In the 30 years since it was first released for the Commodore 64, Tetris has proven itself to be many things: It makes for a hell of a competitive game, it's a great way to kill a bit of time, and it's been used as an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. According to a new study published in Addictive Behaviors, the game's therapeutic properties also extend to quelling addictive urges like compulsive eating, smoking, drinking alcohol, and even having sex.
The study, conducted by psychological researchers from Queensland University of Technology and Plymouth University, focused on a group of 31 people who were asked to report their daily cravings for various admitted addictions. Half of the study's participants were prompted to play Tetris seven times a day in three minute intervals prior to reporting the intensity of their cravings.
Though participants only reported experiencing cravings about 30% of the time, all of the participants who were instructed to play the game reported that their desire to consume or imbibe were up to 70% lower than those experienced by the control group.
“The impact of Tetris on craving was consistent across the week and on all craving types,” Plymouth University Professor Jon May described. “This finding is potentially important because an intervention that worked solely because it was novel and unusual would have diminishing benefits over time as participants became familiar with it.”
The reduction in cravings, researchers think, could be attributed to the sheer sensory overload that people tend to experience when playing a game like Tetris that incorporates bright, colorful, fast-moving shapes, and quick-paced problem solving.
“We think the Tetris effect happens because craving involves imagining the experience of consuming a particular substance or indulging in a particular activity,"Jackie Andrade, Director of Plymouth University's Centre for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour explained. "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.”
UPDATE: It bears mentioning that the study's findings fall short of proving Tetris to be a hardcore addiction cure-all. The study's sample size of 31 people is, by medical standards, incredibly small, and because its results were all self-reported, the information collected by the researchers should be taken with a grain of salt.
Additionally, the study only lasted for a single week, and while participants reported decreased interest in certain negative cravings, they also reported similar drops in the compulsion to do things that were good for them like exercising.