Casual Gamer Dream Incorporation: First Person Observations After Decades of Research

One activity that has increased in my retirement is my personal video game play. While I am a casual genre gamer, the increased hours of such play have impacted my dream content in ways that I only saw in hard core gamers in my research. This poster is a first-person observation of this process. As my time has allowed more gaming, I have found various dream incorporations over these early years of retirement. But some of these incorporations seem to point to not only the game play, but also offer insights into current personal issues. One dream which followed long periods of trying to beat a level in a game is discussed and informed by decades of research into such dream events (Gackenbach & Hakopdjanian, 2016; Bown & Gackenbach, 2019).


After hours one day of trying to beat a level in a game with lots of combat and fiery enemies I dreamt:

I was being chased by two enemies who were male. They were on horseback galloping through the forest. We were on a trail and the forest was on fire in various places. I was in a clearing and hid from them. Then they rode off, but they came back and I ducked behind a big square object in the clearing. It was also partly on fire, but they did not see me and they rode off again.


This is exactly the game play. After making moves through open paths in the field of play (a 10 x 10 square), the enemies begin to burst into flame, so if one lands next to such a fiery target one losses a life. Here is a screen shot of this sort of game play in this Apple Arcade game called Grindstone:

Is this straightforward incorporation or is there more to it? The day before I also spent hours working on a mosaic art piece, grocery shopping and watching various documentaries on YouTube. Here is an image of the mosaic’s status upon going to bed and one of its final form:

Are the fiery parts of the dream indicative of the real physical body inflammation in the age of COVID where I am a high risk candidate (i.e., senior, diabetes, overweight) or are the fiery woods representative of the deaths and tragedies that have happened to me in the last year (i.e. deaths of a sort of several family members)? This presentation will explore the roles of direct incorporation and psychological and physical health concerns of the dreamer within the context of a Jungian analysis of the dream.


In an email exchange about the dream, after reading it my Jungian therapist wrote:

Theoretically, the idea is that we first try and look at the dream within its own logic, i.e.. following Jung’s idea that in a dream, as in myth and fairy tales, the psyche is “talking with and about itself”.  We try and take the perspective that the dream is displaying, through images, the psyche’s own movement, what it is dealing with and where it wants to go. With this perspective “Jayne” in the dream can be seen as the psyche’s own sense of subjectivity. In your dream, the movement might be that the psyche is trying to escape from something but at the same time be “caught” by it, which would be like having to deal with what is chasing it.


Then, after this “immersion” in the dream, from “outside” the dream and being affected by the experience of seeing the dream from the “inside”,  we ask, “Why am I having this dream? Why now? What effect does it want to have on me? What does it want to expose me to? And so on.

Here’s where one tries to use one’s feeling function to get a sense of what “clicks” so that it is not only a rational connecting from the ego’s perspective between the dream and one’s waking life….it’s interesting how dreams use images from waking life, vestiges of the day (video games, for example) as “paint” so to speak, in order to tell a story about what the psyche is “thinking”. In general, that is what all symbols are. It is the use of an object in real life for a psychological purpose… Jung would say the unconscious uses the object to display something about itself.


I responded to his comments saying, “your conceptual framing is useful and interesting and I certainly agree but how do I connect those general rules of imagery meaning to my life circumstance? I’ve only known to use associations, which I assume we would do were we in session face to face. I brought up some in my initial take in terms of issues with my sisters care. I’m at her house now and one thing is clear, she is deeply damaged from her stroke and profoundly sad at the passing of her husband of 52 years.  I really can’t do much for her except in the most superficial way and find it even hard to be here after the year of tragedies (note: our mother also passed away within weeks of her husband). Perhaps in the dream it may be me needing to hide away from the trauma of the deaths including in some real ways my sisters “death”. I’m facing the reality of how distant we had become over our lifetime despite the closeness of the last year. Ultimately you die alone and cope with death alone.”


My therapist responded:


I get that it is difficult to be with your sister, for all the reasons you wrote about. You are dealing with or hiding away from all the deaths and her “death” as well… And perhaps even the concept and reality of death itself as well. I would just say that even though you feel that you “…can’t do much for her except in the most superficial way….” that just being there, with your body, in person, is a lot. … at a funeral or after a death people seem to never know what to do for the bereaved.


When something is chasing you in a dream, it’s usually an insight or a truth that wants to catch up to (ego) consciousness. The clarification of the image, whether through its “humanization” or just being able to make out what it is, is a move toward understanding what it might be. Interesting to me in this regard is that [in the dream] you shows signs that [you] actually “want” to get caught. For example, it [dream “I”] stays on the path while running. One might think that ducking into the forest would be a better way to evade the riders and their horses. Also, it hides “in the clearing” where there is presumably open space and less cover. This could tell us that there is an inherent desire within the dream to allow the thought, represented by the enemy attackers, to catch up to consciousness, represented by you in the dream. Catching up to consciousness is of course the whole point, but the thought or insight is not yet palatable enough for consciousness, which makes it appear frightening so that you in the dream naturally want to escape from it.


The fire in the forest makes me think of natural moments of awareness or insights clearing the space of unconsciousness, symbolized by the forest: Another image of the dream showing the mind’s movement toward awareness. Very interesting that you hide behind this square object. Square objects can be thought of as images of wholeness, having 4 equal sides, etc. … Similar to the mandalas that you make. And it is on fire, fire here again an image of consciousness…. Light and fire has from time immemorial been a symbol of consciousness, awareness and insight.


The waking presleep experience in part frames the dream, video game play, but is not really what its about. It provided the “paint” of the dream. This I have found in many ways in dreams which present in gaming form but are not games. When I awoke, I was able to pass the level in two tries while I had tried 30 to 50 times the day before to pass it. This was the classic learning effect. In previous research our team has also shown some evidence that the fighting so characteristic of many combat centric games, provides rehearsal in the skill set of fighting back in later dreams (Bown & Gackenbach, 2019).


In summary I think this dream nicely illustrates the multiplicity of influences and results of our dreams ranging from pure incorporation to learning to meaning making for the self.



Gackenbach, J. I., & Hakopdjanian, S. (2016). Breaking the Frame of Digital, Dream, and Waking Realities. In S. Schafer (Ed.), Exploring the Collective Unconscious in the Age of Digital Media (pp. 79-106). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-9891-8.ch003

Bown, J. & Gackenbach, J.I. (2019). The Effects of Video Games on Dreams: A Conceptual Framing. In K. Valli, R. Gongloff, R. & R. Hoss (Eds.), Dreams: Biology, Psychology, and Culture, Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO/Greenwood.


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Type of Media in Dreams and Associated Sentiment

Gackenbach, McDonnall, and Estrada (2018) reported that dreams collected from college students asking for media in the dream could be classified as active or passive media. That is a classic distinction in the communication studies literature between media that allows interaction and one where the consumer is simply a passive viewer. Active media includes video games, social media, and texting while passive media includes television, videos and movies. They found that self selected dreams that included active media were more pleasant than those that included passive media. In fact, nightmares were more associated with passive media in dreams for these college students. The present study is a follow-up on the Gackenbach et al report where a larger sample of dreams was available. David Olds (personal communication, Oct 18, 2015) provided the author with over a million dreams from the online dream social media website DreamCloud, with the permission of the website owner. After duplication’s were removed 992,022 dreams remained which were collected from late in 2006 through late in 2013. The first three years of the sample were fairly small, below one percent of the total dreams. After 2008 about 100 to 300 thousand dreams were collected each year. These were identified as including active media from gaming (i.e., video game, Xbox, PlayStation) and social media (i.e., Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter) or passive media (i.e., television, you tube, movies). The largest number of dreams from these media was from twitter. The 157,356 dreams from 2013 were entered into a preliminary sentiment analysis using NVivo plus. The most recent generation of textual analysis software allows analysis for emotional valence, sentiment, based on advances in artificial intelligence. The categories of dreams examined were active gaming, active social media, and passive media dreams. As is the case in most dream content analysis most the media dreams determined to be codable in terms of sentiment, across category these were coded as very or moderately negative but the vast majority of dreams were coded as neutral. About a quarter to a third of the dreams coded for sentiment were positive in each category with the fewest such classifications with gaming dreams. However, considerable refinement of the sentiment coding is needed as is coding of the other years of dreams collected. Additionally, other elements of media in dreams needs to be coded. While the sheer number of dreams is a strength of this study, they tend to be quite brief. Full analysis will be computed and reported upon for the conference.

Gackenbach, J.I., McDonnall, B. & Estrada, E. (2018, May). Individual differences in dreams and video game play. Paper presented at the Canadian Game Studies Meeting, Regina, Sask.

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2020 Update

It’s been about four years since I worked on this website. In the meantime I retired from MacEwan University as an Emeritus Professor in Psychology. That was July 1, 2018. In the following two years I did some writing up of research done in my last few years and some conference presentations. But to be frank such scholarly activity was low on my bucket list. I’m now more settled into retirement, although I still tutor part time at Athabasca University primarily in the Department of Communication Studies.

I thought it would be a good idea to update this web/blog site with unpublished research write-ups and conference presentations. Thus I just uploaded a three study series that was done during the last half dozen years of my tenure at MacEwan. I wrote these up with the various student research assistants after I had retired. While it was submitted for publication, the journal wanted it much shorter. I decided that it makes more sense to put it out in the public domain, via this website, at its full length and depth.

Over the next months I’ll be uploading a variety of work and then will turn to work that I’ve done over my 40+ years of academic involvement that is not easily accessible. I’ll update readers in this blog space as things get uploaded. I wanted to begin this update with this one very lengthy and time/effort consuming work and thank my marvelous students for their continued support and interest.

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2016 Conference Season Presentations

In watching six of my students present at the recent Canadian Game Studies meeting I was proud and amazed at the quality of their work. There was something about seeing it all lined up that really drove home to me how hard we have all worked on this research. Three topics were covered in this symposium, nightmare protection, gaming with the oculus rift and contemplative practice and gaming. The slides from a symposium entitled “Night Time Dreams and Video Game Play” which was presented at the Canadian Game Studies Meeting in early June of 2016 at the University of Calgary, are available on my website, on slideshare with links under the conference presentation tab here. The slides are from a symposium entitled “Night Time Dreams and Video Game Play” which was presented at the Canadian Game Studies Meeting in early June of 2016 at the University of Calgary. Three of these presentations were also presented at the International Association for the Study of Dreams meeting in late June of 2016 in the Netherlands. The presentations at IASD were by Dylan Wijeyaratnam, Akshya Boopalan and Elisa White, and Jayne Gackenbach and Craig Guthrie. The last was also presented at the 2016 meeting of a Science of Consciousness in Tucson, AZ in April of 2016. Here is a picture of the participants during the discussion period at the Canadian Game Studies meeting.

Discussion period after the presentation at the University of Calgary with all the student presenters. They are from left to right: Ann Sinyard, Elisa White, Akshya Boopalan, Craig Guthrie, Carson Flockhart, and Dylan Wijeyaratnam.

Discussion period after the presentation at the University of Calgary with all the student presenters. They are from left to right: Ann Sinyard, Elisa White, Akshya Boopalan, Craig Guthrie, Carson Flockhart, and Dylan Wijeyaratnam.

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Flockhart Featured in MacEwan News

A long time research assistant in the lab was recently featured on MacEwan’s website for his work with us. Here is his story:
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Student Presentation on You Tube

Ann Sinyard’s presentation on the Rift and dreams at MacEwan’s Student Research Showcase was video taped and is available here.

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Student commentary on gaming, dreams and meaning

I often talk about my research into gaming and dreams in all of my classes and from time to time I get a discussion post from a student that seems to really capture the essence of our research. This one from Chase Stubbs in my Psychology of Consciousness class is the most recent example. He writes;

I have been a gamer for almost as long as I can remember but I had no idea that the amount of time I spent playing video games would have an effect on my dreams. Even after we discussed the effects videogame play can have on dreams in class I didn’t think much on it, as I don’t usually remember much of my dreams. However, shortly after the discussion on videogame play and dreams I had a vivid dream that fit most of the characteristics of gamer’s dreams we had discussed in class.

To put the dream in context I had been watched the first Resident Evil movie the week before I had the dream, and had played a bit of Destiny that night. Both of those stimuli were strongly represented in my dream. As the dream began I was walking down a corridor, which was reminiscent of a part of a map in destiny, with a rifle in my hands and a few people around me.  I wasn’t seeing through my own eyes though I was above and behind the Me that was in the dream, the same as many third person shooters. In class we had discussed how the third person perspective is something more often seen in high level gamers.  As we emerged from the hall way we walked into a large room with several doors leading in.

When my group got to the middle of the room zombies started pouring out of the dark doorways at us, not unlike when enemies spawn from openings in Destiny. At this point in the dream I probably should have been pretty afraid, massive waves of creepy zombies coming at you kind of scary. But there was no fear. Just preparedness, like when you are waiting for an enemy wave to attack in a video game. So my group and I proceeded to gun down zombies to prevent them from getting to us. This carried on for a little while, oddly I never needed to reload. Then as the number of zombies dwindled and it looked like we would be free a new challenge emerged.

A couple of lickers, the gross monster in resident evil 1 that has the long tongue and is killed on the train out of the hive, appeared out of nowhere. These things scared the crap out of me in the movie version, so coming face to face with one should have been terrifying. But like when the zombies appeared I didn’t feel any fear. I remember thinking crap not these guys, like you would in a tough boss fight in a game. This sense of confidence and control in a dram situation that should be fear inducing, and counted as a nightmare to most, is common in people who play lots of video games. It is probably the sense of control that I was feeling at the time that prevented it from being a scary event. Had I not felt like I could deal with the monsters it would have turned the experience from one of accepting resignation, well these guys suck but if we have to kill them we have to kill them, to one of terror where I would be running in blind panic. The dream ended as I was trying to kill the lickers.

This is an interesting demonstration of how the stimuli I had experienced that week were represented in my dreams. And how, probably, as a result of my hobby, video games, a terrifying event was turned into an almost exhilarating one. Looking back on it this dream occurred in the middle of a slew of minor assignments and midterms, which I was largely prepared for. It is interesting to think of this particular dream as a metaphor for all of the challenges I was facing at the time. With the zombies representing all the lesser obstacles I had to overcome, minor assignments, and the lickers as the bigger ones like midterms and an essay. And the confidence I felt in dispatching the monsters being a metaphor for the confidence I felt in my performance on the assignments, essays, midterms I had finished. And the dream ending without me killing the lickers as a metaphor for the other monsters I hadn’t overcome yet, the midterms that were still to come. Sorry for rambling on a bit at the end but writing out the details and situating it in time really made that dream make a lot more sense.

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Gackenbach Presentation at Unsound Festival in Krakow, Poland

Gackenbach just before Unsound presentation in Krakow, Poland on Oct 12, 2014

Gackenbach just before Unsound presentation in Krakow, Poland on Oct 12, 2014

I am presenting a talk on our work on gaming and the nightmare protection hypothesis at a music festival, Unsound Festival, in Krakow, Poland on Oct. 12, 2014 ( I was invited by Goethe-Institut, a German cultural institute in Poland. The theme of the festival is dreams in all its forms thus the relevance of my work on video game play and dreams. The title of the talk is “Video Game Play as Nightmare Protection”. I am part of a series of talks. The slides/pdf can be found at and the audio is on You Tube 

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Replaying Japan 2014 Paper Presentation

Our lab presented a version of our work comparing dreams and media use to the second annual International Japan Game Studies Conference at the University of Alberta in August 2014. Here is the Taiwan and Canada Self-Construal Video Game Play and Dreams presentation.

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Conference presentations 2014

My students and I have presented at two international conferences in 2014 and are planning a presentation at a third one in August. The first was at the Towards a Science of Consciousness in Tucson, AZ. This poster was a report of both social media use and video game play associations to dreams and can be found here: Gackenbach and Boyes 2014 Tucson Presentation.

In early June three of my students attended and presented with me and a colleague at the International Association for the Study of Dreams conference in Berkeley. These presentations were:

1. A poster with Carson Flockhart and Alison Ditner of early results from an experimental manipulation of the nightmare protection thesis (nightmare protection poster IASD June 2014).

2. A poster with Sarah Gahr of cultural differences within Canadian students examining video game play, social media use, self-construal, and dreams (culture media and dreams poster IASD 2014).

3. A presentation with Arielle Boyes examining nightmare protection and female gamers (Boyes and Gackenbach Nightmare Protection Hypothesis and Female Gamers).

4. A presentation with my Taiwanese colleague, Ming-Ni Lee, and students Sarah Gahr and Yue Yu comparing media use, self-construal, and dreams across Taiwan and Canada (The Relationship Between Self-Construal, Media Use and dreams)

Jayne Gackenbach, Ph.D.

June 14, 2014


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