Video Gamers Have Power Over Their Nightmares

Video Gamers Have Power Over Their Nightmares

A recent study suggests that video game players could have the power to alter their nightmares, turning the tide on the things that go bump in our subconscious minds. We are the Dream Warriors.

Jayne Gackenbach, a psychologist at Grant MacEwan University in Canada, thinks that gamers might have the power to alter their dreams.

Gackenbach’s main area of study used to be lucid dreams – dreams where the dreamer watches from outside of their own body. Third-person dreams, if you will.

He studies veered towards video games in the ’90s, after she watched her son repeatedly kiss the box of a new Nintendo console on the way home from the store. Something that makes perfect sense to any gamer seemed strange to an outsider, and so she shifted her studies to incorporate gaming, perhaps as a way to cope with her son kissing cardboard boxes.

As she studied past research on video games, Gackenbach began to see parallels between lucid dreamers and gamers. Both groups have better spatial skills, for instance, and are better at coping with motion sickness. Both are able to achieve high levels of concentration and focus.

Both lucid dreams and video games are forms of alternate realities, though one is the result of a biological process and the other technological.

“If you’re spending hours a day in a virtual reality, if nothing else it’s practice,” said Gackenbach… “Gamers are used to controlling their game environments, so that can translate into dreams.”

Gackenbach further explored the relationship between lucid dreams and video games in a series of two studies published in 2006. The first surveyed a group of hardcore gamers and a group of non-gamers, with results suggesting that frequent gamers were more likely to have lucid dreams than non-gamers. Furthermore, the dreaming gamers evidenced dream control, the power to actively influence their dream worlds.

The power to control dreams!

The second study, conducted to narrow down information from the first, showed that while gamers did have control over their dream worlds, the control was limited to their dream selves, as if controlling a video game character.

They also tend to flip between first and third-person view.

If gamers could control dreams, what about nightmares?

Gackenbach explored that question with a new study in 2008. Using a group of 35 males and 63 females, she studied threat levels gleaned from after-dream reports. The results indicated that not only gamers experienced lower threat levels in their dreams, they also experienced reverse threat simulation, where the dreamer turns the tide of the nightmare, becoming an even bigger threat.

“What happens with gamers is that something inexplicable happens,” Gackenbach explained. “They don’t run away, they turn and fight back. They’re more aggressive than the norms.”

In our dreams we are fearless. In our dreams we are also particularly brutal, unafraid to bring a little bit of the old ultra-violence to bear against the nightmare nasties.

“If you look at the actual overall amount of aggression, gamers have less aggression in dreams,” Gackenbach said. “But when they’re aggressive, oh boy, they go off the top.”

See? We’re totally dream warriors.

Gackenbach hopes to use the information she’s gleaned from studying gamers’ reactions to nightmares to see if she can apply it to victims of post-traumatic stress disorder, a symptom of which is usually terrifying dreams. Could video games help control PTSD? That’s what she aims to find out.

She’s also studying the effect violent games have on dreams, based on ratings given by the ESRB.

Whatever her results show, I’m sure the video game dream warriors will be able to handle whatever their subconscious doles out.

Video Gamers Can Control Dreams, Study Suggests [Yahoo! Live Science – Thanks Michael!]

Now play us out, Dokken!


  • After any serious or extended L4D session I’d have zombie nightmares, so guess it kinda worked the other way round for me…

  • When I stayed in England for 3 weeks I kept dreaming I was back in Aus. It happened so often that I eventually realised I was dreaming.
    With the realization I had the power to do whatever I wanted in the dream I promptly went to a Sega Megadrive and played Bubsy the Bobcat, a game I never liked even in it’s prime.
    I soon forgot I was in a dream.

    I agree with a lot of what this article says. My dreams were very different when I was younger before I discovered Nintendo.

    But that last comment “based on ratings given by the ESRB”. Prolly not such a hot idea there. Maybe a bit of research into which games are more violent would help rather than relying on the often misguided attempts by the ESRB.

  • I think it sounds a bit like crap.

    How are they able to tell this?
    I wasn’t aware there is a device that can provide visual output of peoples dreams… I’m sure if there was, the porn industry would have put it to use by now.

    • A little gamer vanity never hurt anyone, these days they could have attached electrodes to these poor gamers’ brains and measured their brain signals to see which part of their brains were active during dreaming or something along those lines, not entirely farfetched like something from io9.

  • Awesome article!

    I frequently dream in video game format – be it pixelated WW2 soldiers, wandering futuristic battlefields in mech suits with my friends destroying our enemies, or even anime style western blood fests!

    Just last night I had a dream where I “turned the tide” against my enemy, so I agree with the findings of the study.

    I’ve also been recording these dreams in attempt to get into astral projection.. but the furthest I’ve got so far is looking down on myself from above, before promptly waking up!

    Why not explore the dream world like it was a game world!?

  • I find that when something absurd happens in a dream, I can become ‘aware’ of the dream, and influence it to some extent, even occasionally ‘rewinding’ sections of the dream and replaying them differently…
    It would be interesting if this sort of semi-conscious dream control was directly linked to video games.

  • As soon as I saw the phrase “Dream Warriors” I had the entire song play in my head, complete with Dokken/Freddy film clip.

    I’ve been able to conciously influence dreams since I was a child. I also always dream in full colour. The view switches from first to third person often and dreams often end with removing the threat that makes them bad dreams. Interesting that it is possibly linked to gaming. I thought it was something most people could do.

  • Case in point: just a few hours ago I was having a dream that I was thrown in prison with bunch of people I’d help put there. One by one they each tried to kill me (with a shank, metal chair, or broken glass etc.), but I managed to evade each of them by concentrating on their movements and priming my reflexes.

    I still woke up drenched in sweat, understandably, but at least I didn’t get shanked! Now I know that I have Assassin’s Creed to thank for that…

  • yeah dokken!

    i quite often realise i am dreaming when inside a dream. that is all it usually takes before the dream becomes what you want it to be. then you start to try crazy sh!t. i remember when it first used to happen, i would actually panic until i pretty much shocked myself awake, focusing completely on moving my body (more like jolting) as if i was trapped inside a paralysed body. so the realisation actually turned it into a nightmare. then i stopped stressing at some point in my youth and looked forward to them.

  • I’ve had plenty of dreams where I’ve realised what was happening and thought “No, I don’t think so” and changed the dream to suit me better. It never even occurred to me that it was in part due to video games!

    I have super, SUPER intense dreams anyway, often I wake up utterly exhausted but entertained so I guess it’s a tradeoff. Plus now when I stay up far too late and miss out on sleep I can say it was practice for dreaming *cough*.

  • While this study is interesting I’d like to know how varied the results were amongst the non-gamers, were there many of them who had the exact same ability as the gamers?

    While I can see how gaming could be a way of practicing controlling your dreams I don’t think it’s a deciding factor of whether you can control your dreams.

    I personally have been able to manipulate my dreams for a long time but it came from actively realising they were dreams and taking control, not from playing games.
    I point this out because I don’t play games. With the exception of tetris for a minute or two every few months or so I’ve never played video games.

    It would be interesting to see more of the results of the study and a study on whether people who are not normally able to be actively involved in dreams are able to be taught to do so and whether using games as a medium to do so gives an advantage over those who learn without using games.

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