Emotions, Technology, and Digital Games explores the need for people to experience enjoyment, excitement, anxiety, anger, frustration, and many other emotions. The book provides essential information on why it is necessary to have a greater understanding of the power these emotions have on players, and how they affect players during, and after, a game.
This book takes this understanding and shows how it can be used in practical ways, including the design of video games for teaching and learning, creating tools to measure social and emotional development of children, determining how empathy-related thought processes affect ethical decision-making, and examining how the fictional world of game play can influence and shape real-life experiences.
- Details how games affect emotions-both during and after play
- Describes how we can manage a player's affective reactions
- Applies the emotional affect to making games more immersive
- Examines game-based learning and education
- Identifies which components of online games support socio-emotional development
- Discusses the impact of game-based emotions beyond the context of games
Video Games, Nightmares, and Emotional Processing
Johnathan Bowna; Jayne Gackenbachb a University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
b Department of Psychology, MacEwan University, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
This chapter contains a summary of the research in support of a hypothesis that video-gameplay grants some gamers protection from nightmares. Secondarily, the effects that video games have on our dreams are described and how that alters our emotional processing and regulation in waking life. Evidence is presented in support of these effects for male high-end gamers alone-not their female counterparts. The nightmare protection effect may be related to threat simulation theories, which suggest that humans have a basic need to virtually rehearse threatening situations as a survival adaptation. Violent video-gameplay may subvert this process and offload the need to rehearse threat in dreams by providing a suitable virtual environment within the media. Results from research on students and active-duty soldiers who are also gamers are explored, and they support the nightmare protection hypothesis.
Humans are natural storytellers. Besides the survival benefit that comes with remembering and recounting past events, stories rouse our emotions. What started with the oral tradition of sitting around a fire and telling a tale has now evolved to include digital mediums. Different paradigms for conveying a story have been created with each new technological discovery, and the pace of development is getting faster. If books can be considered one-dimensional stories, the added visuals of movies could be two-dimensional stories. We argue that video games are three-dimensional because they give the player another layer of experience with the story: control. The sense of being part of the world and influencing it achieves a level of immersion that cannot be attained with traditional storytelling and ultimately evokes an emotional response unobtainable by any other means. In this chapter, we explore how video games are an interface between computers and human emotions.
In a non-obvious way, gaming can alter our emotions in the long term, and they accomplish this indirectly-while we are asleep. To understand this process, a few points must first be understood about sleeping and, most importantly, dreaming. If our brains can be compared with computer systems, then our dreams are the monitors set to display a raw feed of binary data. The neural processes that occur during sleep are deeply involved with our emotions (especially our ability to regulate them) and video-gameplay undoubtedly influences them. By studying dreams, researchers are looking indirectly at one aspect of the brain's nighttime processing and discovering the implications that video-gameplay have on our lives, dreaming, and waking.
Western cultures have the unfortunate tendency to minimize the importance of dreams. Dreams are not the meaningless byproduct of sleep, nor are they phenomena that only a few people experience. Everybody dreams at night-the brain needs to-but some dreams are more memorable than others, with the majority of dreams easily forgotten. Nonetheless, the work of dreams is done each night when we sleep and researchers are beginning to understand exactly why this work is so important.
Basically, dreams are our mental experiences of the brain's activity while sleeping. Yet the cognitive experience of sleep is separated from external stimuli and the dreamer lives in a biologically constructed virtual reality. The dreamscape is composed of imagined perceptions that often feel very real-hence, it is a true virtual reality. Even if the dreamer realizes they are within a dream, which occasionally happens, the felt experience remains. In such cases, the dream is called a "lucid dream." Individual differences seem to determine the extent of control a person has in a lucid dream, and sometimes the violation of rules from waking reality in a lucid dream is enough to dispel the effect and cause the dreamer to wake up.
Related to lucid dreams but categorically different is the "control dream." The metacognitive component of awareness about dreaming is missing in this sort of dream, but the dreamer can still exert some control over the dream. Deliberate decision-making is present and is even allowed to violate the physics of waking reality. The degree of control a dreamer has can be measured on a continuum and varies between aspects of the dream. It is easier to control one's own choices in a dream than to control the behavior of a dream character. Control dreams are much more common than lucid dreams.
Application of Dreams
Besides the entertainment humans sometimes get from their dreams, they can highlight important personal issues for us. This line of thinking is, of course, taken to a clinical extreme in Freud's theory of psychoanalysis and Jung's analytical psychology, but contemporary psychologists help clients explore and alter dream imagery for the treatment of many psychological issues (Hill, 2003). However, even non-psychologists can consider what images appear in their dreams and gain personal awareness. For instance, the coping mechanisms of waking life are bypassed during sleep and unpleasant, albeit real, cognitions and their associated emotions present themselves to us as metaphors. In full force, trauma can emerge in nightmares, which can be so real that a person can become re-traumatized through recalling the dream alone (Barrett, 2001).
However, the re-emergence of emotionally provocative subjects in dreams has an important function-emotional regulation. Conscious knowledge of something does not always reflect the deeper beliefs of the mind and dreams act as a medium for perceiving these deeper beliefs. For instance, when the death of a loved one occurs, a person's dreams often reflect their inner level of acceptance and emotional processing. After the death of a loved one, people commonly have dreams of that person still being alive but over time, their dreams change and begin to reflect acceptance of their death. If a person recently experienced a traumatic loss but their dreams are not associated with the subject of the loss in any way, this may be an indication that they are not coping with or processing the event. Alternatively, the opposite is where the dream re-enacts the trauma with no changes and thus no indications of healing.
Some researchers believe that this relation between dreams and emotional events is partly the byproduct of the neural mechanisms for emotional regulation, among other processes. Levin and Nielsen (2009) propose a model of brain activation that occurs during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep that could explain the origin and purpose of dreams. Several brain structures that form a cohesive and interconnected network of limbic and forebrain regions are active during REM episodes with the purpose of fear-memory extinction. These brain regions access small pieces of memory and recombine them in meaningful ways to allow for emotional expression. The pieces of memory that are emotionally provocative or fear-related are presented in new contexts, which creates novel experiences and facilitates fear-memory extinction. Imagine, for example, that someone pulls a scary prank and bangs on your bedroom door at night and that frightens you. According to the model of fear-memory extinction you might have a dream that night with the same scary banging noise-but in a completely unrelated context, such as at work or in your backyard. Exposure to the frightening element in a safe context facilitates extinction. Video games can provide the same effect, which will be addressed later.
Within Levin and Nielsen's (2009) model for dreaming, nightmares occur when the affective load of a particular experience overwhelms this process and leads to disturbed dreaming. At a basic level, our dreams are constructed from the emotionally arousing events of the day but when certain events are overpowering, or if you happen to be particularly sensitive to certain emotions, the natural reactivation of these memories in dreams can be disturbing. A series of neural correlates support this, as researchers have shown activation of specific brain regions during nightmares that are responsible for such things as fear conditioning, impulsivity, pain distress, social exclusion, and separation anxiety (Levin & Nielsen, 2009). Nonetheless, when this system functions properly, the dreamer's past emotions can be processed and regulated effectively.
One researcher proposes that dreams not only help with processing memories, but also help with preparing for the future. Revonsuo (2000) proposes the threat simulation theory, which defines dream consciousness as an evolutionary adaptation to provide a virtual model of the world for us, where we can safely rehearse the perception and avoidance of threatening elements. The threatening elements are extrapolated from emotionally salient memories. Dreams are the ideal virtual environment for this sort of training because they have no limits and they feel very real. From a historical perspective, humans evolved from primitive times where daily threats to survival were abundant, so the added mental preparedness of threat...