Is Tetris a cure-all?

Jon Reid
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Tetris is possibly the most popular video game of all time. But besides being an addictive pasttime, is it possible that Tetris can help with cravings, manage the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and even make you smarter?

Originally released 30 years ago, Tetris was created by Alexey Pajitnov in the former USSR. The game became an almost immediate sensation and has sold more than 43 million copies across the Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Nintendo Entertainment Systems. It was also recently released on mobile.


Several studies have been conducted on the effects of playing Tetris on the brain. In one, Dr. Richard Haier reported that after three months of playing for 30 minutes per day, a measurable thickening of the cerebral cortex resulted. The cerebral cortex is a part of your brain that plays a role in memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language and consciousness.

Whether that means you will get smarter is still up for debate. Haier feels that the increase in general cognitive functions such as "critical thinking, reasoning, language and processing" are limited to your skills in Tetris. However, Oxford University researcher Dr. Emily Holmes reported initial findings that showed a reduction in flashback occurrences in cases of post-traumatic stress. Both results point to something beneficial happening in the brain.

Self Control

Researchers from the School of Psychology, Cognition Institute at Plymouth University recently published results from a study on the effects of playing Tetris on naturally occurring cravings, such as those experienced by people who are quitting smoking or cutting back on junk food.

As stated in their paper’s abstract, “Elaborated Intrusion Theory (EI) postulates that imagery is central to craving, therefore a visually based task should decrease craving and craving imagery ... The findings support EI theory, showing that a visuospatial working memory load reduces naturally occurring cravings, and that Tetris might be a useful task for tackling cravings outside the laboratory.”

In short, the participants in the study showed a 24 percent reduction in cravings after playing Tetris. Obviously the cravings were still present, but such a reduction could certainly make a difference.

Get it

If you are eager to have your Tetris near at hand, your easiest option is mobile. You can download the Tetris app on your Android device for free or on your iPhone for 99 cents. Of course, if you’re in a retro mood, you can pick up an nostalgic Game Boy handheld, a Tetris cartridge and indulge yourself old school.

Share the Gift

Don’t keep all of the potential benefits of Tetris to yourself. For starters, share the word. But if you really want to bring the Tetris love to another level, keep an eye on Arduboy. Kevin Bates has created a business card that can play Tetris. Well, really it’s a business card sized device that can be loaded with a number of programs. But imagine the geek points if you hand out one of these with your contact info printed on it at your next conference.

I was happy to exchange emails with Kevin a few weeks back about how I might be able to help out on his project. Fortunately, it looks like he’s got things well in hand for now. You can check out new developments on Kevin plans a kickstarter campaign in the near future to help cover licensing and further development costs.

Jon Reid is an IT professional working in Corner Brook. His column appears every other Tuesday in The Western Star.

Organizations: Nintendo Entertainment Systems, Oxford University, School of Psychology Cognition Institute Plymouth University

Geographic location: USSR, Corner Brook, Western Star

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