A study suggests that playing video games before bedtime may give gamers a higher level of awareness and control in their dreams giving them a better chance to have a lucid dream. Lucid dreaming is simply being aware you are dreaming, while dreaming, and being able to influence that dream in one way or another. Lucid dreams usually occur while a person is in the middle of a regular dream and suddenly realizes that he or she is asleep and must be dreaming. The person is then said to become "lucid", and may enter one of many different levels of lucidity. At the lowest level, the dreamer may be dimly aware that he or she is dreaming, but not rationally enough so as to realize that all events, people, or actions in the dream are not real. At the highest level, the dreamer is fully aware that she or he is asleep, and can have complete control over all aspects of the dream.
Gamers and Dreams
While gaming at night might not give you the ability to alternate the reality of your dream worlds in the same fashion as "The Matrix", it could however give your mind an edge when facing nightmares and other mental trauma in the every day world. According to Jayne Gackenbach, a psychologist at Grant MacEwan University in Canada, dreams and video games both represent alternate realities which are commonly used by the mind to mimic threatening situations in a safe environment. In fact, several intriguing parallels between lucid dreamers and video gamers have emerged since Gackenbach began her research on video games and how they affect dreams.
The two groups are both capable of demonstrating high levels of focus and concentration, whether that be through lucid-training activities such as meditation and reality checks, or through hours spent mastering virtual worlds and combating countless enemies. In addition both lucid dreamers and gamers seemed to have better spatial skills and were less prone to motion sickness. These findings encouraged Gackenbach to survey the dreams of both non-gamers and hardcore gamers, beginning with two separate studies published in 2006.
The first study suggested that people who frequently played video games were more likely to report lucid dreams and dream control, or the ability to directly influence their dream environment. A second study attempted to narrow down several uncertainties of the first experiment by examining dreams that participants experienced from the night before and by focusing more intently on the dreams of gamers.
This study found that lucid dreams were common among gamers, but that they never had dream control over anything beyond their dream selves. In other words gamers are greatly capable of controlling their own actions in dreams, but are not very capable of altering their dream environments. The gamers also frequently flipped between a first person view from within their body and a third person view of themselves from the outside. This third person perspective was very rarely described as a calm detachment of somebody simply watching. These are very peculiar qualities in dreams which may stem from constantly watching and controlling the actions of a video-game character.
Viewing the Nightmare World in the Eyes of a Gamer
As mentioned before, dreams mimic threatening situations from real life in the safe environment of the dream world. Such nightmares would help organisms hone their survival skills in a protective environment. To test this theory, Gackenbach conducted a 2008 study with 35 males and 63 females, and assessed the threat levels experienced by the dreamers in their sleeping world. She found that gamers experienced less or even a reversed threat simulation in which the dreamer themselves had become the threatening presence. She also noted less aggression overall towards the dreamer, yet aggression in the gamer towards the dream often culminated in violence not unlike that seen in mature rated video games. In other words, a scary nightmare scenario turned into something fun for a gamer.
"What happens with gamers is something inexplicable," Gackenbach explained. "They don't run away, they turn and fight back. They're more aggressive than the norms. If you look at the actual overall amount of aggression, gamers have less aggression in dreams, but when they are aggressive, oh boy, they go off the top."
It appears indeed that video gamers are the undisputed masters of their dreams.