I’m a compulsive being. My brain tells me I want something, and I listen to it. Often, my brain does not act on my best interest, and that’s when I should turn to video games.
Playing the classic block-falling puzzle game Tetris for as little as three minutes can reduce cravings for food, drugs, or sex by as much as 70 percent, according to a Plymouth University study that was recently published in the scientific journal Addictive Behaviors (via ScienceDirect). The research suggests that Tetris — and potentially other graphically intense video games (although the study did not try anything but Tetris) — take up so much of your mental focus that it leaves little room in your mind for other desires.
“We think the Tetris effect happens because craving involves imagining the experience of consuming a particular substance or indulging in a particular activity,” Plymouth professor Jackie Andrade wrote in the study. “Playing a visually interesting game like Tetris occupies the mental processes that support that imagery; it is hard to imagine something vividly and play Tetris at the same time.”
The study tracked the cravings of 24 female students and seven male students, who would report whether they were craving food, non-alcoholic beverages, substances like coffee/alcohol, or anything else. Researchers would check in seven times a day to see who was craving what and whether they had “indulged” a previously reported craving.
Around 30 percent of the time, the subjects reported cravings — and that was mostly for food, water, and soda pop. Second most were cravings for drugs like caffeine, cigarettes, and alcohol. Finally, around 16 percent of the cravings were for socializing, sleep, and sexual intercourse.
For the participants who played Tetris, the reported cravings in all categories were fewer and weaker.
“People played the game 40 times on average, but the effect did not seem to wear off,” said Andrade. “This finding is potentially important because an intervention that worked solely because it was novel and unusual would have diminishing benefits over time as participants became familiar with it.”
So something about Tetris and the way it interacts with the mind makes it more potent at treating cravings. But, of course, this does not make Tetris some miracle cure. Instead, it is potentially one more thing that could help treat compulsions and addictions.
“Addiction is far too complex a problem to be treated by Tetris alone,” Andrade said in an interview with website Medical News Today. “But tasks like Tetris might be useful tools to help people manage their cravings and give them confidence that they can beat them. It could become a component of therapy to help people for whom cravings are a particularly problematic aspect of their addiction.”