Tetris Psychosis — It Could Happen
Full Disclosure – I don’t strictly spend my time-off at the opera or watching Masterpiece Theater or reading Proust in the original French.
Oh, I do have a wonderful appreciation for doing such things, but I also spend some of my time playing Tetris. Honest!
I won’t say I’m obsessive, but the game is really quite fun and challenging. However, I actually met what I thought was the first “tetris psychosis” I had ever seen. The 43 year old bipolar actually told me he was addicted to Tetris.
I was surprised. Tetris is relatively old, in computer terms. Its general popularity seems to me to have crested. I find less material on bulletin boards about “How do you get those high scores?” asking for hints. Still, the many variants survive, and are licensed for all sorts of little gaming machines, like my Nintendos — Game Boy Advanced and DS — so it does have a certain immortality, similar to chess or checkers.
It is somehow innately satisfying to many, surviving in a large number of incarnations. I remember reading at one time about something called “Tetris Psychosis;” something I can’t find now, which means it is an ephermeral post at best.
Yes, this is pretty much what he said he saw. But all he needed to do was look up from whatever machine he was playing on, and shake his head a bit. If the strange perceptions did not disappear immediately, he knew he had to take a break. Unfortunately, his breaks were often for marijuana.
Worshipped by some, loved as a “mood stabilizer” by many without any kind of serious research. As a matter of fact, mostly anything asserted about marijuana comes without serious research.
But I thought of this Tetris phenomenon, which I do not think is really psychosis, but a sort of change of perception.
It seems to be true that perception can be trained. For instance, I think one of our friends who fixes guitars can tell from the sound of a guitar what brand of strings the guitar is stringed with. My husband, although an excellent guitarist, might have the same skill but I doubt I would bet the contents of my purse. I think the guitar repair person learned this skill from practice, after a lot of years of working with guitars with a lot of different brands of strings.
We know now that brain cells are more malleable than anyone ever believed. Now I don’t think that in order to do research you need grants and committees and someone standing there with a clipboard. Many years ago I worked with a woman in a rural clinic who had been advised to go into retirement as her memory was starting to get worse.
Now I have a lot of thoughts about degenerative brain illness and how we have stem cells in our brains until the day we die. Somehow, and I did not have psychological testing or diagnostics, just the observation when she copied (or tried to do math with) long numbers, she had a tendency to omit “1″ (ones) and “0″(zeroes) so I got the idea to tell her whenever she had a few minutes to try some old fashioned handwriting exercises.
One of them, a line full of cursive slanted lines. The other one, a line full of zeroes. I told her that maybe nothing would happen. She had been making this kind of errors as long as she could remember, but who could remember?
Within a few days, the problem disappeared. She copied and used long numbers perfectly. Nobody could believe it. It took the rest of the staff a long time to accept that things could get better.
So it seems that specific activities we choose can increase the ability of the brain to discriminate; this is the basis of all kinds of learning theories. I am always more interested in what is practical than what is theory, so let’s go back and look at Tetris.
Some pretty serious British Neuroscientists have looked at Tetris and its players; it seems clinical, to some to diminish frequency and intensity of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder flashbacks. Also, perhaps, to help grow more brain cells.
More people are looking Of course, they speak like all researchers; larger groups and better observation are necessary. If you are one of those who has not tried it yet; the brain benefits are only maybes, but it is a lot of fun for a lot of people. Quickly learned, and if you think it is fun, you do get better with practice.
There are plenty of free versions to play online — so enjoy yourself. It shouldn’t be addictive.