By Esther Inglis-Arkell
This was an actual experiment. And the results of it showed that the Tetris Effect - the fact that those who played Tetris for long periods of time tend to fit shapes together in their dreams and in the rest of their life – is a learning tool.
Many people have heard of The Tetris Effect, the fact that gamers tend to have dreams that involve repetitively playing the same games that they do when they’re awake. Some people also spend their waking hours idly thinking about how the shapes of office buildings or paintings on the wall can be fitted together, as in Tetris. It might sound like a minor quirk of the brain, but sleep and dream scientists considered it a great opportunity. All of a sudden, they had a reliable ability to link waking and dreaming life. And so they did what most people do. They recruited some amnesiacs – specifically, they had the kind of amnesiacs that forgot, from day to day, everything they’d learned the day before. The scientists also recruited expert Tetris players and novice Tetris players. They gave a short lesson, and started the players out, playing an hour or two in the morning, the afternoon, and at night. They then had each report their dreams, and tracked their playing from day to day.
The experts didn’t have Tetris-centric dreams. Many of the novices did – at least after the second day- and scientists saw their games improve considerably. Some of the amnesiacs also reported having the types of Tetris dreams that the novices had. Although they didn’t see any improvement in their games during the short experiment, they were familiar with how to place their hands on the controls, even if they had to be taught the game all over again.
Scientists were puzzled by the fact that the amnesiacs did dream, but didn’t improve. Otherwise, though, the dreaming beginners and dreamless experts fit in with ways that the brain trains itself to play Tetris.
Another study, on how much of the brain gets used, revealed that less and less of the brain is used on the higher levels. This, they think, is because only experts get to higher levels. Dreams of Tetris represent the brain trying to work things out. This requires a lot of energy, and not a lot of efficiency. As the person gets better, and their playing involves less dithering over pieces and considering different options, less and less of their brain is used. Both experientially and mentally, they learn to use the least amount of effort to get the best results. After they are at a high level of efficiency, the brain sees this as business as usual, and settles down.
I’ve had Tetris dreams. I’ve even had computer solitaire dreams. But I have to ask, does this work for every game? Are drivers Mario Karting? And what about those people playing first person shooters? Are you thinking about how you can edge around walls in the mist to take out your opposition?
With this week, in We Come From the Future, we take a look at the best fictional video games, drink sugar, and I reveal how graphing calculators are the gateway drug to a Tetris addiction.
Top Image: Mark Sebastian
Second Image: Liz Lawley