Blending the Digital World and Reality

Written by Dr. Andrew Doan & Brooke Strickland on .

What happens to our minds when we devote significant hours to a task or an activity? What happens to our brains when we focus hours and hours to a video game?

Dr. Robert Stickgold and research team at Harvard University published an experiment in the top-rated research journal, Science, illustrating people who played the video game Tetris for seven hours over a period of three days experienced hallucinatory replay of the activities as they fell asleep.[1] This phenomenon is referred to as “The Tetris Effect”. The game Tetris is a puzzle game where falling blocks of various shapes must be aligned to form a continuous line.[2] When such a line is created, it disappears, and any block above the deleted line will fall. When a certain number of lines are cleared, the game enters a new level. As the game progresses, each level causes the blocks to fall faster. The game ends when the stack of blocks reaches the top of the playing field and no new blocks are able to fall. Participants playing Tetris reported intrusive, stereotypical, visual images of the game at sleep onset. Three patients who suffered from amnesia with extensive brain damage produced similar hypnagogic reports despite being unable to recall playing the game, suggesting that such imagery may arise without important contribution from the declarative memory system.

What happens when kids play games that are violent or with strong sexual content? Will these games bring out anti-social and anti-productive tendencies in the gamer? I agree with Hillary Clinton that "we need to treat video games like we treat tobacco, alcohol and pornography."

[1] Stickgold et al., “Replaying the game: hypnagogic images in normals and amnesics.” Science. 2000 Oct 13;290(5490):350-3.

[2] “Tetris.” Wikipedia. Accessed September 19, 2011.

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