You probably think I’ll be talking about how little Georgie is always stepping on your keyboard or walking in front of the monitor when you’re trying to play. But it turns out there is a much more serious reason why your cat might be biologically degenerating your gameplaying abilities.

There is a type of bacteria called Toxoplasma gondii that is specifically hosted by cats, but the parasite can infect nearly any warm-blooded animal. Studies show that possibly more than 30% of the world human population is infected with T. gondii, though infection rates vary greatly by country. When a human contracts T. gondii there are almost no noticeable symptoms present, though researchers have found a correlation between those infected with the bacteria and those with significantly lower reaction times.

T. gondii tissue cyst in a mouse brain

T. gondii tissue cyst in a mouse brain

Observational studies have shown that infected people are significantly more at risk for car accidents. Other differences found among those carrying T. gondii include their personality traits, such as lower “rule consciousness” (nonconforming, disregards rules, self-indulgent) and higher “vigilance” (suspicious, skeptical,  oppositional) in men. And recently T. gondii has been associated with a number of neurological disorders, particularly schizophrenia.

Dividing T. gondii parasites

Dividing T. gondii parasites

But a correlation does not always indicate causation. Perhaps instead of the bacteria causing these changes, people with these traits are just more likely to become infected. To be more clear: maybe cat people are just slow, dopey wingnuts to begin with. Make sense now? But before you go on deciding that’s the case, know that a study showed that mice that were purposefully infected with the bacterial strain showed greatly decreased reaction times as well as less concern for their safety around cats. Some have suggested this could be an evolutionarily-introduced effect where the bacteria help the cat catch more prey, and therefore the host lives on to support the parasite.

But if you think you’re good to go because you’re a dog guy, sorry to tell you that you aren’t safe yet. Other common ways to become infected by Toxoplasma gondii include eating unwashed produce or under-cooked meat, as well as from dirt and soil that has come into contact with cat feces.

All this leaves a lot of “maybes” and “ifs” on the table, but it’s something to think about as a gamer, especially if you are a competitor or are training to become one. Reaction time is a key skill in most games, and any decrease in reaction could mean significant drops in performance, especially in fighting games or first person shooters. But at least now you can blame Fluffy when you get your ass kicked in Smash Bros.

Sources:

Decrease of psychomotor performance in subjects with latent ‘asymptomatic’ toxoplasmosis | journals.cabridge.org

Increased risk of traffic accidents in subjects with latent toxoplasmosis: a retrospective case-control study | ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Parasite makes mice lose fear of cats permanently | nature.com

Effects of Toxoplasma on Human Behavior | ncbi.nlm.nih.gov