Can playing videogames train you as a lucid dreamer? Psychologist Jayne Gackenbach thinks so, according to work she presented at this week's Games for Health Conference in Boston. For several years, Gackenbach, a researcher at Grant MacEwan University, studied similarities in skills between gamers and individuals who have learned to control their dreams. She also looked at how videogame-play seemed to affect nightmares. From LiveScience (painting is Salvador Dali's "The Dream"):
"If you're spending hours a day in a virtual reality, if nothing else it's practice," said Gackenbach. "Gamers are used to controlling their game environments, so that can translate into dreams…."
Finding awareness and some level of control in gamer dreams was one thing. But Gackenbach also wondered if video games affected nightmares, based on the "threat simulation" theory proposed by Finnish psychologist Antti Revonsuo.
Revonsuo suggested that dreams might mimic threatening situations from real life, except in the safe environment of dream world. Such nightmares would help organisms hone their avoidance skills in a protective environment, and ideally prepare organisms for a real-life situation.
To test that theory, Gackenbach conducted a 2008 study with 35 males and 63 females, and used independent assessments that coded threat levels in after-dream reports. She found that gamers experienced less or even reversed threat simulation (in which the dreamer became the threatening presence), with fewer aggression dreams overall.
In other words, a scary nightmare scenario turned into something "fun" for a gamer.
"What happens with gamers is that something inexplicable happens," Gackenbach explained. "They don't run away, they turn and fight back. They're more aggressive than the norms."