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Plugged In

Here’s why you lose track of time while playing games

Plugged In

It's a scenario most gamers are familiar with: You sit down on the couch, vowing that you're only going to play for 30 minutes or so. What seems to be a few minutes later, you look up to check the clock and literally hours have gone by.

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Did you accidentally discover time travel? Perhaps you had a narcoleptic incident? Nope. Instead, it appears that your brain has just been screwing with you.

Researchers in the Czech Republic measured both the time perspective and average play times of 154 MMO fans in that country. What they found was that games were like any form of escapism, entertaining enough to distract you from the stresses of everyday life. And as a result, time tends to fly by without you being aware.

It comes down to a theory called time perspective, which posits the brain has five 'temporal frames' on which it focuses: Past pleasant experiences, past negative experiences, present hedonistic stimulation (found in activities like gambling and drug use), present fatalistic stimulation (where you're frustrated, aggressive or upset) and anticipated future events.

Researchers found that time perspective is connected to how frequently someone plays video games. Games are fun experiences overall, but they're built on frustrating and aggressive moments (puzzle solving, multiple deaths, epic battles, etc.), so they result in higher levels of the present fatalistic perspective and lower levels of future perspective.

The result? Time slips away from you.

"We could hypothesize that people who spend significant time playing develop the present fatalistic orientation," reads the report. "However, it is more likely that people who already are present fatalistic play more, because playing helps to decrease their negative feelings."

While it's based on a small sampling and is thus  inconclusive, the report could also ding theories about video game addiction, since it suggests gaming is not like gambling, where people get a temporary 'high' from it. Instead, they appear to play in order to combat existing negative feelings.

Ideally, those feelings don't spring from constantly being late, though.

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