Dr. Zongkui Zhou of Central China Normal University visits our video game laboratory

We were pleased to have hosted a visit from Zongkui Zhou, Ph.D., a professor at the Central China Normal University (CCNU) where he is dean of the School of Psychology. He serves as the Director of the Key Laboratory of Adolescent CyberPsychology and Behavior affiliated to the National Ministry of Education, China. We have been discussing various possible research collaborations. Here is a picture taken during  his visit:


Dr. Zhou and Dr. Gackenbach are in the front row with Dr. Iain Macpherson, Dr. William Wei, Dr. David McLaughlin and Dr. Melike Schalomon in the back row.

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Social Media Use vs Video Game Play: Hall and Van de Castle Content Analysis of Dreams

Jayne Gackenbach, Arielle Boyes and Sarah Gahr

As technology use has become increasingly pervasive, it is of interest to examine heavy social media users compared to high end video game players in terms of the content of a recent dream gathered from each group. We would expect gamers to evidence more aggression and less pro-social interactions, while we would expect the opposite of high end social media users. We collected over 500 surveys from students at a Western Canadian University who varied along these dimensions. Of the first 127 randomly chosen dreams which were content analyzed using the Hall and Van de Castle (HVDC) system, two extreme media use groups were identified. Those who were Gamers (n=23) (males=19; females=4). They reported playing from several times a week to daily and had played a video game in the 24 hours prior to taking the survey almost all of which were combat centric. The second group was identified as high social media users (n=33) (males=3; females=30). They reported infrequent gaming (average less than once a month to once a month) but frequent social media use, i.e., daily facebook plus daily to several times a week twitter, tumblr or instgram use. Not surprisingly these media use groups fell along sex lines. Therefore they were separately compared to the HVDC norms as a function of sex. The major finding was that there were 11 differences from the male norms for the gamers and nine differences from the female norms for the social media group. Using Domhoff and Schneider’s system of data entry there are 25 possible statistical tests done.

                In terms of the social interaction percentages the gamers, as hypothesized, compared to the male norms had higher aggression/friendliness percents and higher physical aggression. But as shown in our earlier work there was no difference in aggressor percent nor in dreams with at least one aggression.  The social media users, relative to the female norms, were also higher on the aggression/friendliness percent but did not differ in the physical aggression percent or the other two variables involving aggression.  In terms of prosocial interactions, there was no difference from the same sex norms for either group for befriender percent. Both media use groups dreams were coded as having fewer dreams with at least one incident of friendliness.  The social interaction ratios showed some differences as a function of media use groups. Specifically, the friendliness per character index was lower for the gamers than the male norms but this was also the case for the social media users relative to the female norms. We can conclude with this minimal data set that the only difference between the media groups, relative to their norms, was in terms of a bit more aggression in the gamers, with that one exception it seems that their differences from the norms are more generational than type of media used.

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Nightmare Protection Thesis of Video Game Play in First Responders

Jayne Gackenbach and Carson Flockhart

It has been hypothesized that video game play during the day may act as protection from fears during sleep, which are sufficient to disturb sleep. In this research program we have examined the dreams of heavy video game players. While most are male and play combat centric games, this has not always been the case in this program of work. In any event we have found in some data that nightmares are less often reported among heavy players, when controlling for sex, or if no difference in incidence the response of the game playing dreamer to the self-identified nightmare has been positive.

The nightmare protection thesis was based upon the concept that defensive rehearsal in at least combat centric video game play, if done repeatedly over a long period of time, would result in well learned defensive responses. These would generalize to altered states, in this case dreams. This process is similar to the imagery rehearsal technique for treating nightmares.

 Also supporting the thesis is the numbing towards violence associated with serious combat centric game play which could result in a lessened nightmarish experience in the dream. Finally, it has been pointed out that there is a critical window of time following trauma where postrauma memories can be interfered with by engaging in a visuospatial cognitive task. Video game play is one such task.

In two studies, one on military gamers and a replication and extension on students who experienced trauma, we found support for a qualified nightmare protection function of video game play. In these studies the classic predictors of nightmares were controlled, emotional reactivity and past history of trauma, allowing for the play of video games to be considered regarding any nightmarish type of dream content. The thesis seems clearest for males playing combat centric games. However, female high-end gamers were surprisingly the most troubled by nightmares. This can be interpreted both by sex role inconsistency, playing combat games is not a traditional female type of play, and game genre female high end games experience.

In this second replication, we administered the same set of questionnaires to primary and secondary first responders online through prescreening of a university subject pool and through website solicitation. The same pattern of results as with the student population was observed. As before emotional reactivity and history of trauma were controlled for in the ANCOVA’s of sex x game play groups on subscales of the dream content analysis using a threat simulation scale. That is, high end male first responder gamers, who focus primarily on combat centric games, were found to show less overall threat and fewer targets of threat in their dreams than high end female first responder gamers. The opposite was true for low end first responder gamers, more threat in the males’ dreams than the females. Differences in results in the three studies testing the nightmare protection thesis of game play will also be examined.

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Gaming, Social Media and Nightmares

While our group has been investigating the association between gaming and nightmares or nightmarish content in dreams, we have not considered the role of social media. The time has come with the widespread and pervasive use of such media to consider if simply being in a virtual world where you have some control of the “variables” is sufficient for nightmare protection or if the specific of game play, i.e. rehearsal of combat readiness, is needed. This inquiry was undertaken with about 700 primarily undergraduate students at a western Canadian university. Preliminary data analysis (n=94) is discussed herein. Three gaming and three social media frequency variables were considered along with history of nightmares, self-assessment of a reported dream as a nightmare, and judges coding of threat simulation in the same dream were entered into a varimax rotated factor analysis. Nightmares were not expected to be associated with gaming and indeed factor one loaded frequency of game play, playing in the 24 hours prior to filling out the survey and using social media game sites with the dream they reported as not being a nightmare. The three social media variables (Facebook, twitter, or other nongame social media) frequency of use loaded together on the second factor with none of the nightmare variables. The third factor loaded the lack of frequent Facebook use with higher average monthly nightmares, more likely to report this dream as a nightmare, and the coded dream threat as not being objective. This is surprising as we had a ceiling effect with frequency of Facebook use. About two thirds of this subsample, where threat in dreams was coded, reported Facebook use several times a day with another 18% reporting it as a daily occurrence. While the expected gamer finding was supported, what’s new here is that those that do not embrace Facebook, to the extent of their peers, also report more distress in dreams. These data are preliminary and full data analysis on nightmares, threat simulation coding and social media/gaming use will be reported.

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First Responders Needed for Gamer Research Study

I am following up on previous research into gaming as potentially nightmare protection and am looking for first responders. Here is the post I have created soliciting people with that background. If you know anyone who is a first responder please feel free to pass along this invitation.

Invitation to First Responders for Research Participation

My name is Jayne Gackenbach and I do research on the effects of video game play on dreams. I also co-teach a course here at MacEwan University on video games and have written a book for my students on the effects of gaming coauthored with my gamer son (Play Reality: How Video Games are Changing Everything). My research into military gamers was featured in an article, which appeared in the Wall Street Journal in print and online:


Interview with  Chris Shea for the Wall Street Journal which appeared Jan.21/22 2012



This article is based on this research which was published in the journal Dreaming:

Gackenbach, J.I., Ellerman, E. & Hall, C. (2011). Video Game Play as Nightmare Protection: A Preliminary Inquiry in Military Gamers. Dreaming. 21(4), 221-245.

I would like to repeat this study, but this time with first responder gamers and that is why I am writing your website. I have gotten permission from the administrator of your website to post on the forums and announce this research project.

Here is the link to the survey:




It may take up to an hour to fill out so be sure you have the time to participate before you begin.


If you know any first responders who are not part of this website please feel free to pass along this invitation to participate in research.


Jayne Gackenbach, Ph.D.

Psychology Professor

Grant MacEwan University



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This last day of 2011 closes out a very busy year for me. I have three books which will be coming out in 2012 that I spent the year working on. Two are on video games and one on dreams. The first to appear is “Play Reality” which I wrote with my gamer son (www.playreality.ca). It is an overview of gaming effects research from the perspective of a gamer. Then in late February a book I co-wrote a very long time ago will be reissued as an e-book, “Control Your Dreams”. Later in 2012 my third book, also on gaming, will appear. It is an edited book entitled “Video Game Play and Consciousness”. All three are completed and going through the publishing process. As each becomes available I’ll announce it here on my blog.

This time I wanted to feature some discussion board posts from two of my students here at MacEwan. I co-teach a course on video games with Brian Brookwell of the Computer Science Department in a degree they offer on video game design. As part of the course requirement students talk about their experience with video game play. This last term two students spoke about their experience with suffering with serious depression and how gaming helped them recover. The first is a case of a young man (Student A) who details how World of Warcraft was instrumental in his recovery. This is followed by another case of depression and gaming by a young woman (Student B). In the second case she details the specifics of the game experience which she felt pulled her through. Her case echoes the young man’s but she goes further and considers how that very activity of recovery became addiction and how she then dealt with the other side of this two sided coin. These are thoughtful and intelligent young people who offer from their own lives these experiences. One student requested to remain anonymous, the other student did not. However, I thought it best to keep both students anonymous. If however, you the reader would like to contact one of these students I can forward your email. I offer these cases in the spirit of hopefully helping others who may be suffering depression as a potential way to move on.

Student A:

During my grade 11 year … I found myself spiraling out of control, starting with my own mother’s diagnosis of being depressed, mixed with the unrelenting course load I found myself slipping deep down into the dark mental trap known as depression. It consumed me for more than 9 months leaving me with absolutely no will to do anything, lying on a couch watching TV. Then one day I was coaxed out of the house by my dad to go to a computer shop to help him get some software and I saw WoW on the shelf, I asked my dad if we could buy a copy and he agreed as it was the first thing I was interested in months. I took it home and started playing, at first alone avoiding other players but soon I found myself interacting with people using my avatar as a mask to protect my fragile psyche. Not long after I found myself leading the warlocks through Molten core and eventually I tried my hand at guild leadership. Through a combination of leading my friends, master my characters and the aid provided by my doctor I managed a full recovery. I think that without an outlet for my mind it’s actually quite possible I would have given up entirely and succumbed to my depression. However as I am writing this today that is not the case and I feel that part of my survival is actually owed to WoW an MMORPG. I feel that my personal experience is honestly a great example of how MMO’s can help people recover. Even though mine wasn’t prescribed it did help me and I think it has real potential to help people struggling with mental illness.

Student B:

            Video games and mental health – do they help or hinder? If a clear answer is what you’re looking for, stop reading now. In class we discussed several studies with seemingly contradictory conclusions. On the one hand, video games have been seen to ease depression and reduce anxiety. On the other – excessive gaming was associated with lower indicators of mental health, addiction and even suicide. So what’s actually going on here? What is the interrelation between video games and depression?

                I feel like I’m in a unique position to reflect on the nature of video game play, depression and addiction, because I’ve had relevant experiences on both sides. Several years ago, I was hit, like a brick, with a major depressive episode. It’s hard to point to what initially triggered the switch that sucked all the color out of my world. I like to joke that it was because I was taking an arts degree, but in retrospect I mostly attribute it to a perfect storm of hereditary/environmental/and mental circumstances. What’s important isn’t how I became depressed – rather it’s what helped me move forward. The initial activity that helped me get a foothold back into my life was gaming. It started with my brother coaxing me to play World of Warcraft with him.

Looking back it’s easy to see why a game world was the perfect stepping-stone for me to get back to the real world. When you’re clinically depressed one thing you quickly get tired of hearing from doctors is “get outside, go meet people, go participate in activities”. For one thing, It’s incredibly difficult to interact with the real world when mentally you feel like you’ve been ground into a million little pieces. Secondly – people don’t exactly line up to be your friend when you look like you could burst into tears at any moment. The cycle of isolation and depression is difficult to break. Stepping into a game world allowed me to start socializing from behind the mask of my avatar. In game, no one could tell I was depressed. If I started crying, no one in game could see me. On days when I could barely drag myself out of bed, let alone make myself look acceptable enough to step out in public I could still log on and interact with other people without any stigma. As I played, I slowly gained in-game friends (some of which have become real life friends) and just as importantly I started to regain the confidence and self-worth that depression and stolen from me. As I continued to recover, gaming further helped me by giving me a sense of identity (as a ‘gamer’) that could be carried into the real world. 

Because of my experience of video games and depression I am eager to see further research explore the use of social games as a means of recovery for individuals suffering from severe depressive disorders. As a therapy it has obvious benefits. First – it offers a means of increasing a social connection. Second – it get’s the individual suffering from depression to focus on a positive external environment rather than their negative internal environment. Third – they often provide a structured goals and purpose (it a time in an individual’s life when they may have little of either). And finally as a medium for social interaction video games offer a degree of environmental control that is unparalleled by any other conceivable social situation. It what other social situation besides video games can log off if you feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable with very little questions asked?

Having talked about what I think the benefits are when it comes to video games and mental health, I think my argument must be tempered with a discussion of the potential negatives. Anyone who tells you without a doubt that video games are all sunshine and butterflies (or the opposite that they are the downfall of today’s youth etc.) shouldn’t be taken seriously. I’ve said a lot of great things about video games so far, so I think it’s only fair to say that video games have the potential to be a very destructive force in a person’s life. One of the ugliest sides to gaming comes in the form of addiction.

In my last discussion post I talked a lot about the overuse of operant conditioning in video games. Video game companies have poured a lot of money into understanding and perfecting the perfect reward schedule to keep players hooked.  I think when it comes to video games the point of addiction is when the player no longer in control of their behavior. To me this point happened last summer during a particularly unstructured period of my vacation. The game was Halo III, a first person multiplayer shooter with relatively short matches. The problem with addictions is that they sneak up on you. Gradually, my play went from an hour a day, to several hours a day – and suddenly I was playing from dawn till dusk and my life was starting to feel… well not entirely of my own design. I would go to bed upset at how little I’d accomplished during the day, and swear to myself that I wouldn’t play anymore the next day – but come morning, echoing the words of countless addicts before me I would tell myself “just one more game” and they cycle would begin all over again. I felt like my video game use was out of control – and I was beginning to feel a sense of hopeless when it came to my behavior. Whereas earlier in my life video games had helped me overcome depression episode – here they seemed to be taking me down a path towards one. My savior in this situation was a return to structure, the start of my summer job, and throwing out (yes I actually chucked in in the trash) Halo III. I was lucky enough to resume life relatively unscathed but it gave me a lot of perspective as to how someone in a similar situation could have easily become depressed. In essence it was essentially the opposite of the experience I described before – isolation from my social circle (I was so embarrassed by my excessive game play that I hid my online status so my friends wouldn’t see my playing), and a decrease in confidence in myself.

So having had these two contradictory experiences with video games, where does that leave me? To be honest, more confused than anything.  How do we as video game players monitor and regulate something that can be simultaneously so positive and so negative? Is it like we discussed in class, just a matter of constant assessment and vigilance? Are we even capable of such a judgment from our limited views we have of ourselves? One thing I do take away from these two experiences and from this course is that mentally video games are much more powerful than anyone gives them credit for. It seems like by chance we have hit upon some formula with our media that is particularly potent when it comes to manipulating and forming new neural loops, modifying reward circuits and generally changing our patterns of behavior. The term ‘playing with fire’ seems to apply here. Hopefully we’ll grow to better understand the effects of video games and mental health before we get burned.

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I’ve been doing a show on the psychology of video game play for several months now and thought I’d tell you something of what we have done and what we plan for the fall term. You can see our list of online radio shows here, Video Games: Brain Gain or Drain? We currently have 10 shows archived that can be downloaded 24/7. The available shows include these topics: children and gaming, exergaming, gamification, gaming as treatment for PTSD, games for health, game addiction, and gaming and aggression. Here is the list of interviews/programs we have planned for the fall 2011 and early winter 2012:

  1. Mia Consalvo – Big Fish games research as casual gaming (late August release)
  2.  Jesper Juul – the Casual Revolution (first half Sept release)
  3.  Amy Bruckman – cooperation/constructive and education implications (late sept release)
  4.  Jose Zagal – teaching about video games (early Oct release)
  5.  Evelyn Ellerman – role of gaming in communication studies field (late Oct release)
  6.  Sandy Rosenberg – media consultant’s view of gaming in society (early Nov release)
  7. Patrick Markey – personality as predictor of aggression from gaming (late Nov release)
  8. Barry Grant – horror in media and in games (early Dec release)
  9. Jeremy Hsu – gaming in the military (late Dec release)
  10. Walter Boot – attention, memory and executive control (early Jan 2012 release)
  11. John Sharp  – “The Secret (Art) History of Games” (late Jan 2012 release)


Most of these interviews have been done and are currently being edited. It’s been a fascinating journey meeting and chatting with these game researchers and commentators.

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I’ve reached an agreement with Matrix Media, a national talk radio syndication firm.   Matrix is the company that launched Animal Planet Radio, Travel Channel Radio and the HGTV Design Minutes.   I’ll be working with Matrix to produce a weekly radio show titled “Video Games: Brain Gain or Drain?  You can hear the show at http://webtalkradio.net/shows/video-games-brain-gain-or-drain/ .  It’s available 24/7.

As you may or may not know, my research and writing history has been primarily about dreams and consciousness. It is only in the last decade that I have turned my attention to video games. In the process of doing my research on the effects of gaming on various states of consciousness, as a player, mother and psychologist, I’ve learned about video game play. I co-teach an introductory course here at MacEwan on video games, and am editing and cowriting two books on video games, in addition to my ongoing research program. Thus, when I was approached by Matrix Media, it occurred to me that my unique blend of expertise might make for an interesting radio talk show.

If there are any topics, issues or events that you’d like to see me cover on the radio show, just drop me a line and I’ll see if I can work them into the editorial calendar.  On that same note, if you have a guest that you’d like to recommend for an interview, in keeping with the content, of course, I’ll be happy to consider it. Here I would broaden this call for suggestions to “Technology and Consciousness”.

Finally, if you have a business, a book or a service that could benefit from aligning with my content through sponsorship, I’d like to put you in touch with Mary Lou Davidson from Matrix.  Mary Lou will want to learn more about your business and your marketing objective to see if there is a fit – and how we can help you. Let me know, or contact Mary Lou directly at MaryLou@matrixmediainc.com – 941-379-1440.

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For the last two years we have been collecting information from serious video game players along several dimensions. These include video game history, several self report scales looking at aspects of attention (i.e., mindfulness, immersion and presence) and dreams. We are going to take these scales down at the end of 2010 so this is the last chance to participate in this ongoing research effort. Continue reading

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This is a paper to be presented at the annual Psiber Dreaming Conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, Sept. 2010

Video Game Play and Dreams: What are the Important Questions?

Jayne Gackenbach
Grant MacEwan University

          It’s been five years since I participated in this online conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams. At that point my research program into the dreams of video game players had just begun. In looking at my presentation from 2005, I see that I offered some of the empirical justification for this work. This year I thought I would begin by very briefly summarizing what we have found over the intervening years. Then I’ll pose questions, through illustrative dreams of gamers, that I’d appreciate hearing your impressions and ideas about.
          The potential negative effects of video game play have long been studied. What is now becoming increasingly clear, is that there are various positive educational and psychological effects as well. There is no doubt that video game play represents a complex experience of childhood, and now of adulthood, which is not easily reduced to simple condemnations or accolades. Video gaming is one of the fastest growing entertainment industries with revenues arguably the same as, or greater than, the movie industry, depending on how you count. Thus, gaming is too wide spread to reduce to purely self selection. Not only is there something enticing about interacting in and with virtual worlds, there is increasing social pressure to play.
          Studying video games and dreams informs various areas of inquiry and ways of thinking about dreams. I initially made the argument that gaming inquires were important because they represent the most commonly accessible form of virtual reality (VR), which has come to dominate the media landscape. Since making that argument some years ago, it has become clear that there are other compelling reasons to study gaming and dreams. For instance, gaming participation is a type of social consciousness, which allows the collective acting out of archetypal myths. Video games are increasingly being used by sleep and dream researchers as a pre-sleep stimuli to study memory processes in sleep. These experiences of virtual worlds while awake may inform inquiries into the potential evolutionary function of dreams. Various elements of metacognition in dreams seem to result from gaming, including lucidity and dream control. Finally, studying gaming and dreaming allows us to ask questions about the felt sense of being there, or presence as it’s called in the VR literature. We all take this for granted while awake, but our sense of reality is challenged by various media experiences and their impact on the felt sense of reality in dreams.
Summary of Findings to Date
          These reasons for studying dreams of gamers occurred to us in our lab at Grant MacEwan University as our research program progressed. Initially we looked at lucidity and control in the dreams of gamers and found an association, which we have replicated several times. Here is an example [italics in all quotes are my comments]:
once Jean Grey [a marvel comic and video game character] got loose and started killing people, I was like this is really weird this is probably a dream and it was like right after that she showed up and I told myself that I need to wake up.
          In our latest study we found that while lucidity/control was most strongly associated with gaming, it was also associated, if less strongly, with other media experiences. This finding points to the idea of gaming as only one type of VR which affects dreams. All of us are interacting in some sense with these various virtual worlds, from cell phone texting to watching a big screen movie, and they are affected our dreams.
          It occurred to us that the awareness of the dream while it was ongoing, and the often associated dream control, could have other consequences. And indeed through several content analyses of gamer’s dreams, using the classic Hall and Van de Castle system, we found that gamers dreams less often had misfortunes. We were surprised to see that gamers were less often aggressive in their dreams, but when they were aggressive they were more violent. Here is an example:

I went outside … with my cat and shot these criminals that were trying to eat my dad and they were on top of my dad trying to eat his arms and he was fighting them off, and they were trying to hold him down and bite his shoulders and there was blood and stuff. And it was a very graphic shootout for a dream; it was very blood and guts ya know? And when I ran out of ammunition there was like pistol whipping and stuff going on and that one sticks out in my mind because it was very graphic.

          We wondered if this combination of less misfortunes and more aggression, when it occurred, would have an impact on nightmares. The answer seems to be yes. We found that gamers reported either fewer nightmares or, if no difference in incidence, they reported that their nightmares were fun.
          The third area we have been examining is dream bizarreness. On the surface it does not seem surprising that gamer’s dreams are more bizarre than their contemporaries. After all when we found that there were more dead and imaginary characters in their dreams, it seemed only reasonable. After all, weren’t they fighting zombies or vampires or were wolfs all day, like this dream:

I dreamt I was a character is Underworld 2, it was a werewolf character and then I became a 3rd person. It was the two main characters, it was the vampire girl and a hybrid werewolf character and I was another werewolf character beside them and we went into a vampire coven and we got to the weapons section of the vampire coven and then I woke up

          But when we controlled for the number of hours they played a game the day before the dream was collected, we found that gamers still had more dream bizarreness than those who do not game as seriously. In our research this was associated with higher creativity among gamers. But of course this is one of the allures of gaming, you can create new worlds. But really it’s an allure of our attraction to all increasingly digital media. We are all producers or creators of products and information. So perhaps it’s just that the amount of time, or the nature of the creative acts of gaming, accounting for this association to creativity.
          In our most recent work we have been looking at game incorporation into dreams and the question of presence in dreams versus games. But our lab is also examining various other elements of consciousness and gaming. For instance, we found an association between mindfulness, a type of meditative state, and those who prefer first person shooter and action/adventure games. We also noted, as have other gaming labs, a positive association between gaming and flow, the balance between challenge and skill that elite athletes and expert musicians report.
Interesting Cases Result in Interesting Questions
          I’d now like to share with you several interesting dreams from gamers which we have collected. Hopefully your discussion will help to answer the questions that these cases create.
          The first case was collected a few years ago as part of one of my students honor’s thesis. While not all gamers dreams are so startlingly pardoxical, they do happen. This is a particularly dramatic example which asks the question “Is this detachment, in the classic meditative sense, or practice from gaming?”
          This is a dream from a male hard core gamer, who had played from 4 to 7 hours the day before this dream and had watched several violent cartoons. The games he played were first person shooters, including Half-Life 2 and Halo 3. From an archetypal perspective, both games could be considered Hero’s Journeys and perhaps Vision Quests. What is interesting about the first person point of view (POV) games is that they do not always allow a third person perspective. However, the real self is actually in third person while playing a first person shooter and thus hours of being in that perspective may have helped to mediate the dream ego’s view:

I was in a desert. I looked bad, dusty. I saw my tiny silhouette against a large sun, meaning I was watching myself, in 3rd person. While I looked bad I didn’t feel bad. I was indifferent to the “my” feelings. I came upon a carnival, but it gets sketchy at that point. Eventually I’m driving a car, again not at a real POV [point of view], but following behind the car. It didn’t matter to me that I was crashing into other cars or walls. My car caught fire, I saw it melt from within. I died not trying to escape.

Gamer reported an interesting detachment from the dream events:

As the car was burning I opened the door and leaned out to leave but made the decision to stay inside instead because I was curious to see what I would look like burning alive. While I felt the heat, smelt the smoke, I didn’t feel any pain. I felt detached from the feelings, but recognized that they were my own.

He also reported that this dream was not a nightmare. He was not scared, but he acknowledged that it was violent. He also said that the dream was not lucid and that he had no control. When asked “did you feel any emotions during the experiences?” he commented:

Sort of. I knew what the person I saw as myself felt, but didn’t share those feelings. Throughout the emotions of disgust, loneliness, or excitement were all ones I thought best fit the “character” of myself based on the situation.

Then he was asked “Did you think about what you were doing?” and he wrote:

I was constantly thinking about my every move, making sure that whatever I did was in my best interest. If anything was off-putting (the carnival owner, the desert) I simply moved on.

Then he replied to this question “Did you think about what was happening around you?” by saying:

I was constantly analyzing my surroundings…At the city where I drove my car, I noticed the simplicity of the environment, which seemed to be constructed out of simple polygons. Obviously that was a video game environment, much like Grand Theft Auto.

While it seems simple to conclude that he thought he was playing a game, the 3rd person POV which he stressed along with the emotional detachment of the dream ego seems to echo the descriptions of witnessing dreams that previous research has found among meditators. It’s these sorts of experiences reported by gamers that inform and motivate our ongoing inquires into the nature of consciousness developed by gaming. What do you think?
Gaming as Nightmare Protection
          These next cases call to mind the hypothesis that we have developed that gaming might act as a sort of inoculation for the nightmares associated with trauma. We do NOT mean that there wouldn’t be nightmares associated with trauma, only that the control and empowerment we have found in the dreams of gamers might offer some protection. To this end we are currently collecting dreams, as well as information about gaming and trauma history, from gamers who have served in the military or who are currently serving. Before reading these dreams, most of which depict combat, keep in mind that non-military gamers who play combat type games also dream about violence and aggression.
          Here is one example from a 28 years old soldier, who is on active duty with the US army, and who has been deployed twice. In his deployments he reported that he felt in great danger of being wounded or killed. This young Mexican American soldier plays video games one to two hours a day. He reported this dream from the night before filling out the survey :

While I was walking down a street I found myself encountering Freddy from the movie since I had just watched the latest film. There are trees from on both sides of the road and I see his figure in the street. In my head I am thinking WTF? As he approached me the first thing I did was blink away similar to a mage would in WoW [World of Warcraft is a popular role playing game]. However he still caught me, I then asked him, “If this is my dream and I can do whatever I want, why is it that you pose a threat? He laughs and than I am sitting down in a Chili’s restaurant. I can’t remember who I am with but I do know all the women that I have asked out are in the room. Some guys walk in and a projection screen scrolls down in the front of the restaurant. As they look around one of them notices me and announces “Oh my God, ******* [gaming alias is given here which is deleted to preserve anonymity] is over there” referring to the priest I play in the game. The head guy then brings over a keyboard and tell me to log into the game. I try and explaing I can’t since I don’t have my authenticator on me. He tell me not to worry about it since they have called Blizzard [a game producing company] and have grnated my a one time easement to logon without my authenticator. He than explains to me he is going to hold everyone hostage inside the restaurant until his son is ran though all the instances and raids within WoW. Once I accept the terms and I put my hands on the keyboard I am whisked away and I see my blue eyed Mexican redhead with an English accent, I have no idea what part of the world I am in all I know is I need to chase her.

The ingredients of lucidity, and control, as well as incorporation of game play, are easy to identify in this dream. However, the outcomes are not as clear. While this soldier used a gaming technique to try to get safely away from Freddy, it didn’t appear to work. Freddy laughed at him. But the game theme continued with his getting special access, authenticator waived, and once accepting the game terms a reward, the Mexican redhead. Gaming is not in all the dreams of these young military gamers. This same young soldier offered this dream as his most impactful dream while in the military:

I was a passenger in a HUMVEE driving down one of the raods in Iraq. Out of nowwhere there is a load boom and I see a cloud of dust in front of the vehicle. The impact of the exploxsion is felt as my head is forced back in a whiplash fashion. I remember being asked if I was okay, there are no injuries, people are shaken up by the event. We continue on after doing checks, after that the dream ends or that is all I can recall.

Gaming had no apparent direct influence on this dream. However, he reports about this dream that he did not feel separation, rejection or loss and indeed felt vital, energetic and alive. He reported feeling moderately successful in obtaining his goals in the dream. Yet before awakening he responded that to some extent, he felt like crying.
          Here is another case of a married enlisted black man on active duty who has been deployed into combat with the US Army. This 40 year old plays video games daily. He reported this dream as his most recent:

I had a dream about my game i was playing lastnight before bed.. I dreamed I was an enforcer in my game and I kept having problems reloading my weapon. All I can see is my weapon jamming after reloading. It is a semi automatic handgun. I am also underfire while this is happening. I can hear the rounds passing by me.

While the game play is evident in the dream it does not seem to empower him in any way that is apparent. Yet the rounds are “passing by” which is certainly a better outcome, if not safe. Another daily gamer who is a 25 year old, Caucasian, enlisted man in the US military, on active duty, but has not been deployed, had this dream:

Sometime after the North Koreans blew up the Cheonan, I had a dream that war broke out and I had to flee from my home and complete certain goals before I could leave the area. So I ran around the map (much like a video game I play, called ArmA II) and complete objectives such as rescuing my fiancee, to collecting food/fuel, and forming and following a route to Pusan for my escape. I remember feeling some fear, but also I was sure my experiences in the military and training would get me through the trials that were set before me. Once I had made it through the initial set of tasks to escape the city I’m in now, I felt relief and when I woke up I was sweating and clutching my fiancee out of fear of losing her.

          Here we see an interesting combination of empowerment from the game play translated into the dream, completing objectives and relief, yet he also seemed to experience fear upon awakening.
          Finally these types of comments are also taken from this set of military gamers dreams which we are currently in the process of collecting. They are similar to ones we have seen in our earlier gamer data sets:

  • At this point, my dreaming self was dissatisfied with the situation, and then “rewound” the episode.
  • I am always going from being myself in the dream to watching it like a movie and it bounces like that trough out the dream.
  • i was part of the fellow ship of the ring.. and i was travelling in the woods fighting a dragon casting magical spells..it was awsome!!!
  • often wake up as i did from this one on some kind of adreniline rush, feelings similar to winning in sports or doing well during moments of intense concentration during computer games

          In conclusion, while we don’t yet understand entirely the role that video game play has in influencing our dreams, clearly it is one that is important to investigate as more and more of our lived lives are in VR environments, like this conference!



          Gackenbach, J.I., Kuruvilla, B., Dopko, R. & Le, H. (2010). Chapter 5: Dreams and video game play. In F. Columbus (Ed.), Computer Games: Learning Objectives, Cognitive Performance and Effects on Development, Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers, p. 127-136.

          Gackenbach, J.I. (2008). Video game play and consciousness development: A transpersonal perspective. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 40(1), 60-87.

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