Monday, 4 April 2016

Gaming & Lucid Dreaming (Instructions for Game Induced Lucid Dreams - GILD)

Video gaming may provide gamers with extraordinary self-awareness and control in their dreams, according to Jayne Gackenbach, a psychologist at Grant MacEwan University in Canada. Both video games and dreams are forms of alternative realities. Gackenbach states: ‘If you're spending hours a day in a virtual reality, if nothing else it's practice [for lucid dreaming]. Gamers are used to controlling their game environments, so that can translate into dreams’.

Gaming simultaneously targets and augments several abilities which are crucial to success in lucid dream induction. First, gamers develop better concentration and focus, 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 levels of lucidity. Finally, gamers tend to have a positive attitude and excellent self-esteem after playing, a trait that bleeds over into other aspects of your life, such as alertness and awareness levels.

Gackenbach first became interested in video games in the 1990s, having already studied the phenomenon of lucid dreaming. The last decade of game-related research has since yielded several surprises, although the findings represent suggestive associations rather than definitive proof. Gackenbach presented her research, as a featured speaker at the Sixth Annual Games for Health Conference in Boston in 2010.

Several intriguing parallels between lucid dreams and video games first emerged when Gackenbach examined past research on games - both lucid dreamers and gamers seemed to have better spatial skills and were less prone to motion sickness. The two groups have also demonstrated a high level of focus or concentration, whether honed through lucidity-training activities, such as meditation, or through hours spent gaming. These correlations encouraged Gackenbach to survey the dreams of both non-gamers and hardcore gamers, beginning with two studies published in 2006. She prepared by conducting larger surveys in-class and online to get a sense of where to focus questions.

The first study suggested that people who frequently played video games were more likely to report (a) lucid dreams; (b) observer dreams where they viewed themselves from outside their bodies i.e. in third-person perspective; (c) and dream control that allowed people to actively influence or change their dream worlds. All of these qualities are suggestive of watching or controlling the action of a video-game character. A second study tried to narrow down the uncertainties by examining dreams that participants experienced from the night before – this focused more on gamers. The study found that lucid dreams were common, but that the gamers never had dream control over anything beyond their dream selves. The gamers also frequently flipped between a first person perspective/view from within the body and a third person perspective/view of themselves from outside - except never with the calm detachment of a distant witness.

Gackenbach told LiveScience: ‘The first time we simply asked people how often they had lucid dreams, looking back over their life and making judgment calls. That's open to all kinds of bias, [such as] certain memory biases, self-reported biases’. Gackenbach eventually replicated her findings about lucid dreaming and video games several times, using college students as subjects. She refined her methodology by controlling for factors such as frequency of recalling dreams.

Gackenbach also wondered if video games affected nightmares, based on the ‘Threat Simulation Theory’ proposed by Finnish cognitive neuroscientist and psychologist Antti Revonsuo. 

Revonsuo suggested that dreams might mimic threatening situations from real life - except in the safe environment of dream world. Such nightmares would help organisms hone their avoidance skills in a protective environment, and ideally prepare organisms for a real-life threatening situation. To test this theory, Gackenbach conducted a study in 2008, using 35 male and 63 female participants. She used independent assessments, which coded threat levels in after-dream reports. She found that gamers experienced less or even reversed threat simulation (in which the dreamer became the threatening presence), with fewer aggression dreams overall. In other words, a scary nightmare scenario turned into something ‘fun’ for a gamer.

Gackenbach explains: ‘What happens with gamers is that something inexplicable happens. They don't run away, they turn and fight back. They're more aggressive than the norms’.

Levels of aggression in gamer dreams – when aggression did occur in the dream state - also included hyper-violence. Gackenbach claims: ‘If you look at the actual overall amount of aggression, gamers have less aggression in dreams. But when they're aggressive, oh boy, they go off the top’.

The gamer dream experience of high ‘hyper-violent’ aggression levels, coupled with little or no fear, inspired Gackenbach to pursue a new study with Athabasca University in Canada. If gaming can act as a semi-protective function against nightmares, then maybe it could help war veterans who experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after experiencing combat. She states: ‘I don't think anyone has looked at whether there's been a protective function. It makes a lot of sense, but it's a hypothesis’.

Psychologists consider nightmares as one of the key symptoms of PTSD, and studies have shown incredibly high rates of nightmares ranging from 71 - 96% among PTSD patients. By contrast, just 3 – 5% of civilians reported the same levels of nightmares. Virtual reality simulators have already been used to help PTSD patients gradually adjust to the threatening situations that plague their waking and sleeping thoughts. If Gackenbach's theory is correct, perhaps video games could also help relieve the need for nightmares. Gackenbach hopes to acquire a sleep lab and a virtual reality lab to verify her results, even if studies about video games and dreams have not proven the highest priority for receiving funds. 

Yet studying video games has attracted more interest and respect from colleagues than studying just dreams alone. Some of Gackenbach's more recent work includes studying the violence levels in games, based upon the video game ratings given out by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, and analysing the effect they have upon aggression within dreams.

Game Induced Lucid Dreaming (GILD)
Some lucid dreamers report success in inducing lucid dreams using video games (GILDs – Game Induced Lucid Dreams). There is no official technique for a GILD, as it seems to be one of the various lucid dream induction methods which has emerged from the online lucid dreaming community, and every resource of forum on this topic provides different instructions. I am going to recommend a way to use GILDs which may enable a DILD (Dream-Initiated Lucid Dream – so a lucid dream which occurs when a dreamer’s conscious awareness is triggered within a normal, non-lucid dream). I have not experimented with this lucid dream induction technique, as I prefer to use a basic cognitive induction method, based on the key principles from MILD (Mnemonic/Memory Induced Lucid Dream) and Tholey’s Combined Technique, coupled with Wake-Back-to-Bed and Reality Checking. However, this method for GILD complements these cognitive techniques, so can be used in conjunction. It can also be performed alongside WILDs (Wake-Initiated Lucid Dreams).
  1. Set an alarm/buzzer to sound periodically throughout your gameplay - so, for example, if you plan to play for 1 hour, set the alarm for every 10 minutes; if you plan to play for 3 hours, set the alarm for every 30 minutes or suchlike
  2. Play a video-game – preferably an open-world/sandbox game in the first-person before you go to sleep, for as long as you can
  3. Every time the alarm sounds, focus intensively on what is happening in your game. Use the gameplay as a basis for a reality check. Normally, during a reality check, you would perform your physical reality check action (such as trying to push the fingers of one hand through the palm of the other), while focusing on becoming consciously aware of your environment/surroundings so that you are able to draw a correct conclusion as to whether you are awake or in a dream. Instead, focus on what is happening in your game – how can you tell the action on the screen belongs to a virtual reality? What is it about the gameplay which is different from your real-life? If you were shooting zombies – your conclusion might be that zombies don’t exist in real-life, therefore shooting them is something which could only happen in a virtual reality
  4. Tell yourself (in your mind or out loud): ‘X (describe whatever is happening right now in your gameplay for example, shooting zombies) can only happen in a dream’ (or words to this effect). Consciously remind yourself that if ‘you’ (the gamer and the game character you are playing) found yourself in the game scenario you are playing right now you would be aware that you are dreaming. Hopefully, if you find yourself in a similar scenario, or doing the same action as in your game (for example, shooting zombies) in a subsequent dream, not only would you recognise the shooting of the zombies as a dreamsign (the odd, bizarre, or impossible things which can only happen in dreams) and then be triggered to perform your usual physical reality check which should confirm that this is indeed a dream, enabling you to become lucid 
  5. After playing, go to bed – perform your lucid dream affirmations/auto-suggestion if you are also using the general cognitive methods for lucid dreaming as well as GILD. If not, skip to the next step, which is focusing your mind on your recent gameplay. Try and visualise what you have just witnessed on screen in your imagination/mind’s eye and try to ‘mentally place’ yourself into the visualisation, as if you in the environment of the game and part of the action. This should be easier than normal dream visualisation, because the images you have seen on screen are more likely to be imprinted on your mind. If you also experience hypnagogia before falling fully asleep, be aware that you may see the ‘Tetris Effect’ – which often occurs in people who have been performing a repetitive action in their waking lives. This is useful if you are attempting to use GILD to assist with the ‘dream visualisation’ aspect of WILD
  6. Remember to set an alarm if you are also combining GILD with a Wake-Back-to-bed
  7. If you are using WB2B, when you awaken for the period in between both phases of sleep, perform your usual physical reality check, do your lucid dream affirmations/auto-suggestion again, and then repeat the video game visualisation you did before you initially went to sleep
  8. If you are not doing WB2B, or you have woken up from the second phase of sleep in a WB2B, recall your dream and record it in your dream journal, noting any dreamsigns or day residue (the aspects of the dream which are influenced by our recent waking experiences/memories) – in particular, anything which was influenced by the game you played. If you notice game-related or influenced dream content, then this is a sign that you might soon successfully experience a lucid dream using GILD!
Let me know if this technique for GILD works for you, or if you have your own version of Game Induced Lucid Dreaming!

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