Video Game Play and Dream Bizarreness

(International Association for the Study of Dreams, Montreal, July, 2008)

1. Presenter’s Name(s) and Credential Designations:

Jayne Gackenbach and Beena Kuruvilla

Grant MacEwan College


  2. Type of Presentation and Time Required: Paper Presentation

  3. Track: Research & Theoretical

  4.  Title of Presentation or Symposium/Panel Video Game Play and Dream Bizarreness

  5. Summary of Presentation(s):  High versus low end gamers recent dreams were coded for dream bizarreness using Revonsuo’s model and method. It was found that high end gamers had more bizarre but fewer non-bizarre elements than low end. The implications of this ongoing inquiry into the nature of electronic media immersion on consciousness and especially dreams will be discussed.

  6. Contact Information:

Jayne Gackenbach, Ph.D.

Department of Psychology

Grant MacEwan College

10700 - 104 Avenue

Edmonton, AB   T5J 4S2

Phone: 780-633-3892

Email: gackenbachj@macewan.ca

  7. Brief Biography

Jayne Gackenbach, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Grant MacEwan College, Canada. A past president of IASD, she has been an active research and writer in the area of lucid dreams and the psychology of the Internet. Her current research interest is in consciousness and video game play.

Beena Kuruvilla, B.A Honors Student, Grant MacEwan College, Canada. Beena is a fourth year psychology honors student. Her honors thesis examines video game play and dreaming from evolutionary and self awareness perspectives. She has worked as a researcher, examining the relationship between media use and dreaming.

  8. Audio-Visual Aids: PC using powerpoint thus need projector

  9. Space Setup Restrictions: theater-style seating

10. Schedule Restrictions: none

11. Linguistic Restrictions: English

12. Learning Objectives:

     Learning Objectives

  1. 1.      Understand the importance of bizarreness to dream function.
  2. 2.      Appreciate the degree to which young people are immersed in electronic media and especially video game play.
  3. 3.      Learn about the potential effects of such game play on dream bizarreness.

Evaluation Questions

  1. 1.      What is the role of dream bizarreness in the function of dreams?
  2. 2.      How prevelent and important is electronic media to today’s youth?
  3. 3.      Does video game play affect the bizarreness of subsequent nighttime dreams?

13. Additional information required for All Workshop and Dream Group Proposals


14. Abstract: (250–500 words max.)

In this age of electronic media immersion, it is of increasing interest to investigate the effects of media on dreams. The most immersive media experience is video game play with it’s audio and visual interactive nature and the long hours often required to master a game. In a series of studies Gackenbach and colleagues have been mapping the effects of heavy video game play on consciousness including dreaming. In this study dream bizarreness was the focus.

            Dream bizarreness has been variously thought to be the differentiator between waking and dreaming thought, an indicate of creativity, and, most recently, as a model for solving the binding problem in consciousness. Initially dream researchers attributed a lot more bizarreness to dreams than subsequent analyses seemed to support. However, with the call that dreams are really more like waking thought than different,t the nature of such bizarreness got a bit lost. Revonsuo (2006) argues that an examination of the nature of dream bizarreness offers clues to solving the binding problem in consciousness. That is, how does our phenomenal experience of self in the world, or being conscious, emerge from it’s biological bases. He points out that “a dream object does not transform randomly into another object, but into an object that shares many semantic or associative features with the first. In the waking state such associations do not intrude into our consciousness, for they are unable to override the externally supplied sensory information” (p. 247). Thus dream bizarreness offers a rare window into the nature of these semantic associative networks at work without their normal waking constraints.

            The question herein is, does exposure to electronically mediated worlds in some way affect those associative networks? Previously we have found that dream content is affected using the Hall and VandeCastle scales is lucid and control dreaming. A hint as to what we might find with bizarreness was that there were more imaginary and dead characters in the dreams of hard core gamers than in the norms of the Hall and VandeCastle. Herein we further explored the potential bizarreness of high end versus low end gamers, hypothesizing that they would be more bizarre.

Over the course of a calendar year almost 900 college students filled out the questionnaire. Most were women with 87% less than 25 years of age. All were undergraduate students at a western Canadian college. Three quarters of the data were collected online in Introductory Psychology mass testing.

Following reading and signing an informed consent participants were told that there were 6 parts to the questionnaire. A recent dream was collected first. Demographics were gathered followed by a series of questions about their video game playing habits as well as questions about their dream type experiences of the past. The remainder of the questionnaire dealt with the dream they just reported including how long ago it happened, how many hours of sleep they got that night and how many hours of sleep they normally get in order to feel rested. These three questions allowed the selection of only dreams that occurred last night or last week and only from nights where the participant reported being rested. Only 152 dreams fulfilled these criteria and were at least 50 words long. Ninety of these came from low end gamers and 62 from high end gamers as determined by four questions. It should be noted that people who have never played a video game are almost impossible to find in a college population.

A judge was trained on Revonsuo and Salmivalli’s (1995) “Content Analysis of Bizarreness” scale. This scale identifies a two step process in scoring dreams for bizarreness with step one being identification of elements in the dream and only then are these elements scored for bizarreness or non-bizarreness. All 152 dreams were so scored and in preliminary analysis the bizarreness subscale scores were summed as were the non-bizarreness subscale scores. A 2 (gamer type) X 2(bizarreness level) ANOVA with word count as a covariate was computed on these summary bizarreness scores. Two main effects and an interaction reached significance. As is typically reported there were significantly more overall non-bizarre than bizarre elements in these college students recent dreams (F(1,149)=395.49, p<.0001). Also, high end gamers had more elements scored as either bizarre or non-bizarre than low end gamers (F(1,149)=5.45,p<.05). Finally, gamer type interacted significantly with bizarreness level (F(1,149)=12.79, p<.0001). Basically high end gamers had more bizarre but fewer non-bizarre elements than low end gamers. Further analysis into the specifics of these findings will be presented.

The question becomes do we take the most parsimonious rationale for this finding or one with some interesting implications. Are gamers dreams more bizarre because they are exposed to the bizarre elements of gaming during their waking hours? Or is there something deeper going on? Are their semantic networks more diverse and thus are they more creative in solving the binding problem during sleep mentation?


Revonsuo, Antti & Salmivalli, Christina (1995). A content analysis of bizarre elements in dreams. Dreaming, 5(3), 169-187.

Revonsuo, A. (2006). Inner Presence: Consciousness as a Biological Phenomenon. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


15. Summary Vitae:

Dr. Gackenbach received her Ph.D. in 1978 in Experimental Psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University. She is currently a professor at Grant MacEwan College. She is also an adjunct faculty with Saybrook Graduate School in San Francisco and teaches online for Athabasca University. She has taught at the post-secondary level both in the US and in Canada for over 25 years including these courses taught most often: Educational Psychology for Teachers, Social Psychology, Introductory Psychology, Developmental Psychology, and Personality. Dr. Gackenbach has supervised numerous undergraduate research projects as well as several masters and doctoral level dissertations.


As well as being a past-president of the Association for the Study of Dreams, she has 70+ professional publications and 17 book chapters primarily on dreams and higher states of consciousness. Dr. Gackenbach is editor of “Sleep and Dreams: A Sourcebook” (1986) for Garland Publishers. She co-edited “Conscious Mind, Sleeping Brain: Perspectives on Lucid Dreaming” (1988) for Plenum Publishers; “Dream Imagery: A Call to Mental Arms” (1991) for Baywood Publishers. Her first authored book is “Control Your Dreams” (1989) for Harper-Collins. This book was featured on the cover of “Psychology Today”, excerpted in “OMNI”, and was selected for the Behavioral Science Book Club. She has appeared on the Donahue Show and in Canada the Dede Petti Show, the Shirley Show, and ManAlive. She was invited in 1992 to present her work on lucid dreaming to the Dalai Lama at a conference on sleeping, dreaming, and dying.


In recent years Dr. Gackenbach’s interests have shifted to computer-mediated communications. In this regard she has edited a book from Academic Press (1998), “Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, and Transpersonal Implications”. This book is currently in it’s second edition (2007). Gackenbach co-wrote a book called “cyber.rules” for Norton publishers with examines healthy and unhealthy internet use. It also was recently published (2007). She has collaborated on a documentary film about the psychology of Internet use in conjunction with Access TV and Athabasca University which is being broadcast every semester on Canadian Learning Television.


Dr. Gackenbach’s recent research interest combines her dream and technology interests examining the dreams of video game players. In addition to her scholarly interest in dreams, transpersonal psychology, computers and the internet Dr. Gackenbach has done work on Aboriginal perspectives on dreams and the psychology of gender.



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