According to research presented at the British Psychology Society Annual Conference, Tetris, that beloved falling-block puzzle game, may be a candidate for treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Now, that’s not to suggest video games are the cure for PTSD, only that they may be a valuable alternative treatment for the disorder’s symptoms due to their easy accessibility and relatively low cost.
To test this idea, researchers from Oxford University showed subjects a disturbing film (not the best analogue for real trauma but it’s nice to hear they didn’t run over the participant's dogs or something) then within six hours of viewing, randomly assigned them one of three tasks: answering trivia questions, playing Tetris, and doing nothing.
Over the following week, subjects who played Tetris reported suffering significantly fewer flashbacks to the film than the others did. Lead researcher Emily Holmes, hypothesized that "the visual-spatial demands of Tetris disrupt the formation of the mental imagery involved in flashbacks." Interestingly, those who answered trivia questions had the most flashbacks and researchers aren’t sure why.
Holmes admits that proposing video game play as a treatment to such a serious disorder may seem trivializing but reminds us that the very idea of washing one’s hands was at one point in history seen as absurd. Today, we understand why doing so is such a good idea.
"Hand washing was once laughed at, too," she said during her presentation, referring to common habits that existed pre-germ theory. Since doctors started washing their hands before surgery and, more generally, since people have started washing their hands after using the toilet, stopping the spread of pathogens, countless lives have been saved worldwide.
Holmes says we won’t see Tetris thrust into the hands of soldiers post-battle until after clinical trials are done but if you’ve seen something traumatic today, perhaps a video of me shirtless, it couldn’t hurt to give it a try.
-Reporting from San Diego, GamePolitics Contributing Editor Andrew Eisen