Tetris can help fight post-traumatic stress disorder

For such a simple game Tetris has had a massive effect on the world – its highly addictive gameplay and hypnotic soundtrack have helped the tetronimo placing game to staggering popularity across the globe.

But when the game was released on the Nintendo Gameboy in 1989, having been developed by Alexey Pajitnov in 1984, it soon became clear that the supremely addictive game had other powers than keeping bratty kids entertained for an hour.

There were indeed dangers.  For those who spent too long attempting to get to level 15 there were tales of hallucinations where Tetris blocks would begin to seep into the lives of hardcore gamers, the sights and sounds of the game being incorporated into their reality like a spectacularly nerdy acid trip.

Some would even stand in supermarkets pondering how they could rotate and stack cereal packets to greater effect in what was known as the ‘Tetris effect’. 

But now it seems that the hypnotic powers of Tetris are being harnessed for the greater good with the announcement that researchers have begun using the game to reduce flashbacks in patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Scientists at Oxford University discovered that following volunteers viewing a film containing traumatic images of injury, those who were then able to play Tetris for an amount of time subsequently experienced significantly fewer flashbacks.

It appears that this does not necessarily mean all games have such an effect, it is apparently just Tetris that has an effect on PTSD, a condition which has seen some other exotic treatments in the past.

“Our latest findings suggest Tetris is still effective as long as it is played within a four-hour window after viewing a stressful film,” said Dr Emily Holmes of Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry. ‘Whilst playing Tetris can reduce flashback-type memories without wiping out the ability to make sense of the event, we have shown that not all computer games have this beneficial effect – some may even have a detrimental effect on how people deal with traumatic memories.’

The researchers also tested capacity to reduce flashback by playing the slightly less iconic Pub Quiz Machine 2008, though these volunteers were subject to significantly more flashbacks.

“Whist this work is still experimental, and any potential treatment is a long way off, we are beginning to understand how intrusive memories/flashbacks are formed after trauma, and how we can use science to explore new preventative treatments,” said Dr Holmes.