A headline about how playing video games can affect your ability to control dreams recently caught my eye, but I didn’t initially read the story because it sounded like some sort of junk science stirred up just to get attention. Well, I finally did give the article, in Live Science – a “trusted and provocative source for highly accessible science, health and technology news” – a read, and it sounds somewhat plausible.
Jayne Gackenbach, a psychologist at Grant MacEwan University in Canada, has been doing research into the similarities between the virtual worlds created in video games, and those that we inhabit in our dreams. There are some similarities, she says: “If you’re spending hours a day in a virtual reality, if nothing else it’s practice… Gamers are used to controlling their game environments, so that can translate into dreams.”
Gackenbach has published a couple of studies on the subject that found, as Live Science puts it:
People who frequently played video games were more likely to report lucid dreams, observer dreams where they viewed themselves from outside their bodies, and dream control that allowed people to actively influence or change their dream worlds – qualities suggestive of watching or controlling the action of a video-game character.
Dream control, of course, brings up two things in my mind: Freddy Krueger and this one-hit wonder from prog rock band Queensryche:
Gackenbach’s research is also interesting because of the fact that gamer/dreamers reported flipping between first and third person in their dreams, yet they never felt a sense of detachment from themselves when doing so. If you’ve ever played any Call of Duty game, you probably know exactly what they’re talking about.
There is, of course, also a military link. In her studies, Gackenbach found gamers were also able to tone down their nightmares, which are a major part of post-traumatic stress disorder. She is therefore currently looking for military personnel and veterans to take part in some new studies on how games can be used to help treat PTSD.
Again, I’m not sure how much hard science is involved here and whether any of Gackenbach’s research has been held up to peer review, but compared to some of the things DARPA is working on, this stuff is positively normal.
(Thanks Jeremy for the pointer!)