Video Game Play and the Development of Consciousness

Jayne Gackenbach

Athabasca University


In previous research I have argued that a naturally occurring "virtual" reality (i.e., lucid dreaming) is a bridge to the experience of higher states of consciousness (Gackenbach, 1991). Lucid dreaming, awareness of dreaming while still in the dream state, is a preliminary indicate of the development of higher states of consciousness therefore understanding its nature, development, context as well as access issues is important.

It has been pointed out that based on the cognitive science (mental model) understanding of our sense of self in the world that our perception of reality is a construction, a best guess. Lucid dreaming is another such construction with a different set of input variables than those experienced while awake. Virtual reality (VR), and especially full immersive VR, potentially offers practice in maneuvering around in, as well as being in, "artificial" or perhaps "alternative" realities and is discussed in the VR literature as telepresence. It may well be that such VR practice would translate into more accurate state recognition in dreams (i.e., an increase in lucid dreams). One of the areas where we see such extensive practice is in video game playing which may be associated with an increase in lucid dreaming frequency and related states of consciousness.

There are other lines of evidence which further support this hypothesis such as research on the relationship between performance on such games and intelligence. Jackson, Vernon, and Jackson (1993) explored performance of computer game-like measures of dynamic spatial ability, which assess judgments about moving visual displays. These are linked to measures of reaction time and speed of mental processing, which in turn are thought to be linked with general measures of intellectual ability. The major work in the area is being done by Greenfield and associates and is summarized in "Volume 11 of Advances in Applied Developmental Psychology: Interacting with Video." The conclusion is that video game play increases choice reaction time, spatial skills, scientific problem solving skills, and intelligence (Greenfield & Cocking, 1996).

In research involving individuals who have developed their individual consciousness beyond what most of us experience (i.e., by the regular and long term practice of meditation), a choice reaction time task was used to determine if these people had higher general intelligence. Other studies have shown that those who have these sophisticated spatial skills with high choice reaction time are more intelligent in a global sense. This body of work has shown that those with developed individual consciousness show higher levels of what is called EEG coherence and that such EEG coherence surges, and the associated higher states of consciousness, have also been found to be associated with higher performance on spatial intelligence tests like the Raven's Progressive Matrices test and choice reaction time correlates to such performance as well (Cranson, Orme-Johnson, Gackenbach, Dillbeck, Jones, & Alexander, 1991).


A questionnaire with these instructions was posted to 56 usenet groups focusing on video game play, four usenet groups focusing on dreams and about 10 usenet groups with teen in the title but not erotic.The ones selected for the video game group were discussion groups and well know video game groups. Additionally the questionnaire was sent to former students and colleagues of the author who she thought might be interested in the topic. The instructions were:


I am currently writing a chapter for an edited book on the psychology of the internet. In this chapter I am theorizing about the potential relationship between virtual reality experiences of varying degrees of immersion and the development of higher states of consciousness. I would like your cooperation with a preliminary research study examining the relationship between video game playing and a variety of experiences of altered states of consciousness especially lucid dreaming. Please fill out the questionnaire below and e-mail it to Dr. Jayne Gackenbach at jgackenb@gpu.srv.ualberta.ca. I will send you a brief essay summarizing what I think the nature of the relationship is by return e-mail. There are three components to this questionnaire. In the first part I ask you some basic demographic information while the second part has a variety of questions regarding your video game playing history/experiences. The last part of the questionnaire regards your dream and related altered states of consciousness history and experiences. All information will be kept confidential with no specific names or identities mentioned. Please pass this along to anyone who you think might be interested in participating in the study.

In the first section of the questionnaire demographic information was gathered including sex, age, relationship status, number of children, education, occupation, and primary ethnic background. Part 2 had 10 questions regarding video game habits and preferences including, frequency of play, length of play session, favorite games, setting of play, who play with, number of games played, age of first video game play and peak age of play. The third part of the questionnaire had six questions and was called "Dream and Related Phenomena Habits/Experiences". Here respondents were asked about their dream recall, dream diary history, interest in and experience with prayer and meditation and importance of religion/spirituality. The final part of the questionnaire solicited information on four sleep (lucid dreaming, nightmares, night terrors, and archetypal dreams) and three waking experiences (out-of-the-body experiences, mystical experiences, and precognitive experiences). Specifically the total number of such experiences in the last year, age of first experience and example of an experience were asked for.

Results and Discussion

Thirty responses were received within a week. The majority were from single men with an average age of 32 years. Virtually all had some postsecondary education and rest were in high school. Most played at home and alone. Although the majority started playing in their teen years another large group started in middle adulthood. These participants played between three and four days a week on average for one to two hours at each session.

They mentioned 75 different games as one of their top five favorite games. Fifteen games were mentioned more than once and of those mentioned more than once 44% were violent in nature (i.e., Command and Conquer) with another 31% being classified as strategy games (i.e., Myth). The next frequent category was role playing (16%; i.e., Diablo) and the last 9% were adventure (i.e., Myst). It is imporant to keep in mind that some violent games have a big strategy component (i.e., Warcraft). So for instance if Warcraft and Command and Conquer were removed from the violent list and place on the strategy list then the percentages would change such that violent games would constitute 31% of games mentioned more than once while strategy games would constitute 44% of games mentioned more than once. The point being that a variety of skills and emotional reactions are needed for and created by many of these games.

They recalled an average of two to four dreams a week but rarely kept a dream diary. They had moderate amounts of experience with and interest in prayer and meditation with a view that religion/spirituality were moderately to mildly important in their lives. Of the seven sleep and dream experiences asked about lucid dreaming was reported the most often as having occurred in the previous year followed by archetypal dreams.

A factor analysis with a varimax rotation was calculated on selected video game (i.e., day of the week play video adjusted for very infrequent playing rates; length of play per session; number of games played; age of first play converted to years; and age of peak play converted to years) and consciousness experiences (i.e., dream recalled per month; experience with and interest in prayer and meditation; importance of religion/spirituality; and frequency of each of the seven sleep and waking experiences, lucid dreaming, nightmares, night terrors, archetypal dreams, out-of-body experiences, mystical experiences, and precognitive experiences). With all but one variable high scores represents a lot or favorable or older. However for religious/spiritual importance low scores indicate important. The factor matrix is here.

Six factors loaded with the first factor being a video game playing factor. Four of the remaining five factors loaded both video gaming and consciousness information. The second factor loaded three video game playing variables with lucid dreaming frequency, a lack of nightmares, OBE's and mystical experiences. The third factor showed a different pattern of mixing video gaming and consciousness. Here few days playing a week loaded with dream recall, prayer, meditation and religion/spirituality as well a lack of night terros and OBE's. The fourth factor loaded a few days playing a week with higher night terror and archetypal dream frequency while the fifth factor had not video game items. The last factor loaded short play session times with prayer and OBE's.

The second and third factors are especially interesting as they showed that video game playing in this sample was associated with certain types of consciousness experiences and NOT with attitudes or experiences of the sort more typically associated with attaining these states of being.

Preliminary factor analysis of self-report data gathered on the internet supports the hypothesized relationship between video game playing and some experiences indicative of the development of consciousness. This does not imply that simply playing video games will result in an expanded consciousness in some developmentally superior way. However, we must wonder if that activity will function as a cultural amplifier affecting these children's experiences of such states of being. It may be that another way the technological matrix, sometimes discussed as global brain, will interact in deeply profound ways with the wet brain matrix will be in the wiring of neural networks to create new and unknown outcomes.


Cranson, R.W., Orme-Johnson, D., Gackenbach, J., Dillbeck, M.C., Jones, C.H. & Alexander, C. (1991). Transcendental meditation and improved performance on intelligence-related measures: A longitudinal study. Personality and Individual Differences, 12(10), 1105-1116.

Gackenbach, J.I. (1991). A developmental model of consciousness in sleep: From sleep consciousness to pure consciousness. In J.I. Gackenbach and A. Sheikh (Eds.), Dream images: A call to mental arms. N.Y.: Baywood.

Greenfield, Patricia M. & Cocking, Rodney R. (Eds.) (1996). Interacting with video. Advances in applied developmental psychology, vol. 11. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corp.

Jackson, Douglas N III; Vernon, Philip A; & Jackson, Douglas N. (1993). Dynamic spatial performance and general intelligence. Intelligence, 17(4), pp. 451-460.



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