Playing videogames could enable people to better control the worlds of their nightmares.
It might not be smart to eat before bed, but it could be a great idea to play World of Warcraft for a couple hours. LiveScience reports that controlling a game environment may translate over to controlling dreams.
Jayne Gackenbach, a psychologist at Grant MacEwan University in Canada, points out that both dreams and videogames are representations of alternate realities, albeit one is driven by biology and the other by technology. She believes that gaming is like "practice" for the ability to have a lucid dream, the term used to describe a dream where the dreamer has control.
Gackenbach was at one time a lucid dream researcher, but started to notice videogames when her son wouldn't stop kissing a Nintendo console after she bought him one. While looking at both lucid dreamers and gamers, she found that they have similarities such as better spacial skills and a high level of focus. These circumstantial parallels inspired her to study the dreams of both non-gamers and hardcore gamers.
Early research suggested that gamers were likely to report lucid dreams. A second study found that these gamers may have had lucid control, but only over themselves. Gackenbach constantly refined her research techniques to find more definitive proof of a connection between gaming and dream control. The results of a study in 2008 showed that gamers had less nightmares than non-gamers, and sometimes reversed roles in their nightmares to become threats themselves. It's just as if a nightmare began with a cinematic of being chased by an ogre, but ended with a gamer blowing the ogre's head off with a rocket launcher.
Gackenbach says of gamers in dreams: "They don't run away, they turn and fight back. They're more aggressive than the norms." She also deduced that gamers have less aggression in dreams, but when it arises it's extreme. "If you look at the actual overall amount of aggression, gamers have less aggression in dreams, but when they're aggressive, oh boy, they go off the top," she revealed.
These kinds of results are being looked at for new medical techniques such as the relief of post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers returning home from a battlefield. Nightmares are usually a strong component of PTSD, but gaming could possibly help to alleviate their severity or regularity.
Gackenbach will be a featured speaker at the Games for Health Conference in Boston this week, where she'll discuss her dream/gaming research. I've personally known that her findings have been true since the NES-era. Little Nemo the Dream Master is just one long lucid dream, after all.