For soldiers fighting Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, popular game Tetris is as helpful as therapy or medication.
A research team at Oxford University discovered playing Tetris alleviates symptoms of PTSD, including flashbacks, by interrupting the process of storing painful memories in the brain.
“Tetris therapy” doesn’t erase or suppress the memory, but because Tetris engages the same parts of the brain used for imprint vivid mental images, playing the game soon after trauma may interfere with the mind using those areas to store extensive, detailed recollections.
The Tetris therapy could be especially helpful for soldiers in combat zones trying to stop reliving painful experiences, as accessing the game is easier than making time for extensive talking therapy, or risk the side effects of pharmaceutical drugs used to treat PTSD. The U.S. Army could use the popular game to treat returning and deployed soldiers.
Smartphone use in the Army is on the rise, and since Tetris is available as an app and on portable gaming devices, troops will have access to the game, even from remote outposts.
This isn’t the first time research suggested video games can help people with psychological or neurological conditions. Autism researchers credit social games on iPads with helping people develop social skills and communicate more clearly, while studies show app games like “Angry Birds” help elderly people stay mentally keen.
There are already apps on the market to monitor stressed-out mobile phone users, like iHeal, which is designed to prevent drug relapses but can also be used to gauge PTSD patients’ health, helping them know when to seek care. These monitoring apps could be used to see if Tetris therapy is working, by comparing the stats of people who are regularly playing Tetris to combat symptoms with those who do not.
Video games are sometimes maligned for turning the mind to mush, but this study, along with others, illustrates how they can positively rewire the brain and supplement more traditional treatments for mental disorders.