We always knew Tetris was good for a lot things. For instance, helping you procrastinate throughout the entire first half of the 1990s. And gifting us an unforgettable soundtrack which has somehow now birthed a small colony of remixes.
But researchers may only now be unlocking its most amazing and important function: As a possible aid in the fight against Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). An estimated one out of every five soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan suffers from PTSD, according to the Journal of Psychiatric Research.
A study by an Oxford research team indicated that playing the game after being exposed to a traumatic event can prevent PTSD-related flashbacks. The group recently presented their findings at the British Psychology Society Annual Conference where psychiatry expert Dr. Emily Holmes said "the Tetris game had a protective effect," that appeared to “inoculate against the build-up of flashbacks."
Read the group's complete report right here.
The Oxford team had 60 volunteers watch a graphically violent film containing many disturbing images. Thirty minutes after the film ended, they were divided into three groups: one played Tetris, another played a computer trivia game, and the third did absolutely nothing at all. All volunteers were sent home and asked to keep a log for the next week of any flashbacks of the film that they experienced. A second group of volunteers went through the same thing, except they were given four hours between film and activity time.
Across all volunteers, the ones who experienced the least amount of flashback were those who played Tetris. They experienced on average three flashbacks over the next week. The subjects who did nothing after watching the film suffered about five flashbacks each and those who took the quiz experienced around eight flashbacks.
The group writes that "flashbacks are the hallmark feature of PTSD, thus offering an important target for intervention," and that Tetris' sustained relative effectiveness whether played 30 minutes or four hours after being exposed to trauma "delivers a feasible time-window to administer a post-trauma “cognitive vaccine."
But before we go outfitting every soldier with camo, a firearm and a GameBoy, there are some limitations to the research that should be pointed out. In fact, Wired highlights three of them, beginning with the issue that viewing a gruesome film "is hardly comparable to what a soldier experiences during combat. And a study pool of 60 people, over a one-week period, falls far short of the kind of thorough research necessary to validate a prospective treatment."
Additionally, even a four-hour window may not be long enough to intercept the harm of experiencing a traumatic event. What does this method offer a soldier whose harrowing experience occurred three days ago? Or three years ago?
Dr. Holmes told LiveScience that more clinical trials are necessary before therapists should go and prescribe a few rounds of Tetris for those experiencing PTSD. She says more studies are underway, testing the game's effectiveness one day after the initial trauma occurs.
Nevertheless, as the researchers stress in their paper, "the insights arising from these two studies support the possibility that tasks such as Tetris (a simple visuospatial task) may be developed as a post-trauma intervention to reduce the flashback symptoms of PTSD, and administered up to 4 hours post-trauma."