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Video Gamers Have Power Over Their Dreams 308

Ponca City, We love you writes "Live Science reports that researchers say playing video games before bedtime may give gamers an unusual level of awareness and control in their dreams, which could provide an edge when fighting nightmares or even mental trauma. 'If you're spending hours a day in a virtual reality, if nothing else it's practice,' says Jayne Gackenbach, a psychologist at Grant MacEwan University in Canada, who says that hardcore gamers represent the leading edge of immersion in virtual worlds that increasingly has come to define a large part of contemporary entertainment and communication. 'Gamers are used to controlling their game environments, so that can translate into dreams.' One intriguing theory holds that dreams are a sort of threat simulation where nightmares help organisms hone their skills in a protective environment, and ideally prepare organisms for a real-life situation. To test that theory, Gackenbach conducted a study using independent assessments that coded threat levels in after-dream reports and 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."
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Video Gamers Have Power Over Their Dreams

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  • Emergency *drill* (Score:3, Interesting)

    by anti-NAT ( 709310 ) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @05:53PM (#32353912) Homepage

    Not all that surprising really. We rehearse coping with dangerous situations all the time (including public speaking ;-) ), so that when they actually happen we'll be better prepared to handle them.


  • by Rooked_One ( 591287 ) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @05:54PM (#32353916) Journal
    I learned to fly... it makes nightmares non-existent as I know i'm sleeping, and just "neo" away from whatever is bothering me... Pretty fun stuff - this will sound utterly retarded, but I once flew so fast and so far that I broke through space and met two odd green creatures who were looking down at the universe within a globe. I don't remember our conversation. Doh.

    But the key is to become aware that you are dreaming, and that you *can* do anything... It eliminates nightmares.
  • Not in my experience (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MrEricSir ( 398214 ) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @05:54PM (#32353920) Homepage

    Usually I just end up dreaming about whatever game I was playing. That's hardly "control."

  • Re:Pfft. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @05:54PM (#32353932) Journal

    Other than testing the number of respawns.

    Well, you can always scream for tech support. (wait, wrong movie...)

  • by rwa2 ( 4391 ) * on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @05:55PM (#32353940) Homepage Journal

    OK, so this is going to be very corny in a karate kid / Bruce Lee "Enter the Dragon" sort of way, but my nightmares of running away from aggressors while my legs turned to molasses got much better after a few years of studying martial arts. They'd still catch up with me, but then I'd have some things to give to them in return and I'd wake up feeling good rather than miserable.

    I probably don't play the right video games, but the dreams induced by L4D are mostly tedious rather than scary. Except when I spawn as the infected. Then I'm absolutely terrified.

  • by N0Man74 ( 1620447 ) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @05:58PM (#32353960)

    I admit that gaming and gaming themes have many times infiltrated my dreams. I remember a couple years ago I had an odd dream where there were zombies or something in them, and in the dream I was able to fight them off using powers similar to those of Paladins in games.

    However, was I better prepared to handle this strange dream because of the influence of gaming, or did I dream about zombies in the first place because of games and horror films?

    Secondly, if dreams are like scenarios that our brain plays out to practice dealing with threats, does that mean that those who immerse themselves in worlds of fantasy in science fiction entertainment (either in the form of television, movies, or games) to the point that they seep into their dreams end up training their brain to practice running through scenarios that are in reality a waste of the brain's time to consider?

    Well... a waste up until the zombie apocalypse actually occurs, of course.

  • Yup. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RyanFenton ( 230700 ) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @06:08PM (#32354092)

    Been a lucid dreamer [] ever since I started playing video games, around 20 years. It changes the nature of nightmares - when dreams are a story you're telling yourself, there's a certain point where you can just go "OK this is too far, it's my turn." The nature of nightmares then becomes indefinite fears, overcoming anxious situations gracefully (or not), and fear of the consequence of one's own actions, as these are fears one cannot just turn the tables on, even if one knows they are fake.

    I find this alteration of nightmares is actually much better than the usual boogeyman/hunted dreams in adapting one for modern life. Facing anxiety is a much more important limitation than just getting hurt or hiding from a malicious force - desensitizing yourself to indefinite fears is much more adaptive than desensitizing yourself to monsters or gore.

    Also, the expectation of 'fun' from exploration of the unknown is a much better expectation for modern things than it used to be. It really opens up one to learn more than a fear-based experience would be. It's part of why I love to see games being developed - the expansion of people's expectations, the expansion of experience in more people's minds. Books have offered a lot of that - but the exploration has always been new ideas exposed, as opposed to the true sense of open discovery.

    Games aren't all good, of course, but I think this is a widely ignored benefit to the mindset that games allow to exist.

    Ryan Fenton

  • Re:Lucid dreaming? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Monkeedude1212 ( 1560403 ) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @06:18PM (#32354234) Journal

    Lucid dreaming is where you know its a dream, but in the case of the article, you still control yourself in the dream state without realizing its a dream till you wake up.

    I remember reading a paper about this like last year, that said gamers are more likely to be lucid dreamers and I found it to be true, in my case. I played a LOT of video games during my teens, I'd say at least 5 hours a day, averaging about 40 hours a week. Once you get -REALLY- immersed in a game that you can turn off and shut down, it becomes easier to be a lucid dreamer. I haven't had it as much lately, since I stopped playing when I got job, but every month I get at least 2 or 3 fully lucid dreams, and in 99% of cases I can remember my dreams.

    Let me describe how it usually goes down for me. You fall asleep. You either wake up in your room, or doing some trivial task you usually do, like laundry. Something slightly odd will happen, and happen either quicker than usual or slower than usual, like a spider scuttling across the floor, or someone walking into the room. This is the first signal, you don't have any real thoughts before this, but now you start remembering everything that happens very clearly. When it comes to a point where you are compelling to do something, perhaps your mother asks you to go to the store, and you leave, something VERY odd will happen. This will trigger the thought process of "This can't be right".

    Now this can happen normally in any dream, and often times it does to me. Sometimes this will cause me to wake up, other times I will just have to continue with whats happening trying to figure it out. But the lucid part comes when you go "This can't be right, it must be a dream". Once you realize its a dream, a whole lot of doors open up. You feel like you have conscious thought to do whatever you want. I have trained myself that when I see that first signal, I will go and try something to see if I can trigger the "this isn't right" thought. For me, this involves walking some place, and if it takes 5 seconds to walk down the entire block, I know thats not right. If I flick the light switch numerous times but it doesn't flash properly, I know thats not right. Those kinds of things work for me, they get my mind to realize its a dream.

    Now, once you get that power to do whatever you want in your dreams, the next step comes in FULL CONTROL of your dreams, which is very difficult to achieve. I have only ever had maybe 2 dozen fully controlled dreams, but I remember each one of them as though it happened yesterday. This is where its not that you have control of your actions, but you also have control of your surroundings. Times I would think "This is a dream, so why don't I just fly?" And I'd be able to fly. Times I'd be "There is a monster, this is clearly a nightmare. Well if I'm dreaming, give me a weapon", and turn a nightmare into a great experience.

    Being a nerd, you can imagine where some of the fantasies led. The sad thing is, its the best I've ever had. I have had some very enjoyable endeavours in the real world, but nothing really relates to the pleasure of being able to do what you want to when you want to, without limitation or inhibition. You can do the things you'd be embarassed about without reconsideration. One day I had the thought of "I have already manifested anything I could ever want. What is to stop myself from manifesting the things I would hate or fear the most?" I was able to see deeper into my fears than ever before. Some things I discovered shocked me so much I didn't want to sleep anymore. Luckily that subsided.

    If you want to learn to do this, its not as difficult as it might seem. Video games have been shown to help, or at least statistically. The other thing is a dream journal. Keep a journal by your bed. Every day when you wake up, and you remember a dream, write something down, jot it quickly if you're in a rush. But put it down before you forget. Then when you come home from work and you re-read it, you'll get a flurry of memories.

    One thing I've n

  • E.G. Last Night (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Riddler Sensei ( 979333 ) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @06:19PM (#32354242)

    I had something very much like this happen to me last night. Before going to sleep I had been playing World of Goo as well a dose of the latest Pokemon game (MANCHILD ALERT). I remember my dream last night had something to do with me blowing out the tires on my new car and basically making a wreck of the whole machine. What I ALSO remember is explicitly telling myself, mid-dream, that "Oh well, at least it's just a dream. But it sucks that I have to deal with this wreck until I wake up."

    Direct causation? Not even close. But still it's an interesting idea that control over our "synthetic" virtual worlds might also translate, to a certain degree, over to our more "natural" virtual worlds.

  • Re:Pfft. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by N0Man74 ( 1620447 ) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @06:21PM (#32354262)

    I've had dreams where I wasn't sure. However, if it happens to occur to you while in a dream, there are actually certain exercises that one can do within a dream to attempt to test if you are in a dream or not.

    Usually light switches don't really work in dreams. It's hard to read in dreams, letters tend to change or look non-nonsensical; reading something and then looking away for a moment and then rereading it will usually result in the words changing completely. Looking at clocks or watches tends to be much like trying to read. Often music and songs that you hear will change from the normal version.

    There are many weird quirks in dreams that really give them away, if one has the presence of mind to actually check them, however thinking to check is the tricky part.

  • Makes you wonder... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by MotherErich ( 535455 ) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @06:31PM (#32354404) Homepage
    While video games are good at allowing people fight off nightmares, is there any correlation between playing video games just before bed and having nightmares? Also, makes you wonder, how does this state of awareness in the dream world affect your actual sleep. I would think it would make REM and a good night's rest more difficult to achieve. But of course that's just a thought.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @07:13PM (#32354858)

    You joke, but I can't tell you how many times dreaming of coding happened to me when I was a CS major in college. I couldn't get my brain to stop trying to solve coding problems when I slept. I would literally wakeup and go code what I had just dreamed before I forgot the solution.

    This was the leading reason I changed majors out of CS. I couldn't handle having my mind do work 24/7 even while sleeping. I knew if I stayed a CS major, then I'd eventually find myself programming and in this vicious cycle devoid of any actual rest.

  • Re:Lucid dreaming? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tacvek ( 948259 ) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @07:14PM (#32354872) Journal

    Lucid dreams though are fundamentally conscious dreams. All dreams involve some level of consciousness, or they would not register at all. Many though have very little consciousness. You are not in the dream making it more like a movie, or you are there but you are not really in control. Dreams go through a whole spectrum though through to basically full consciousness, where you are basically fully alert, you are able to think things through, etc. Any dream where you stopped and though things through would be one with a relatively high level of consciousness.

    Now of course I am abusing the term consciousness here, because consciousness implies awareness of surroundings and awareness of self (at least to the maximum level self-awareness occurs in the species in question). In such a state, you are aware of yourself mentally, just like in real life, but as far as physical self-awareness you are only aware of your simulated self, and the same holds true for awareness of surroundings.

    Technically such a state could be called "lucid dreaming", but you are correct that generally that term is used for dreams that have both lucidity [1] and awareness of being dreaming.

    As for gamers though, while I will not dispute the end effect of having more conscious or even lucid dreams, I will dispute the explanation. Gamers don't have more control over the environment. Games often give the player relatively little control over the environment, and have only relatively course grained control over the character compared to the real world. You are not likely to be able to use your empty gun as a melee weapon, or perform many other improvised actions, such as ducking into a locker to hide from an assailant, or hundreds of other things that one might have a reason to try but the programmers never thought about, or decided was not worth implementing.

    [1] Here I am using the original definition of lucidity meaning able to think clearly.

  • Re:Pfft. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by beakerMeep ( 716990 ) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @07:20PM (#32354956)
    From what I have heard, part of learning how to lucid dream is to train yourself to check those things while you're awake. Such as testing a light switch. It may look silly, but if it becomes habit, then you can hopefully (theoretically) do it out of habit when you're dreaming, and thus realize you are dreaming. I havent tried this myself though.
  • Re:Pfft. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @07:54PM (#32355362)
    I was a bed wetter (well, we all were, it was just a question of when we stopped). I would dream I was peeing, then the bed would be wet. I eventually got over it by learning to control my dreams and waking myself up (or changing my dreams and such) whenever I wanted. The problem was that I haven't slept the same since. Sometimes I'd trade being a bed wetter for the coma-like sleep I had before. Before that, I slept through anything, including falling out of bed (even falling out of bed from the top bunk) and thunderstorms that would set of car alarms. Now I can't.
  • Re:Yup. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ACS Solver ( 1068112 ) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @08:07PM (#32355512)

    I've had lucid dreams even before reading about the concept. I didn't realize initially that it's a phenomenon unknown too many people, I really thought it's common. Anecdotally, yes, I'd agree that I tend to experience more lucid dreams in periods when I'm playing some first-person games.

    Something I want to ask though is, are nightmares that common in most people? I see lucid dreaming being mentioned as "nightmare relief" and whatnot. That stuff is rare for me. I have a "bad dream" - which is when I have a vague unpleasant feeling after waking up - maybe once a month. I have actual nightmares, where I'm aware of being in danger, being chased or whatever, only once in a few months on average. Even those don't really cause me sleep problems, if a nightmare awakens me, I just keep myself awake for a minute while reality settles in and go back to sleep easily. I think I've only had one nightmare where I actually had trouble falling asleep later.

    I really like having dreams becaue most of my detailed dreams are sort of like interesting stories. Something cool happens, I do or experience interesting things in those dreams. So it's a positive experience. I also rarely have non-real (more precisely, dream-only) people feature prominently in my dreams. The dreams include people I actually know, sometimes rather surprisingly, like a person that I hadn't seen for years, but mostly it's people that I'm close to and/or interact a lot with. Fictional characters from some of my favorite fiction do make appearances, but these are still people I "know" a lot about, even if they're fictional.

    It's also fascinating to read about common recurring dream themes / elements and see which ones apply to you. For instance, flying is common in dreams and the effect of "slow-mo running" is common for bad dreams - those I've had. Wikipedia says anxiety is the most common emotion in dreams, with negative emotions generally being more prevalent - that definitely doesn't apply to me.

    Also, does anyone else experience an "active character switch" during dreams? Happens often with fictional characters in dreams. Goes like this - one moment there's another character in the dream, and there's me. The other character is doing something, I watch him, perhaps interact with him through conversation or otherwise. And then at some point suddenly I become that character and start seeing things from his point of view. When that happens, I am simultaneously aware of having that character's identity and of having my own identity. This feeling that I am someone else - while still being myself - is one of the weirdest, but in a way most fun, dream experiences for me.

    Fascinating topic overall, those dreams.

  • Holy Shit! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by twidarkling ( 1537077 ) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @08:25PM (#32355752)

    I participated in that study! I volunteered for an interview/question period. I was even co-interviewed with Jane by a reporter. That was about... must have been about 3 years ago, since it was after my first year at MacEwan, but before my placement. It's kind of mindblowing to me that she's now publishing results and moving to a new level with the study.

  • by Pezbian ( 1641885 ) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @09:03PM (#32356204)

    While I have been a lucid dreamer since age four, I never expected the depth I got out of it during my teen years.

    I had a girl named Katie living inside my dreams. Generic cute-girl name aside, she was certainly unique, being rather unlike myself. My waking life was for working on my craft while my dream life was for play. And oh hell did we ever play.

    The surprising thing was how authentic the simulation turned out to be.

    Time dilation is a wonderful thing when you can make a half-hour REM cycle seem like a whole day, especially when able to manage more than one such event per waking life night. Go to sleep in a dream with Katie by my side, tag an NREM cycle and wake up in the next dream.

    When I started gaming, we'd even fight in a DOOM type environment together. That was pure fun.

    I look at it as a way I kept myself from succumbing to the same thing that nabbed a bunch of my peers who traded their dreams (in the ambition sense) for small desires, knocking girls up in the process and royally nuking their lives.

    It also explains why I didn't lose my cherry until I was near 23.

    Whether this "Katie" has any significance or not, that mind trick kept me from going mad during a really weird time in my life.

    If she's the one waiting for me on the other side after this life, the real fun has yet to begin and it's entirely worth waiting for.

  • Re:Pfft. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dumuzi ( 1497471 ) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @09:17PM (#32356346) Journal
    In my lucid dreams I can't feel water in my mouth while drinking. Now I have a drink every time I get out of bed, if I don't feel the water in my mouth I know I am dreaming and I can take over my dream from there. Unfortunately, so far, I don't seem to be able to allow myself to break the laws of physics in my dreams, I can't fly or any other cool superhuman stuff that I want to do in my dreams. They tend to be terribly life like (boring). I also have difficulty breaking my own moral compass in my dreams, when I get close to doing so I wake up, this can be a particularly frustrating limitation.
  • Re:Pfft. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Roogna ( 9643 ) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @09:28PM (#32356486)

    I had a similar issue when I was a child. A recurring nightmare though instead of wetting the bed. I'd know I was dreaming, but I wouldn't be able to wake up. I finally taught myself to instead change the dream however I liked, and in the process that taught me how to wake up. Since then though I've had the same trouble, insomnia and when I do get to sleep invariably the slightest thing will wake me up. There's been more than once I've thought I'd rather just have the stupid dream again, LOL

  • Re:Pfft. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ITFishGuy ( 1820302 ) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @10:34PM (#32357132)
    Actually, I think it's funny someone did research on this. I was doing this before video games were around. There was this movie either in the 70's or 80's where a kid was being haunted by a real guy in an experiment with dreams. By the end of the movie the kid ends up turning the tables on the aggressor, who in the dreams was a "snakeman" that obviously scared the $#!@ out of the kid. Anyway, after that movie some time down the road in my life I started doing sort of the same thing. Falling in a dream and realizing that it was a dream and deciding to stop. Once that happened I was able to turn things into what I wanted. Long story short, it can happen. If you can do it it's great and can be compared to when Neo simply stopped running and said no. Just a matter and realizing you are in a dream and thinking of how you want things to be.
  • Re:Lucid dreaming? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BikeHelmet ( 1437881 ) on Wednesday May 26, 2010 @11:58PM (#32357734) Journal

    Lucid dreaming is where you know its a dream, but in the case of the article, you still control yourself in the dream state without realizing its a dream till you wake up.

    There's another kind?

    3 hours of videogames before bed every night for 70% of my life must've altered my mind!

    But the lucid part comes when you go "This can't be right, it must be a dream". Once you realize its a dream, a whole lot of doors open up.

    None of my dreams have that level of realism. I can feel that I'm dreaming, right from the start. I've had some pretty strange dreams, including one where the doorbell rings, I get up, and get some computer parts delivered - but even then I was aware it was a dream.

    I have only ever had maybe 2 dozen fully controlled dreams

    Almost all of mine are like that. I have complete control over what I do and can do.

    I remember when I was really young, I had a sick dream/nightmare, where I was in a jeep (third person perspective - weird) and a dinosaur was chasing us (?) trying to eat us. I had the exact same dream for several years, every time I had a really bad illness. This was before mainstream 3D games, so I doubt they had an impact. Then after I got heavily into videogames, I had that dream one final time. Rather than running from the dinosaur, I did a jedi leap towards it(kotor?), grabbed one of its arms, and tossed it over the horizon. (super mario 64?)

    Haven't had it since.

    Every once and a while I get an instructional dream. For example, I wanted to draw a 2D sprite for a game, but I have no artistic talent. I dreamed about drawing the exact pixel art I needed in a paint program, and was able to draw it for real when I awoke. There was also the CPU heatsink Purolator-delivery dream, in which I applied thermal paste for the first time. Handy.

    My current theory is I must be communicating with my dormant artistic side and/or subconscious. I've got a few other observations supporting my theory, but I won't bore you with the details unless you're interested, as my post is already getting quite long.

  • Re:Pfft. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bronney ( 638318 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @12:10AM (#32357800) Homepage

    After dreaming for 30 odd years, there're a few things that works every time:

    1. light switch. I am those anal freak and hate having a light on when the room is not in use. So even when I am awake I switch lights a lot. I flip switches when I am dreaming also but in the dreams, a on will make the light flicker, just like in Doom. That's when I know I am dreaming and it's all flying from there. I like to fly.

    2. ghosts and monsters. When I was a kid, these always scares me but now that I am pretty sure there's no ghosts, whenever I see one in a dream I usually try to have sex with "it". Then fly some more.

    3. moving my glasses. I wore glasses since I was 10, and every time I "fixed" (adjust) it on my nose, the view changes a little. You'll know what I mean if you wear one. In the dream, the view doesn't change. In fact, I've had dreams where I had no glasses and still see perfectly clear.

    4. flying. I know I can't fly. I try it in real life some time and I don't take off.

    You should read more lucid tips on the net, it's wickedly fun. Beats Duke Nukem Forever.... wait..

  • Re:Lucid dreaming? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by VShael ( 62735 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @07:53AM (#32360232) Journal

    I always like reading about other peoples lucid dreaming experiences. However, I would like to point something out. Everyone's experiences can be different, but in my experience, telling people they can't do something, or that it's difficult, rapidly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    I know plenty of people who swear that you can't dream in colour, because they never have. And they were told they couldn't, when they were young. Same with all sorts of other dream related stuff, like seeing yourself in a mirror. Anyway, I'd like to point out that when you say "the next step comes in FULL CONTROL of your dreams, which is very difficult to achieve" I never found this to be true. For me, full control was instant and easy. It was like being on a holodeck.

    It would be a shame if you were telling people that full control was difficult, and as a result, they found it as hard as you apparently did.

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"