Do You Suffer From the Tetris Effect?

You’re looking at the tiles in your bathroom, a building under construction, a brick wall, a patterned rug, or even a sweater. You can’t just glance away and ignore the pattern like you usually do. You find yourself picking out pieces and fitting them together in your mind. You might even see blocks falling when you close your eyes. It’s called the “Tetris Effect,” and it happens to people that play the game for an extended period of time. That doesn’t mean it only happens with ‘Tetris,’ though. I’ve gotten wrapped up in plenty of games in the past to the point of similar hallucinatory episodes, and I’m sure that I’m not the only one.

This was much more prevalent before I got out of school and started working for a living, and I’d assume it’s the same for most folks. When you’ve got a real job, you can’t just blow ten hours of your day on a game. In high school, that’s not only something that can be done, it’s something to aspire to. That’s right, kids out there in Bonus View land, stay glued to that Xbox.

The first time I noticed this outside of ‘Tetris’ was during an old space sim called ‘Wing Commander.’ It’s still one of my favorites to this day. Back when I was in the 5th or 6th grade, I played it like crazy. I played it so much, in fact, that when I closed my eyes at night, all I saw was the scrolling stars of deep space and the approaching Kilrathi horde.

That was just a warm up for the big one, though – the game that would absolutely consume me. No, it’s not ‘World of Warcraft’ or even ‘Everquest,’ but a lesser known game called ‘Daggerfall.’ It’s the second in the ‘Elder Scrolls’ series that spawned ‘Morrowind’ and ‘Oblivion.’ Despite some rather serious flaws, it was the perfect game for a 14-year-old Dick Ward.

I played ‘Daggerfall’ with the same appetite as the people who get absorbed into MMOs. I ate at the computer, played until I was too tired to stay awake, and even read about the game when I wasn’t able to play. I took a massive guide to school every day, just in case I had time to study up.

My character was impressive to say the least. His speed and strength were as high as possible, and his climbing and jumping skills were maxed. Traveling through a town was as simple as moving forward. Dreven, as he was called, would automatically scale the buildings in no time flat, and I could jump from roof to roof with more skill and style than Altair could dream of.

On one particularly grueling night involving a dungeon, a few Daedra and a really frustrating crash that made me lose an hour of play, I ended up with just two hours of sleep. I woke up, or was woken up, ate breakfast and slogged my way through school.

I began the walk home in a sort of a trance. For whatever reason, my brain decided that I was still playing ‘Daggerfall.’ I walked away from the school, up a hill and straight into the wall of the library. Face. Brick. Smack.

So, have you felt the wrath of the Tetris Effect? Got a story worth sharing? Hit up the comments below!


  1. JoeRo

    I’ve never experienced the Tetris Effect while waking, but I’ve dreamed of endless Doom corridors many times. I wasn’t even all that devoted to Doom, but there you have it.

    Wing Commander now, hell yes! I played the SNES version religiously. It was the first game that had, for me at least, truly addictive gameplay. Ah memories …

  2. EM

    Not only is the Tetris effect not restricted to Tetris, it’s not even restricted to games. Years ago I had a number-crunching job which occasionally required an all-nighter. One morning I got off work at 5am and tried to get a little sleep before having to report back at 8am. I had a dream that, so far as I can tell, had no sensory component whatsoever: in the dream, my mind kept going over various numbers, as though I were obtaining them from files, totaling them, and entering the totals. Talk about taking your work home with you—!!

  3. Zaserov

    I had this happen in a math lecture. I was tired, and pure math lectures aren’t exactly riveting even for engineers like me. For the week or so before, I’d been playing one of the old Final Fantasy games on an emulator. At some point during the lecture, I realized that the professor’s head had become pixelated. I stared at him for a while, and then it dawned on me that nothing he said made any sense*. Then I did that fun “jerk awake in an obvious way” thing. Good times.

    *In that class, not making sense was kind of par for the course (ha!), but this wasn’t even math.

  4. besch64

    Guitar Hero. When I took the SATs a few years ago, I noticed that the filled-in answer forms looked like Guitar Hero song charts.

    That’s not all. I know I’m not the only one who experiences this, but I almost always imagine the songs I listen to on my iPod or radio as a song in Guitar Hero. It’s like I see the notes in my head.

    I love Guitar Hero.

    • There’s potential for a movie there, I can see it now.

      Someone gets a hold of the SAT answer keys early and charts them as a song for Guitar Hero. Kids across the country play the song until they’ve got the answer key memorized.

      Okay, maybe not a good movie, but a movie nonetheless.

      • EM

        There are a lot of us who know the Preamble to the Constitution because of the “Schoolhouse Rock!” segment that turns it into lyrics; so, this scenario does have some basis in real life. 🙂

  5. ShawnT

    I get the tetris effect with just about any game i play for a long period of time. Right now i am playing Starcraft2 and after i play for a few hours, and go to bed. When i close my eyes, i see the game in my mind and i can sometimes even play it in my mind until i fall asleep. It happens with world of warcraft really bad aswell. drives me crazy sometimes!

  6. John

    I can honestly say I don’t ever remember this happening with a game. I’ve had my share of lucid dreams and I remember my dreams well. The closest thing to this I can recall is when I worked at the cannery. There were no days off. I remember being half awake in the middle of the night, thinking I was still packing fish. It was bizarre. Somehow my room had become the cannery. Only when I actually woke up did I realize that it had happened. I wasn’t conscious of it when it was happening. But everything in my room, somehow had morphed into a piece of equipment or a person at the cannery.

  7. John

    And btw, I loved daggerfall. Played it in the late 90’s and a little bit a few years after. Great game! The dungeons crawls were what got me into RPGs. The character customization was excellent. I also liked the random dungeons. The cities were a bit too generic, though. I do like that they were pre-generated, however. There were hundreds of them. I think a lot of RPGs use hand-made content too much. It limits the scope of the world. I think pre-generated content or content-on-the-fly has a huge potential if developers invested more time in it.

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