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Could Video Games Help Ward Off Trauma?

Mar 3, 2017

video games help trauma

A new study published in Molecular Psychiatry suggests that 20-minute bursts of playing the classic puzzle video game Tetris could potentially thwart the brain’s ability to let mental trauma permanently take hold in those suffering from PTSD, addiction, and more.

Do Video Games Help Or Hurt Mental Health?

We’ve all heard the old adage from the 80’s and 90’s — don’t play video games for too long, or they’ll “rot your brain!” Concerned adults, fearing the unknown and the rise of a technology they didn’t completely understand, were worried that prolonged exposure to video games on the part of the country’s youth could stifle mental development and perhaps lead to a diminished interest in more productive activity.


While there is probably a kernel of truth in that concern, a new study suggests that, at least in moderation, the complete opposite may actually be true. The UK-based study took a selection of individuals who had witnessed (or were part of) a horrible, traumatic car accident and were experiencing PTSD-like symptoms related to the event. This could include episodes of intense anxiety, flashbacks, insomnia, and addiction triggering behaviors. The participants played the classic puzzle video game Tetris for about 20 minutes at a time, and the lighthearted play resulted in a surprising outcome. Incidences of flashbacks dropped in this group by a staggering 62 percent! In this case, it seems that the casual, calming, “mental grazing” involved in the simple-yet-challenging puzzle aspect of Tetris actually impeded the brain’s ability to let the trauma sink in further.


Visuospatial Activities May Protect The Brain

The researchers are quick to point out that not just any video game will likely have this beneficial effect. They suspect that the palliative results may lie in the visuospatial demands unique to games like Tetris, which force the player to imagine geometric shapes in varying possibilities and patterns. By demanding so much of the brain’s ability to process visual and spatial concepts, the researchers hypothesize that games like Tetris may not leave much room for disturbing visual imagery such as trauma flashbacks to take hold.


This visual component is not unique to flashbacks and trauma. When it comes to addictive behaviors, researchers find that there is a strong visual component in the triggering of the actual desire. Craving a drink, a smoke, or another vice that the individual is trying to abstain from is often birthed by a real or imagined visual link to the substance in question. By committing more of the brain’s resources to simple, engaging visual puzzles such as Tetris, there’s simply less mind power left over to dedicate to the unsavory mental demons that participants of the study were trying to avoid.


So there you have it — while you still probably shouldn’t overdo it when it comes to spending time immersed in video games, there is some real science to back up the possibility that you may actually be shielding your brain against undesirable mental effects during your next puzzle game binge!