Encouraging Lucid Dreaming with Video Games

Mom was wrong: video games don’t rot your brain. 

Gaming can actually develop your focus, self-esteem, and mental balance; which are all useful skills for encouraging lucidity in dreams… and in waking life.

Lucid dream researcher-turned-technology psychologist Jayne Gackenbach has collected some solid evidence that playing video games may increase the chances of going lucid. In 2006, Gackenbach reported in the journal Dreaming that frequent gamers have more lucid dreams than those who don’t game at all.1

[pullquote]Frequent gamers have more lucid dreams than those who don’t game at all. [/pullquote]

Although this research is still in its infancy, it appears that playing video games can develop consciousness in similar ways as more traditional methods, such as meditation or chanting.

Gaming targets and augments several abilities simultaneously:

First, gamers develop concentration by engaging in a goal-oriented task amongst many distractions.

Secondly, gamers have a highly developed sense of proprioception, or knowing where their avatar is in relationship to the game matrix. Gaming appears to develop field independence, a psychological trait that has already been correlated with high lucidity levels.2

Finally, gamers have a “can-do” attitude and excellent self-esteem after playing, a trait that bleeds over into other aspects of your life. So if meditation is not for you, a regular gaming practice may actually develop your awareness.

I can't recommend lucidity training with violent games, unless you want to numb yourself down

Interestingly, gamers do not have more nightmares than non-gamers, even though they spend much of their waking awareness shooting zombies. On the contrary, playing violent video games may dampen your response to violence.3

So, when using violent first person shooters games to develop your awareness, ask yourself “what am I training for?”

You gain an appreciation for architecture after trying to recreate it. I keep accidentally building Norman castles.

Personally, I have been recently spending an inordinate amount of time playing the indie hit Minecraft. This game is styled after classic 16-bit first-person shooters, but it’s really a building game like SimCity with strong role-playing influences a la Final Fantasy.

There is no goal: you are free to build structures and terraform your world all while picking up resources and making tools. Currently, I spend my time building to-scale Neolithic megaliths on my private ice planet.

The game also encourages vigilance due to the zombies and monsters that come out at night, but it’s not a violent game unless you seek it out or hang out in dark caves.

Just like real life.

This article is drawn from my upcoming course The Lucid Immersion Blueprint, which with luck will be available for download in early December.

Sources

1 Gackenbach, J. Video game play and lucid dreams. Dreaming, 2006, 16(2): 96-110.

Gackenbach, J. (2010). Psychological considerations in pursuing lucid dreaming research. International Journal of Dream Research, 3 (1), 11-12.

3 Anderson, C. and Dill, K. (2000). Video games and aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behavior in the laboratory and in life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78,  772-790.

Comments

  1. cliff says

    i think that chess is more powerfull than video games for lucidity. when i play chess i need to focus alot or i will lose my queen, i have to attack because if i stay on defence i’ll lose and i can do reality checks with the pieces! :D

  2. says

    LOL! My Xbox 360 is arriving today! I’ll be starting with the epic fantasy SKYRIM, Elder Scrolls V “Live another life in another world.” I was aware of Jayne’s article, which was all the “excuse” I needed to request an early Christmas present. Should be interesting as well as great fun to see what effect it has on my lucid dreaming.

    • Steven Perry says

      I’m not so sure about this idea. What if your dreams get burdened with Skyrim’s excruciating load times? Imagine, say, that you are lucid and you just know that Angelina Jolie is in the next room (or Brad Pitt, wherever your tastes may lie) and is ready to get it on like Donkey Kong (TM Nintendo). You open the door, and suddenly there’s a black screen with a spinning sword for five minutes. Mood killer.

      • Ryan Hurd says

        lol. in my minecraft lucid dreams, you’re about to fly when suddenly a creeper stands in front of you and you get stuck in sleep paralysis, blam!

  3. Ryan Rose says

    Great article! I realize that my very 1st lucid dream a few years ago was a “1st person shooter” dream. I had started practicing lucid dreaming awhile before that and had been playing a lot of Call of Duty with my friends. Had no idea at the time that it was the perfect lucid cocktail. It wasn’t actually all that violent even and was a very powerful experience to break through to lucidity.

    How would you recommend specifically doing reality checks or having mindfulness for lucid dreaming while gaming Ryan?

    • Ryan Hurd says

      that’s very cool!

      and good question. I actually have not tried this, but like any good anchor, a game-assisted RC should be repeatable in practice yet, unique and bizarre enough to recognize in the dream. something with emotional appeal would work best, like imagery you see in the game only when you achieve something — or when you’re in danger. Repeat “I am aware!” everytime and let the meaning sink in.

  4. Steven Perry says

    This makes me think of all those WOW marathon gaming sessions I did back when I was in high school. After spending a good 4-6 hours on the computer right before bed time, I would dream that I was still playing it (with a perspective that switched between first and third-person). The weirdest part was how I controlled myself. Even when I was looking from my character’s eyes, in order to move around I would type on a mental keyboard and move a non-existent mouse. In response to Mr. Rose above me, my experience shows that a good reality check would be to make sure you’re actually holding a controller when playing a video game. If it’s a dream, you could feel all the sensations of pushing buttons and moving joysticks without any actually being there. But perhaps a better dream sign since your game is Call of Duty would be whether or not you are currently shooting at someone. Unless you’re in the Armed Forces or are a serial killer, this probably won’t happen too often in your waking life.

  5. Michael says

    The perspective I have on lucidity is being aware of the present the here and now and questioning my awareness as a habit in the physical, 3d (referred to as Malkuth). When we are dreaming whether lucid or not we are most often in the astral (hod). It is real, most often we are unaware we are dreaming because we never question the here and now in Malkuth. Our conscious is never fully awake because we are so distracted in the physical. Video games are a distraction if you are immersed in a game several hours a day. Taking the authors viewpoint as valid. I would have to say that there may be some limited value but there are much better ways to lucidity that may help guide your life. Ther are tricksters in hod and you also may be guided to the infernal realms. You visit through your lunar body through yesod (the ethereal). if you have the capacity and ability to enter this realm learn to use it wisely , don’t waste shooting aliens.

    • Ryan Hurd says

      thanks for sharing the Kabbalistic perspective Michael. I’m very curious how you integrate lucid dreaming into your spiritual practice.

    • Steven Perry says

      Michael,
      I am also interested in the connection between the Astral body and the world of Yesod. In fact, my desire to achieve a regular state of lucidity is my means towards freeing what you call the “lunar body” in order to explore the realms beyond. I wonder if you have much experience in this practice. If so, I’d love to have someone to talk to and learn from in this curious experiment. Reply if you’re interested and we can exchange email addresses.

  6. Ryan Hurd says

    I actually had a minecraft inspired dream last night.. had to build up some blocks to prevent the creepers from getting me… but I didn’t get lucid :)

  7. Liam says

    read your article just over a week ago and i can now confirm that i am addicted to computer games!

    been playing battlefield 1942…don’t laugh it’s all my pc will run

  8. Theresia says

    This is the first article I receive since finding the web and ordering the e-books which I am liking from page 1, so up to date, so active and practical
    I am not into any violent stuff, never watch movies, just like my Computer for all the available knowledge and I like meditation and soft music. I am an older lady. My question: anything else I could watch on my TV (never switch it on except for a good DVD)that would give me the same benefits….when coming to spooky things, I can see I have a long way to go, hoped only to meet Angels LOL
    Even to afraid to look at the Movie Matrix, yes, indeed, I have a long way to go
    What is your advise for such a softie like me?
    Thanks a lot

  9. says

    Re Michael & Steven’s comments, I was going to say that as a general rule, how you use your attention in waking life has definite effects in your dreaming life. The following is my distillation of some insights from anthroposophy in this regard, which I offer as one way of looking at this phenomenon.

    If people are comfortable with the terms, we can talk about how the astral body (the subtle body that allows something outside to become something for us inwardly; i.e. the sense-body, which we share with animals) gains its content in large part by reflecting itself off of the etheric body (the less subtle body that keeps your body from becoming a corpse, which we share with the plant realm).

    When you spend hours of time focusing your senses on particular stimuli (i.e. a video game) your are patterning your etheric body through physiological repetitions: the movements of your eyes, hands, breathing, etc., and more importantly in the endocrine responses and other physiological changes that go along with the particular game experience. Knowing why this is important needs a little background first.

    When you go to sleep, and you are no longer imposing your astral body on your etheric (i.e. choosing where to direct your attention and what sensations you will seek and avoid) your etheric body starts to “digest” all this activity that happened during the day. This digestion is like a reverse-engineering, it is a sort of inversion of the processes that occurred during the day because of what you did while you were awake.

    From this perspective, what sleeping _is_ has to do with the way the astral body (along with the “I” or “ego) detach from the physical and etheric bodies (although not completely, which is what _death_ is). Dreaming occurs when the astral and ego dip back into the etheric a little, but not all the way back into the physical (in which case you wake up).

    Because the content of the astral body is primarily supplied by reflecting itself off of the activity of the etheric body, what the etheric body is doing changes what becomes available as sensations for the astral body. This is true all of the time, but there is a difference in this relation when awake and when asleep, and when dreaming (and also lucid dreaming) as well.

    In waking life the etheric and physical bodies are directed, even “used” (or used up!) by the astral and ego, and the close links between these two groups means that almost all sensations (via the astral body, directed more or less by the ego) are directly linked to purely physical events or etheric processes (hunger, elimination, and so forth are the most obvious).

    But when sleeping the astral and ego are no longer directing the show back in the physical and etheric bodies; the etheric body is free to do its work of getting everything ready for the next day (repairing tissues, cleaning the blood, glycolosis in the liver, etc.). The wisdom of the physical and etheric bodies is such that a lot of this building-up activity happens earlier in the night. This can be seen as an esoteric “reason” for why non-REM sleep is greater earlier in the night and REM sleep increases later. (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/3e/Sleep_Hypnogram.svg/605px-Sleep_Hypnogram.svg.png for a nice picture of this.)

    The point is that how you structure your attention during the day (and what activities you therefore engage your etheric body in) has definite effects during sleep. Much of the effects can be dealt with by your etheric body in non-REM sleep, but it can’t do it all in one sleep cycle, so when your astral body and ego dip back down into the etheric body (resulting in a dream), and the astral body uses the etheric body to reflect itself to the ego (for conscious experience), whatever the etheric body is doing at the time changes (to continue the metaphor) the shape of the mirror, which modifies the reflected image of the astral body to the ego. In other words, some dreams (most, actually) are the kind where the astral body is having to deal with what is leftover in the breaking down of patterns that got imprinted on the etheric body during the day. You literally then “dream your body-processes”.

    But your astral body is a sense-making body; it builds sensory images, or what is poorly referred to in cognitive science as “representations” (it is way more than representing; it is creating, synthesizing, organizing, filtering, elevating, discarding…). So when your astral body dips into the etheric and uses it to “see” itself, it forms sensations (in the dream) out of the etheric activity that is going on at that time. Basically your astral body gets to peek in on the activity of the etheric body and turn it into imagery. This is why it can be really hard to predict what dream images actually form on the basis of day-waking activity. The more structured and repetitive the attention in daily life, the more likely the dream imagery will be a working through (a digestion) of this activity, a dismantling of it, a “dealing with” it. The term “images” means visual images, yes, but is also much wider in scope: sensory images can include all senses, it is also the feeling of what an experience is “like”.

    The astral body has its own patterns (protocols for avoidance of and seeking for particular sensations cascades). And it will generate imagery that is derivative of the day-waking sensation patterns. If the astral body meets the etheric body, which is digesting the patterns associated with playing a video game in waking life, the astral body is more likely to generate sensory images in the dream that fit that activity, and this MAY take the form of actual game imagery, but may not. The root is not the image itself but the activity upon which it rests in the etheric body; many possible images can be formed when the astral body meets the etheric in a dream (this is why any book that claims to be able to interpret your dreams by telling you what each symbol means is likely false; this is, however, an issue that needs a separate discussion).

    The upshot of all this is that you can utilize the relationship between the physical, etheric, astral, and ego bodies in skillful ways. To begin with you can simply see for yourself how structuring your attention in the day can change your dream life. In more extreme cases you can even see the effects of this _before_ sleep onset. If you play a game for three hours just before bed, then when you get into bed you will likely find that as soon as you relax the conscious focusing your attention, game imagery will fill your mind without your bidding. You may even find it very difficult to NOT experience the continuation of game imagery as you are lying in bed, trying to fall asleep. Whereas normally you may be able to direct your attention in a focused way to this and then that idea or sensation, now you have to spend all that effort just to not experience game imagery, and it creeps back in as soon as you relax your attention at all. You have created a pattern in your etheric and astral bodies that continues without any effort now on your part; now you have to “deal with” the consequences of this patterning. This is important because there is a whole lot of other things that could occupy your attention, but they are literally drowned out by the large amplitude of the patterns in the etheric and astral. All that is subtle (other aspects of your day that might present opportunities for deeper reflection) still takes place, but you don’t notice it anymore. You have to work through the biggest and most obvious stuff first, and because you just sat down for three hours of really focused time, concentrating on a game, you essentially have told your etheric and astral bodies that this must be super-important!

    These effects continue during sleep, but the difference here is that what can potentially occur during sleep is even more subtle than what happens during the day when sensations are linked so strongly to whatever the physical body is doing. This is where the “spiritual” realms come to the fore, and THIS is what makes a difference for people interested in spiritual development, and who also happen to play games (I am one of these people — Skyrim, oh, Skyrim!). A real tension is set up between being able to utilize sleep as a sacred space for spiritual work and the day-waking desire for fun and escape.

    But recognizing this means that we can take steps to be wiser about how we structure our attention, rather than simply letting the physical world and your etheric needs lead our attention around, so that our astral body and ego spend all their time reacting and playing catch-up with the world. Meditation is the archetypal training for this, and is superior to video games by orders of magnitude in the sense of its ability to create a free capacity for directed attention. We can sensitize ourselves to the effects of the habits we have around structured attention in the day by monitoring our dream life, which then is like a tableau upon which our spiritual work of the day gets played out in sensory images. Recognizing this link opens the door to more subtle and complex and transpersonal use of dreams and sleep life, which can be of great use for those on a path of self-development.