Please join our effort to help prevent post-traumatic stress disorder by learning and sharing this simple technique:
If you experience or witness a trauma, play a pattern-matching videogame such as Tetris or Candy Crush Saga as soon as possible, ideally within the first twenty-four hours after the event.
Play the game for at least 10 minutes. It may help to play the game again immediately before going to sleep that same night.
It sounds too simple to work, but this simple technique has been scientifically investigated — and the evidence suggests that it can indeed help.
Researchers at Oxford University tested a theory that playing the videogame Tetris as soon as possible after witnessing or experiencing a trauma could prevent flashbacks, one of the most painful and difficult-to-treat symptoms of PTSD.
How it works: Visual pattern-matching games like Tetris (and Candy Crush Saga, Bejeweled, etc) are so visually absorbing, they prevent your brain from concentrating on what you saw, and therefore block your brain from forming long-term visual memories of the trauma. You will still be able to recall all of the details of what happened, but you are less likely to suffer unwanted flashbacks.
ONLY visual pattern-matching games like Tetris are expected to help. Other types of games (such as racing games or first-person shooters) are not likely to help, and some games (such as trivia quizzes) may even increase flashbacks.
The researchers successfully tested their theory in a laboratory setting — twice, and then again more recently in a follow-up study. Tetris DID prevent flashbacks after witnessing traumatic imagery. Tetris players also reported less trauma overall on a traumatic experience survey. But it’s much more difficult to test with real trauma in real-world situations. It’s unknown exactly how helpful this technique will be in different kinds of traumatic situations. However, the research to date suggests strong potential for significant benefit — and, in its favor, this technique is free, widely accessible, has no known side effects, and does not interfere with other forms of treatment or support.
WHO CAN THIS TECHNIQUE HELP?
If you or someone you love experiences or witness a trauma such as a motor vehicle accident, a physical injury, a rape, a physical assault, a violent crime, the loss of a pet, a workplace accident, the death of a loved one, this technique could help prevent flashbacks and nightmares.
These are terrible things to imagine happening, but if they do, this simple cognitive vaccine could prevent months or even years of suffering.
To make it easier to remember during a crisis, just think: “PLAY, don’t REPLAY.” Play a game, to avoid replaying the trauma over and over again in your mind. “PLAY, don’t REPLAY” is the stop-drop-and-roll of preventing PTSD.
Although studies suggest this technique may help reduce the quantity and severity of flashbacks, you may still experience some flashbacks or other symptoms of PTSD. Please don’t hesitate to seek additional help. You can learn more about the symptoms of PTSD, and how to get help for yourself or others.
Here’s how you can help prevent PTSD today:
Please SPREAD THE WORD: Share this page with as many people as possible — via Twitter, Facebook, or email.
This technique only works if you know about it before you experience or witness a trauma. That’s why we need to teach as many people as we can now, in case they need it one day in the future.
To make it easier to remember during a crisis, just think: “PLAY, not REPLAY.” Play a game, to avoid replaying the trauma over and over again in your mind. “PLAY, not REPLAY” is the stop-drop-and-roll of preventing PTSD.
Please remember: While there is evidence to suggest this technique can reduce the number and severity of flashbacks, this technique is NOT an alternative to other forms of support or treatment. Please continue to seek any and all medical, legal, psychological, and social support you may need.
How you can help prevent PTSD in the FUTURE:
SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE: If you or a loved one ever has the need to use this technique, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org letting us know. We would love to ask you a few simple questions (such as what game you played, how soon after the trauma, and whether you experienced flashbacks or nightmares) so we can start to learn more about whether this technique works, and how much it helps, in real-world situations.
Questions we might be able to answer: How can this videogame “cognitive vaccine” be incorporated into first-response to traumas, in hospitals, schools, or police settings? Is it even possible for someone to focus attention on a videogame immediately after a traumatic event, or are some events so traumatic that concentrating on anything at all is nearly impossible? Does this technique help more with those who witness, but are not directly impacted by the trauma?
For more information, reach out to Jane McGonigal, PhD @avantgame on Twitter.
For more information about the Tetris “cognitive vaccine” technique, you can read coverage in Time Magazine, Discover Magazine, and Psychology Today — or read the original scientific paper on this technique, as well as its larger follow-up study.
Here is a helpful review of research on the ethics of researching trauma, and the impacts on participants of trauma research. “Trauma researchers are often those who are facilitating the telling of a story to a supportive audience for the first time. Finding a way to tell these stories well, to examine their meaning, and to promote the understanding necessary to prevent the further occurrence of trauma, is one purpose of trauma research. Implicit in this goal is the duty to perform the research with integrity and respect.”
This project is not associated with Oxford University, or their researchers. It is an independent effort. It is not affiliated with or supported by the makers of Tetris, or any other videogame company for that matter!