Tetris Therapy

Tetris, the video game, made its debut in the Soviet Union in 1984.  By 1989, it appeared worldwide on Nintendo’s Game Boy.  Two decades later, the game has sold tens of millions of copies — plus another hundred million on cell phones alone (and since 2005).   A popular time waster, Tetris may have another use, one medically significant.

Tetris may be a valuable tool in treating post traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”).

In 2009, as reported by Time, researchers from Oxford University conducted two experiments to see what effect, if any, Tetris-playing had on preventing trauma-induced flashbacks.  In both experiments, a group of otherwise healthy adults were asked to watch a 21-minute video showing traumatic events, such as car accidents or surgery.  Typically, viewers of such content could have flashback-like recall of the events they witnessed for a week or so later.

Tetris helped stem the tide of flashbacks.  In the first study, thirty minutes after watching the film, some participants were told to play Tetris for just ten minutes.  Two other groups — control groups — were asked to play another game or simply sit quietly, respectively.  Over the course of the next week, the Tetris-playing group experienced significantly fewer flashbacks than either of the other two groups.  And the group which played the other game?  They experienced more flashbacks than those who simply sat quietly.

The second study was more of the same, but instead of the three groups going into their activity 30 minutes after watching the video, they waited four hours.  The effect: similar.  The research team believes that the therapeutic nature of the game could have a window of up to six hours after experiencing the traumatic event.

Further research is ongoing.


Bonus fact: The music from the game (listen here) is from a Russian folk song, called Korobeiniki.  The lyrics from the original Korobeiniki are from a poem about a peddler haggling about the price of his wares with a young woman, as an allegory to their courtship.   In the poem, the peddler gives the girl a ring as a keepsake, to remember him on his travels.  He promises to return to marry her — but never does.  Don’t blame him, though: he is murdered by a forest ranger on his return trip.

From the Archives: The $13,000 Nintendo Game: After read about it, you may want to check your attic.

Related: Amazon has over 2,500 products listed under “Tetris,” but these are probably the coolest.