See what researchers found when people played Tetris after witnessing traumatic events.

Video games. A time-honored way to put off homework, spend time with friends, and rewire our brains.

While immensely popular, modern video gaming is often spotlighted for negative reasons — namely, for being too violent. But here's some good, if not obvious, news: #NotAllVideoGames are bad for us.


Photo by Joel Stubston/Wikimedia Commons.

In 2009, Oxford University researchers found a possible application of certain video games for trauma survivors.

They obviously weren't studying modern-day shoot-em-ups like "Grand Theft Auto." They went back to the basics with one of the oldies: Tetris.

Forget GTA. This was the work of the devil. GIF via Reddit.

Participants in the study first watched video re-enactments of traumatic events, like people getting hit by cars or drowning in the ocean. In the immediate hours that followed, when memories are "consolidated" for long-term storage, they were assigned one of three tasks: Tetris, trivia, or no task in particular.

Tetris was found to significantly reduce the frequency of flashbacks if played within four hours of a traumatic event.

Flashbacks, or the re-experiencing of traumatic memories, are a key symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder, a problem 7-8% of the U.S. population will face in their lifetimes.

Dude, you paid for that? You can play for free right here. Photo by Choi/Flickr (altered).

The researchers attributed the decreased recurrence of flashbacks to the type of brain work required for Tetris. Maneuvering and piecing together Tetris blocks somehow blocks the cognitive pathway for flashbacks.

Go Tetris, right? Well, further research uncovered even more benefits of the classic game for dealing with trauma.

A follow-up study showed participants videos of traumatic events, then reminded them of those events with still images a day later. One group was then asked to play Tetris, and the other was asked to do nothing at all.

Would much rather be playing Tetris. GIF from "Community."

The outcome was remarkable, wrote the researchers: "We showed that intrusive memories were virtually abolished by playing the computer game Tetris following a memory-reactivation task 24 hr after initial exposure to experimental trauma."

There's a lot of hope surrounding these findings, and a perusal of the day's headlines are often a clue as to why.

Countless soldiers, refugees, victims of sexual assault, and survivors of mass shootings and accidents are burdened by memories of trauma every day.

We have treatments to help people manage PTSD, but this could eventually lead us toward concrete strategies for stopping it before it takes hold.

Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly prescribed for PTSD. Photo by Michiel1972/Wikimedia Commons.

What's better? It's a drug-free and relatively low-tech way to help people get on with their lives. Plus, anyone can play Tetris for free on the Internet.

It may seem silly that we're talking about a video game as a preventive therapy, but Emily Holmes, one of the lead researchers behind these studies, has an answer for that.

“Think of it like hand washing," she told New Scientist. "Hand washing is not a fancy intervention, but it can reduce all sorts of illness. This is similar — if the experimental result translates, it could be a cheap preventative measure informed by science."

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Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

"I try to share info in a positive way that gives people hope and makes them aware of solutions or things they can do to try to make the world a little better," she said.

For now, she's encouraging people through a barrage of persistent, informative, and entertaining emails with one goal in mind: getting people to VOTE. The thing about emailing people and talking about politics, according to Hebert, is to catch their attention—which is how lice got involved.

"When my kids were in elementary school, I was class parent for a year, which meant I had to send the emails to the other parents. As I've learned over the years, a good intro will trick your audience into reading the rest of the email. In fact, another parent told me that my emails always stood out, especially the one that started: 'We need volunteers for the Valentine's Party...oh, and LICE.'"

Hebert isn't working with a specific organization. She is simply trying to motivate others to find ways to plug in to help get out the vote.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

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