That the active brain creates phasic REM idea nicely supports our research on gaming and lucid dreaming. Gaming, which is very active mentally, before sleep might then create a more active brain in sleep. This is very broad and vague, I know but that’s the beauty of a blog I can say such vague things and basically think… I would add bizarre dreams of meditators and creativity in meditators we have also found with gamers – Now does that make lucid dreams any less potentially spiritual or enlightening (in the sense of waking up), NO – I think a case can be made that some forms of gaming can be viewed as a type of meditative practice (especially the aborbed attention and the flow experiences of gamers) and indeed there is now a set of fascinating work looking at the stress reduction of casual game play on various measures – additionally the most recent issue of The Review of General Psychology is devoted to the positive outcomes associated with video game play with two articles heavily critiquing the quick to assume violence affects – they happen but are specific to some individuals – I understand that people are quick to reject the idea that games might be good for you (of course there are problems with excessive play) no less the idea that it could be a fairly simple meditative type practice but I think a case is increasingly being made.

I think what is important here is that lucid dreamers, meditators and video game players, among other activities, which for instance could include shamanic journeying, learn to move in “imaginal spaces” or virtual realities – the advantage of gaming here is obvious, and pointed out by Joan Preston, a VR researcher, that VR allows experiences of high absorption not normally available to individuals who do not have this skill.
An often argued point in the dream studies literature argues that ” many lucid dreamers attempt to avoid a dream’s message by attempting to control the dream . Instead of facing the issue presented in the dream, the lucid dreamer runs off on an adventure, such as flying into the sky, dominating other dream characters, or having sex with a dream companion.”  I have long agreed with this perspective BUT my work with gamers and dream control has shown me a different blush on it – they have rehearsed so much during the day during game play how to fight an enemy that when confronted with threat in sleep they automatically fight back – now is that psychologically healthy is another question, it is very similar to the various dream rehearsal techniques to deal with nightmares from trauma –  it’s a difficult and tricky question.

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An insightful reporter from Brazil just sent these questions to me to answer for an article he is writing and I thought I would post my answers as they are ones I often get and sometimes in the writing itself things come together, which did in this case for me. Here are his questions and my answers:

1 – When did you become interested in video games as a subject for study?

when I bought my son a Nintendo game console in the early 1990’s – when I saw how passionate he was about gaming I started to read the research into gaming and saw that gamers developed better spatial skills (can imagine an engine and where the knock is, or don’t get lost in the city or the woods, or can mentally rotate objects) – I had been studying lucid dreams for many years at that point and spatial skills was one of my major findings – that is lucid dreamers has superior spatial skills – so I wondered if gamers had more lucid dreams – so by the late 1990’s I slowly began this research and really got going by 2004

2 – Did you start to play video games after the research? How would you
describe your relationship with this kind of media?

well i was playing with my kids on our computer and when I got my son a console i would play with him for years until he got so good that even giving me 10 extra lives he still beat me so badly that I got boring to play with – i continue to play but i play casual games most of the time – I enjoy games and sometimes wish I had the time to get really involved in some online role playing game – mostly I use games to relax and that works very well for me – I do game every day for an hour or more but it’s in the evening when i’m too tired to work or don’t have other committments – i’m a pretty much stay at home kind of woman so gaming helps me slow down from the activities of the day

3 – You’ve done a lot of research on this subject. What can we “definitely”
say at the time? Do gamers have more control over dreams?

dream control is one of the strongest findings we have come to in our research laboratory – that should be qualified – first you can control your dreams without gaming it’s just rarer and harder to come to – gaming allows practice in controlling an alternative (nonreal) world like dreams – thus by the time you get to a dream and a familiar, game like, circumstance emerges it’s no surprise that gamers take control especially if it’s a threatening situation – dream control is often linked to lucid dreaming and if you know you are in a dream while the dream is ongoing you can opt to control but you do not have to be lucid to control a dream

4 – Is there a particular game genre that can be more “effective” when
related to dreams?

well anything you do a lot during the day will show up in your dreams and especially if it is emotionally impactful – so games that draw strong emotions from players I would expect to show up in dreams more often and the effects, like dream control to be there, also games that take a lot of focused attention (like first person games – driving or shooting) would be more likely to result in lucid/control type dreams – we are only now beginning to look at genre and results in dreams – our original research did not find any genre differences but lately we are seeing it and are in the process of investigating this component

5 – In all of these years collecting stories, have you found some unusual
testimonial or something that really has got your attention?

o’shoot yes – one of the most remarkable ones was from a long time gamer who had gamed for about 6 hours the day before this dream – in the dream he was in a car which exploded and was on fire – he was in the 3rd person perspective during the dream so he watched himself in the car as this unfolded – as he was getting out of the car to escape he thought to himself “I wonder what it’s like to burn alive?” – he (the inside and outside dream self) decided to stay in the car and watched himself burn to death – he said he felt no pain – the control is evident in that he was deciding to leave the car and then decided to stay in their to have this unusual experience – the 3rd person perspective evidenced here is like that of witnessing spoken of in the meditative traditions

there are many more examples

6 – What are you aiming for in your future research?

there is a list of ongoing projects under the laboratory tab

7 – “Do these preliminary results imply that lucid/control dreaming will
become widespread given the saturation of media?” – it is a very interesting
question from one of your own articles. Is it possible to have an answer or
is it too soon?

well maybe – there are lots of qualifiers –

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Posted on by gackenbachj | Comments Off on Gaming/dreams research – overview questions

This is a very interesting letter I just got from a long time gamer explicating how he sees the connections between his gaming and dreams. I was impressed by his insight and especially the point about if too like the real world it gets harder – i’d really like to hear from gamer readers if their experiences echo this young man’s:

I’ve been able to control my dreams at a very young age (around 8 years old) and I was never able to explain people how it worked. My brother had very bad nightmares (he his younger than me) and he was the only one in my family (except from me) to be able to control his dreams. I’ve often wondered why the two of us were different than the others but I had never thought of what you are suggesting: we are both the only gamers in the family.

The two of us were exposed to videogames around 3 years before developing the ability to control our dreams.

As mentioned in this article, the only way that we were able to modify the dream world was by controlling our dream avatar. I tried for the past 25 years to control the dream environment without using my avatar without success. The only thing that I’ve been able to achieve was to summon any kind of objects in my hands. I guess that the fact that most of them were weapons can be explained by the influence of video games.

Another interesting part of the article mentions the ability to withstand higher levels of aggression and fear. Unlike the potential war veterans that could join your study in the future, I had to opportunity to control my dreams prior to some events that could have been traumatizing. As a student, I was working in a grocery store and we got robbed a few times. Twice I had a gun pointed at my head at very close range. Many of the employees were in a state of shock after the incidents (even if they were less involved than I was) but I wasn’t. Maybe all that exposure to video games and being able to control my dreams and confront nightmares actually helped me to get through a very difficult situation without trauma.

All of this makes me think of something else. What if we were able to create video games where we do stuff that doesn’t necessarily involve fighting nightmares. It could be very interesting if we could gain control over our dreams to increase our awareness to other things, or to enhance the way that we learn new abilities.

One problem that I have with that is that the more realistic the dream is, the hardest it is for me to gain control over the dream. If I dream about myself sitting in a classroom doing some mathematics, I’m going to struggle much more to gain control over what is happening than if I’m just fighting monsters.

Thanks a lot for giving me more answers about what is happening and more importantly on how it is happening.

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I have just about finished attending two gaming conferences, Games for Health and Canadian Game Studies. There are more and more gaming and related conferences occurring beyond GDC in San Francisco. The questions that have come up for me that I hope get addressed include ones I was asked about at each conference and in a meeting with a couple of dream researcher colleagues:

1. What is the mechanism that seems to allow game like strategies to be introduced and adapted for the challenges thrown at the dreamer while in the dream? Well seems to me it’s practice so much so that well learned behaviors become automatic in appropriate situations whether awake or asleep. This is a no brainer from the perspective of the game effects literature but not quite so straightforward in dreams. While yes dreams are where new information gets knit into the fabric of your memory systems, and where emotions are sorted out and especially negative ones coped with, there is a ton of waking stimuli that the dreamer is exposed to every day. So why specific game information?
2. Then relatedly, what about games is salient enough to get integrated into dreams? Is there a difference between game types and dream incorporation? If so what does that mean? If not what does that mean? I’ve basically just looked at overall high end play versus low end but that won’t do any longer, our lab needs to consider a more refined approach.
3. What about sleep onset mentation? Might more direct incorporation occur there? It should, but does it?
4. How are games being used to not only protect against nightmares but to dull the stresses of daily life? Is such play therapeutic? Some evidence for casual game play seems to indicate that but what about for the more “hard core” games?

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I’ve been having a different media experience in that a story on livescience about my labs work on gaming, dream control and nightmares has gone viral ( That’s nice but what is really meaningful is the letters I’ve been getting from soldiers who game. Here is part of one I just got from a man just returned from being deployed. He writes:

I’m also a veteran in the US Army twice over and just recently got back in April 2010 and I have so many soldiers that went over seas and became videogame players due to the work tempo and stress.

Meaning that by the end of the tour there were more videogame players and in many cases that was the only way they could ‘escape’ from each other and the worries of home. I’m a Sgt and you can see my uniform on my profile and personally I’ve seen videogames help those that are mentally and
physically depressed.


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Posted on by gackenbachj | Comments Off on gamers and nightmares

Video Game Play and Lucid Dreaming as Socially Constructed Meditative Absorption

Jayne Gackenbach and Harry T. Hunt
Grant MacEwan University, Brock University

Absorption, fantasy play, lucid dreaming, and dream bizarreness/metaphority are psychological constructs. Their relation to gaming (Gackenbach, 2006; 2009; Gackenbach et al., in press) raises a more general level of analysis. We consider the placement of gaming in the social nature of consciousness as explanatory vehicle. Often the collective societal nature of higher states of consciousness, and absorptive states generally, is missed by westerners, given our values of heightened autonomy and extreme individualism, whereas in fact similar states in traditional tribal societies, guided by their explicit mythological systems, are what held these societies together in the sense of Durkeim’s collectivity of consciousness (Hunt, 1995; Turner & Whitehead, 2008). We propose that gaming serves some of the same societal function in today’s youth as explicit mythological systems have in indigenous cultures. For us, unwittingly as a rule, these states experienced in gaming are a spontaneous reengagement with that level of collectivity from a place of our individual conscious isolation in highly differentiated and pluralistic modern culture.
In this paper we explore research which has shown that video game players report more lucid dreams than those who rarely game (Gackenbach, 2006; 2009) which appears to be mitigated by a type of meditative absorption. The lucid dream/video game connection is examined from three perspectives: lucidity as meta-cognition, lucidity and dream bizarreness, and lucid-nonlucid differences in general dream content for hard core gamers. It appears that gaming adds a dimension to the lucid dreams of gamers such that their full potential for focused problem solving is expressed very much like the strategies of video gaming. The enhanced bizarreness of lucid-gamer associated dreams may also serve as a trigger for the emergence of their increased lucidity. The exotic-mythic element of the lucid bizarre dreams of gamers (Gackenbach et al, in press) is similar to previous research on the archetypal content in dreams (Hunt, 1989). Finally, by comparing the lucid versus non-lucid dreams of gamers, it was concluded that lucidity in gamer’s dreams emphasized the already generally positive dream experience of being lucid in sleep, including the enhanced aggression which facilitated the sense of empowerment also typical in video game playing. Not only is there more lucidity in gamer’s dreams, but that lucidity seems to be further enhanced by the gaming experience.
To be absorbed in consciousness, be it in lucid dreams, intense fantasy or meditation is also to be absorbed in the social field more deeply than is available in ordinary consciousness. Since consciousness itself is collective already, and the high absorber is entering the level provided in traditional times by externalized ritual and myth, gaming offers those in contemporary western individualistic society much the same function. Specifically it is an externalized absorptive consciousness with provided patterns that are accordingly socially structured, simultaneously shared, and so offering some of the support of tribal societies, which individual high absorbers in the west have lost in their only ostensibly “private” lucid dreams and meditations.

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Not sure why but I guess a few folks have been reading this so let me put this out and ask for feedback from gamers preferably or those interested in gaming. I’m not really interested in getting into the does gaming cause aggression and if so we need to stop it entirely discussion. Rather I’m more interested in when fighting in a game (engaging in aggression of some sort) does it take more focused attention than in other gaming activities? I’d think yes and that it is rather obvious, but there may be various subtlties that i’m missing and would appreciate feedback on same. Reason I ask is that it’s come up in a study we have just written up for presentation/publication.

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This presentation will summarize why studying the dreams of video game players is important for understanding dreams. Hard core gamers represent the leading edge of immersion in virtual worlds that increasingly has come to define a large part of contemporary entertainment and communication. Three conceptual points as to why this new element in contemporary society needs to be investigated in terms of its impact on dreams, will be illuminated. These points are 1) dreams as aid to solving the hard problem in consciousness, 2) evolutionary function of dreams, and 3) gaining lucidity in sleep through imaginal absorption.

First, Revousuo (2006) argues that dreams are useful for understanding the binding problem in consciousness. He defines consciousness-related binding as “the problem of understanding the relationship between the phenomenal unity of consciousness and the immediately underlying mechanisms that could explain phenomenal unity” (p. 205). In tying this to dreams Revousuo goes on to point out that “a dream object does not transform randomly into another object, but into an object that shares many semantic or associative features with the first. In the waking state such associations do not intrude into our consciousness, for they are unable to override the externally supplied sensory information” (p. 247). Thus the dream state and its inherent bizarre nature allows an unfettered examination of these networks. It is the bizarreness in dreams which illuminate semantic networks. In other words, if the bizarre element happens due to skip in the track of the semantic network, it does not go too far afield. Thus having a waking situation, video game play, where subjects are exposed for long periods of time to unusual/bizarre experiences can help to further illuminate the nature of bizarreness in dreams and ultimately the hard problem in consciousness. Such a situation is not easily created in a laboratory with a few hours of media viewing or interacting. In fact in a study on video game effects on various cognitive and perceptual tasks Boot et al (2008) found that nonplayers trained on up to 1000 hours of play, still did not reach the levels on their cognitive/perceptual task performance as expert players who Boot et al estimate came into the laboratory condition with 10’s of thousands of hours of play.

Secondly, one evolutionary function of dreaming has been identified as threat simulation (Revonsuo & Valli, 2000). Gaming may reduce this dream function because this need is being addressed in another imaginal realm (i.e., during a game). Early support for this thesis was found by Gackenbach and Kuruvilla (2008a). Thus gaming offers another realm to investigate this evolutionary function of dreams. Relatedly, the rehearsal of nightmares while awake as a technique to decrease their intensity and persistence (Krakow, Kellner, Pathak, & Lambert, 1996), may also be manifest in some video game players. Specifically, in some studies the Gackenbach group has found gamers reporting fewer nightmares than those that rarely game (Gackenbach, 2009a).

The final reason that studying gaming informs dream studies is the potential of gaming to act as preparation or training for dreaming lucidly (Gackenbach, 2006, 2009b). Again the practice in this technologically generated imaginal realm can result in consciousness emerging in dreams. Thus such inquiries inform not only the question of how to have a lucid dream but also the broader question of the nature of consciousness when it emerges in sleep. In a review of lucidity-gamer association Gackenbach, Hunt, and  Dopko (2009) conclude that gaming enhances the experience of lucidity along the same lines as meditators’. These findings can be interpreted equally in terms of a psychology of imaginative absorption.

All of these are potential ways that studying video game effects on dreams illuminate our understanding of dreams. Conceptually, this is not surprising as the deep absorption into the VR of gaming constitutes another imaginal realm or perhaps altered state of consciousness whose experience impacts and informs “normal” consciousness states such as dreams. While games are escapable and dreams typically less so, sans lucid-control dreams, none-the-less there are many parallels in the sense of games offering an alternative reality accessible by most while other alternative realities such as that created in hypnosis or meditation is less widely accessible. As Preston (1998) has pointed out gaming provides experiences in deep absorption not normally available to those without that trait. And thus informs our understanding of dreams in the context of consciousness.

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Welcome to my blog. For all the web work I’ve done I’ve never blogged but will give it a go. I’m learning about this system for web pages for MacEwan faculty  now and will try to add things as I go along. Later today I am off to Future Play in Vancouver where I will be presenting a poster with a honors student, Matt Rosie, about classifying video games in terms of their cognitive qualities. We are excited both because we’ll hear about lots of research on gaming and because the game developers conference is also being held at the same time and we get to brouse through the exhibits.

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