Why your Dreams are Influenced by Repetitive Gaming

"Gamers are used to controlling their game environments, so that can translate into dreams."

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree
I travel the world and the seven seas
Everybody's looking for something

From "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)" by the Eurythmics.

Annie Lennox's etherial voice blares through the speakers of the Declasse Sabre GT I stole twenty minutes ago. The big V8 roars when I punch the gas pedal to the floor and it tries to eek out a few more horses from the 442 already galloping full-bore.

A few blocks back my wanted level spiked to six stars when I cut a corner too short and plowed into a Liberty City police cruiser... crushing the cop standing next to it. How I got the other five stars isn't important. What is important is that I'm running out of options. The chopper shadowing me from above sees my every move.  I need to lose it - fast.  Maybe they won't expect me to head for restricted airspace.

I sling the steel stallion through another corner and almost lose control again. These damn muscle cars weren't meant for Tokyo style drifting; they're made for tearing up the quarter-mile with pure, unadulterated power. As I slide out the backside of the turn I jam down on the accelerator and the Sabre fishtails for a second.  I hold my breath... suddenly it pulls away from the remaining cruisers still stuck to my bumper like leaches from a pond.   

"Francis International Airport next left" reads the sign as I scream past it. Cranking the wheel sends the Sabre into one more turn; this time I'm able to control it without losing momentum and I barrel down the parkway towards freedom.

Dream Quest

If you're a gamer you've probably had a dream or two where the events, characters, and settings come to life when you close your eyes. In fact, there are a ton of interesting facts about dreams that tell us why we dream what we do.

For me, the Grand Theft Auto games - monstrous, open-world, sandboxes full of endless possibilities - is my trigger. Which is odd because I don't dream often, and when I do I rarely remember them.  Keep that in mind as you read the rest of this non-dreamy article... it'll make sense later. 

According to Jayne Gackenbach, a psychologist at Grant MacEwan University in Canada, hardcore gamers usually experience more lucid dreams (where the subject is aware they're dreaming) than non-gamers, and can actually control things in their dreamscape.  

"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, who has studied the connection between video games and dreams for years, contends that both act as a "virtual reality" of sorts that allows gamers and lucid dreamers to acquire better reaction times, attention spans, concentration, spatial and problem solving skills.  So, don't let people tell you that video games rot your brain... because it's not true. 

In 2006 she published two studies based on surveys of hardcore gamers as well as those who didn't play any video games. As previously cited, one study showed the frequency of lucid dreams by gamers and their ability to influence those dreams.  The second study focused more on gamers and the dreams they had the previous night.  She found that while lucid dreams were common, gamers never really had control of their dreams... just their dream selves. Since then Gackenbach has refined her methods (i.e., controlling the frequency of dream recollection) and has reproduced her findings several times.

Nightmare on Your Street

But Gackenbach didn't stop there.  She wanted to know what, if any, affect video games had on nightmares. She started by using Finnish psychologist Antti Revonsuo's  "threat simulation" theory, which states that nightmares tend to copy threatening real-life situations in a non-threatening environment. In effect, nightmares act as a survival mechanism that prepare people for what might happen in the real world. 

In a 2008 she compared "after-dream reports" from 35 men and 63 women and found that typical “Being Chased” and “Can’t Escape” nightmares didn't frighten gamers because their threat levels were greatly diminished. Basically, what non-gamers perceived as a nightmare scenario was seen as a "fun" experience by gamers because they'd already trained their minds to take control of similar situations... through playing video games. 

"What happens with gamers is that something inexplicable happens," Gackenbach says. "They don't run away, they turn and fight back. They're more aggressive than the norms."

BAM! That explains why I don't remember my dreams. When I hit the sack and start watching that night's eyelid movie. I must turn into a rough and tumble Duke Nukem, Gordon Freeman or Nathan Drake. Since nothing seems to scare me in my dreams there's nothing for me to remember as a nightmare!

Our advice: keep on gaming and you too may conquer the fears that roam your subconscious.

What kind of dream experiences have you had? Can you control your dreams?  Let us know. For more information on Jayne Gackenbach's latest studies on dreams and video games, please visit her website

Featured Correspondent

Pong, Pitfall and Pole Position were my babysitters, which means I've been traipsing through virtual realities longer than most of you young whipper snappers have been alive. How did cutting my teeth on video games influence me? Private investigator, body guard and bounty hunter. Video game characters, right? Yup, but they're also things I've done in real life. I've also written professionally about Star Wars, video games and craft beer. --- "Save the Earth. It's the only planet with beer." "Fairy tales are more than true - not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be...more »

Published Sep. 24th 2018

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