You just ran a really bad call, should you take 20 minutes to play some Tetris or Candy Crush?

While more research on a larger scale is needed, it certainly seems plausible that playing video games after a bad call could reduce the amount of flashbacks, a cardinal symptom of PTSD,  that occur.

No research has been published specifically on first responders regarding video games and PTSD. When members of the general public are exposed to traumatic events, playing video games after the event is associated with a lowered number of flashbacks and intrusive memories compared to those in the control group that did not.

The journal Molecular Psychiatry released a studyon March 28th 2017, Preventing intrusive memories after trauma via a brief intervention involving Tetris computer game play in the emergency department: a proof-of-concept randomized controlled trial.[1] The study was comprised of 71 people over the age of 18 that went to the emergency room at John Radcliffe Hospital, in Oxford, UK within 6 hours of experiencing or witnessing a motor vehicle accident that met DSM-IV PTSD criterion A1 for traumatic events. This is described as “experienced, witnessed or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury.”

Participants were randomized, half of them were asked to briefly explain what the worst moments of the accident were and were then instructed to play Tetris for 20 minutes in the ER. The other half of the participants spent an equivalent amount of time writing down all the things they had done in the ER, but did not have the memory cues and did not get to play video games.

The study looked at number of intrusive memories that happened in the 7 days following the accidents. The group that had played Tetris in the ER had significantly less intrusive memories than the control group.

The authors of the study hypothesize that playing Tetris immediately after the exposure to traumatic events causes a competition in the brain between the game with high visuospatial needs and consolidation of the memories, resulting in less intrusive memories.

The authors also stated that it does not have to be Tetris, “but any task with high visuospatial demands is likely to be useful within the procedure (e.g. games such as Candy Crush, drawing).”

This recent study builds on the 2009 study, Can Playing the Computer Game “Tetris” Reduce the Build-Up of Flashbacks for Trauma? A Proposal from Cognitive Science.[2]  where 40 participants watched a 12 minute film with scenes of injuries and death.   Following a short break after the film half of the participants sat quietly for 10 minutes and half of them played Tetris for 10 minutes.  Participants who played Tetris had significantly lower rates of flashbacks over the next 7 days.

2009 tetris
Flashback frequency over one week. From Holmes, et al. 2009.

While further research is needed it might be reasonable to play 20 minutes of Tetris or Candy Crush as soon as possible after completing a bad call. It seems there is at the very least a theoretical benefit and playing video games for 20 to 30 minutes is not likely to be harmful.
Standard disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, etc. I had one semester of psychology in college. This blog is not a substitute for seeking care or treatment from a mental health professional. I probably have no idea what I am talking about.

 

  1. Iyadurai L, Blackwell SE, Meiser-stedman R, et al. Preventing intrusive memories after trauma via a brief intervention involving Tetris computer game play in the emergency department: a proof-of-concept randomized controlled trial. Mol Psychiatry. 2017;
  2. Holmes EA, James EL, Coode-bate T, Deeprose C. Can playing the computer game “Tetris” reduce the build-up of flashbacks for trauma? A proposal from cognitive science. PLoS ONE. 2009;4(1):e4153.

 

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