Playing Tetris Could Reduce Cravings For Drugs, Food and Sex

Just three minutes a day could be key. Plymouth University/Lloyd Russell.

Forget penicillin. Confine the computer to the bin. Cast aside your smartphone. And rip up your sliced bread. Because there’s quickly becoming a clear frontrunner for the greatest invention of all time, and it’s none of these. No, we are hereby proclaiming humanity’s greatest accomplishment as the humble video game Tetris.

A bit over the top, sure, but it seems the game that began in Russia in 1985 is solving problems left, right and center. It has already been linked with curing PTSD and referenced in molecular research, and now a new study says it could also lessen addictions to drugs, food and certain activities. It’s time to dust off your Game Boy.

Psychologists at Plymouth University in the U.K. and Queenstown University of Technology in Australia have claimed that playing Tetris for just three minutes a day on your smartphone can weaken cravings by about one-fifth. These cravings include the aforementioned drugs and food, in addition to activities such as sex (yep) and sleeping. The research is published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

In the study, 31 undergraduate students aged 18 to 27 were prompted at random seven times a day via text to report on their cravings. Half of the group were told to play Tetris on a mobile device for three minutes each time they were prompted and report their cravings again, averaging about 40 times over a week. The other half went about life as normal.

Remarkably, those that played Tetris reported an overall decrease in cravings for drugs, food and activities from 70% to 56%. Drugs here refer to coffee, cigarettes, wine, and beer, rather than illegal substances. The effect, which did not wear off over the week despite repeated playing, is not thought to be limited to Tetris, either; other games like Candy Crush, or anything that is visually interesting, could produce a similar effect.

"We think the Tetris effect happens because craving involves imagining the experience of consuming a particular substance or indulging in a particular activity,” said Professor Jackie Andrade, from the School of Psychology and the Cognition Institute at Plymouth University, in a statement. “Playing a visually interesting game like Tetris occupies the mental processes that support that imagery; it is hard to imagine something vividly and play Tetris at the same time.”

The researchers note that Tetris would not be a treatment for addictions by itself, but it could be part of other treatments. "As a support tool, Tetris could help people manage their cravings in their daily lives and over extended time periods," added Professor Andrade. And while a reduction of a fifth might not sound like a lot, it could be helpful in reducing cravings from unbearable to tolerable. The team now want to take the research further, including testing it on people who are dependent on drugs. 

We're assuming it's only a matter of time until Tetris is also used to create a working fusion reactor, find dark matter, and halt climate change.

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