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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Capital One

Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


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Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

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