Is there anything video games can’t fix?
Post-traumatic stress disorder sucks.
In the United States, we don’t do nearly enough to help our soldiers returning from overseas deal with the issue, even though as many as 11 percent of Afghan War veterans may be suffering from it.
According to Vice, the US handles PTSD the same way a Beverly Hills “housewife” handles unruly kids: we throw pills at the problem until we can pretend it doesn’t exist. Thankfully, there are researchers out there looking for a cure. According to a new study published this week in the journal Psychological Science, that help may lie in video games.
We’ve already seen experiments show video games can help doctors performance in surgery and can help non-doctors learn more quickly. Now this new study finds games, specifically Tetris, can benefit people who suffer from unwanted, intrusive visual memories.
The authors set out to test the following hypothesis:
“We predicted that reconsolidation of a reactivated visual memory of experimental trauma could be disrupted by engaging in a visuospatial task that would compete for visual working memory resources.”
If that sounds familiar it should. Back in 2010, a group of doctors set out with a similar hypothesis and showed that playing Tetris reduced the number of flashbacks participants had of a disturbing film they watched before, versus playing a word-based quiz game and doing nothing at all. The difference between that study and this new one is time; whereas participants in the first study played Tetris right after watching the disturbing video, this new study allowed the images of the film to sink in for 24 hours before testing the “Tetris effect.”
The results of this new experiment showed “intrusive memories were virtually abolished by playing the computer game Tetris following a memory-reactivation task 24 hr after initial exposure to experimental trauma.”
The study consisted of two different experiments. Experiment one featured two groups, both of whom viewed a film full of shit meant to disturb them. 24 hours later, both groups returned for the second half of the experiment.
Group A would have to look at stills from the film meant to reignite their memories of it, followed by a filler task and then 12 minutes of Tetris. Group B neither looked at the stills nor played Tetris, instead only completing the filler task and sitting quietly afterwards for 12 minutes.
After the experiment, both groups were asked to keep a journal of any instances of “intrusive memory reactivation” and after a week, the participants in group A said they experienced less instances than those in group B.
The second experiment attempted to replicate the results of the first experiment with four different groups of people. Two groups would go through exactly what group A went through from the first experiment while the other two groups would be put through an altered version of the procedure. The results found that only people who went through the exact same procedure as group A experienced fewer episodes of intrusive memories over the next week. So what does this all mean?
According to study co-author Ella James, the “findings suggest that, although people may wish to forget traumatic memories, they may benefit from bringing them back to mind, at least under certain conditions — those which render them less intrusive.”
Two experiments, two similar hypotheses, two similar results, two steps towards a scientific consensus that Tetris is awesome. Side effects of Tetris may include hand cramps, throwing your Game Boy across the room, and getting the theme song stuck in your head for the next month.