the Game Boy version of the game) 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 Lenny's head into a jigsaw puzzle while trying to complete it, hallucinating he fits the spaces perfectly. Lenny ends up with several jigsaw pieces in his eye, as is usual for him.
  • During an interview at the end of an episode of Jackie Chan Adventures, Jackie muses that he started having Tetris nightmares after playing.
  • Happened in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Skill Crane." After being stuck playing (and losing) the Krusty Krab's new crane game all day, Squidward goes home to find that he's lost all his motor skills, dropping everything he tries to pick up while hearing the sound of the crane's claw closing down.
  • Used in a Robot Chicken sketch:
    Kid: (while using a hammer and nail) Where's the delete key on this thing?!
    Grandpa: (turns the hammer around to the claw side)
    Kid: Wow!
    Grandpa: I hate your entire generation.
  • South Park: In "South Park S17 E2 "Informative Murder Porn"," the kids are worried that watching "informative murder porn" will make their parents want to kill each other, so they put a blocker on the TV, with the unlock code being "How do you tame a horse in Minecraft?" Wanting to watch their shows, the adults end up getting hooked on Minecraft and start punching trees and making castles out of blocks of junk in real life.

    Real Life 
  • Children who worked long hours in factories in the Victorian Age were reported to be repeating their work (mostly simple hand movements) while they slept.
  • 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. It showed scientists that humans have a secondary type of memory. So Tetris actually helped advance science.
  • 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.
  • One Storycorps podcast episode tells the story of a former steelworker who, dying and drugged up on morphine, would sit on his back and make steel.
  • This is, of course, the main reason TV Tropes Will Ruin Your Life .

 
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Alternative Title(s): Tetris Effect

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Homer Plays Tetris

"All those years of playing Tetris have finally paid off."

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