Playing video games before bedtime may give people an unusual level of awareness and control in their dreams, LiveScience has learned.That ability to shape the alternate reality of dream worlds might not match mind-bending Hollywood films such as "The Matrix," but it could provide an edge when fighting nightmares or even mental trauma.
Dreams and video games both represent alternate realities, according to Jayne Gackenbach, a psychologist at Grant MacEwan University in Canada. But she pointed out that dreams arise biologically from the human mind, while video games are technologically driven by computers and gaming consoles.
That encouraged Gackenbach to survey the dreams of both non-gamers and hardcore gamers, beginning with two studies published in 2006. She had prepared by conducting larger surveys in-class and online to get a sense of where to focus questions.
The first study suggested that 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.
A second study tried to narrow down the uncertainties by examining dreams that participants experienced from the night before, and focused more on gamers. It found that lucid dreams were common, but that the gamers never had dream control over anything beyond their dream selves.
Gackenbach eventually replicated her findings about lucid dreaming and video games several times with college students as subjects, and refined her methods by controlling for factors such as frequency of recalling 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.