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Preventing Nightmares with Video Games

Posted on Tuesday, March 1 @ 06:15:17 PST by

Since nightmares are an effect of post-traumatic stress order, researcher Jayne Gackenbach and her colleagues wanted to test their hypothesis that video games as a simulator of experiences would provide a way to treat and prevent nightmares. Video games allow players to rehearse threatening situations, which might bleed into being able to dream lucidly and positively change the outcome of a nightmare. Farfetched? Not as much as it would seem.

Jayne claims that video games as nightmare therapy is valid. The implications between video games and dreams are almost obvious. Complete immersion in a video game can feel like experiencing an intense lucid dream, and video gamers who play a high volume of games tend to report a higher number of lucid dreams and dreams overall.

So to test her theory, she surveyed a group of gamers who have a greater chance of nightmares: deployed soldiers in the military. Paying attention to controls in the data, she separated high-end gamers from low-end gamers, with high-end gamers playing more hardcore, more aggressive games and many more games than their low-end gamer counterparts.

What she found was that for high-end gamers, the difference between the threatening nature of their dreams and that of their video game play was small. Low-end gamers, on the other hand, had much more intense nightmares, frequently reporting that their nightmares involved them being in a war scenario where they are stuck in one place, running slowly, or just can't get their rifle to shoot - they were not able to participate fully in a reaction against a potential threat.

That is partly the reason, according to one letter sent to Jayne by a soldier in the field, that video games became a preferred pastime, even by those who never played games at the beginning of their deployment. (Playing games didn't make them shoot better, but it did help them identify threats and pinpoint snipers.)

Thus, it seems that while video games may be the cause of some nightmares, there is evidence that video games generally lessen their severity. Especially in a constant high-stress, high-threat environment like a military camp, video games not only provide an escape, but also a way to cope with intense situations, awake or asleep. Video games have the potential to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder, and that alone is worth the continued research not just for soldiers, but for every person who suffers from nightmares.
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