Jamais Vu vs. The Tetris Effect: What Makes Games Memorable?

Ace Attorney and the Tetris Effect

I like to think I have a pretty good memory. I can recite scenes from Final Fantasy VI verbatim, and I know all the words to “Shoop.” But when I replay games, I almost always encounter a scene I can’t recall. I’ll remember everything that came before it, and everything that follows, but that one moment will feel completely new to me.

There’s a term for this. It’s called jamais vu, and while it’s commonly associated with brain fatigue, you can experience it when you’re feeling perfectly alert. Sometimes there’s a logical explanation — like being distracted the first time you you viewed a scene — and sometimes it occurs for no reason at all. Your memories of that scene were simply buried in the depths of your brain.

On the flipside, there’s something called the Tetris effect. When you spend all your time focused on a single activity — like a game of Tetris — it can consume your thoughts and change the way you see the world. This can manifest in a number of ways. You might see Tetris-esque patterns in everyday objects, or instinctively want to respond to something with the push of a button.

It makes sense that the actions you perform over and over are the ones that stick in your brain. I haven’t played SoulCalibur II in years, but Talim’s move list is committed to my memory. I spent countless hours playing as her, and if I were to pick up a controller again, destroying my opponent would feel like second nature. If I were to play in story mode, however, I’m not sure I’d remember a thing.

Still, what makes something stick when the situations are more comparable? There are Ace Attorney cases I can recall every detail of, right down to the moment I should yell “Objection!”, and there are cases I’ve forgotten completely. Why can I remember every piece of evidence to present during one trial when I can’t even recall the culprit in another?

Memories are a tricky thing. I’m amazed by the things I’ve forgotten almost as frequently as I am amazed by the things I remember. I’m not sure why certain games are so forgettable, but it’s nice to have an excuse to play them again.

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