Tetris: from video game to therapy

Exploring the latest scientific study that extols the mental-health benefits of clearing those digital lines


December 28th,  2018

In the 2011 documentary film Ecstasy of Order, the world’s best Tetris players go head to head, demonstrating their skills and declaring their devotion to the biggest-selling video game of all time. For former world champion Harry Hong, the connection is a profound one. “When I’m in the zone,” he says, with his trusty Nintendo controller in hand, “I’m pretty much as one with the game. In sync … just flowing.”

Scientists have long been fascinated by the state of “flow” to which Hong refers, how Tetris manages to induce that state, and whether playing the game could have any therapeutic value. The latest study, conducted at the University of California and published in a paper last month, found that it could reduce feelings of anxiety during periods of uncertainty.

As you clear lines of Tetris blocks away, mesmeric visuals and sound effects create what one reviewer has described as “a meditative salve for this savage world.” With rates of anxiety rising in many countries, is it perhaps the gaming industry’s ambition to transport us from harsh realities and replace unpleasant feelings with soothing audio-visual tranquilizers?

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