Distraction is a powerful thing. We know that chewing gum can make you forget the Adam Levine-penned ear worms burrowing through your brain. With that in mind, why not embrace the all-distracting power of video games, too?
That's exactly what psychologists from Plymouth University and Queensland University of Technology, Australia, sought to find out when they discovered that playing Tetris for a mere three minutes can make you forget your Death Becomes Her-like cravings for canned frosting (or, you know, other food), as well as booze and cigarettes. Not only that, the Soviet-era game can also weaken the desire to socialize with friends, sleep, and have sex.
In a study recently published in the journal Addictive Behaviors, the researchers conclude that playing the game could help addicts manage their cravings by distracting them from damaging behaviors. Of the 31 undergraduates enlisted to participate in the study, 15 were told to play Tetris for three minutes at a time, before and after reporting any cravings they might have been feeling on a scale of zero to 100.
Although the students reported weaker cravings for food and nonalcoholic drinks than for cigarettes, booze, coffee, sex, and sleeping, they reported those cravings more frequently. Overall, the researchers found that the students appreciably lowered their craving levels—nearly 14 percent—after playing Tetris.
But wait: Replacing the desire for food, sex, and friendship with Tetris is a good thing? And could playing Tetris be an effective replacement for other addictive behaviors because the game itself is understood to be highly addictive?
Jeffrey Goldsmith coined the term "the Tetris effect" in a 1994 Wired article, describing his experiences after spending a week playing Tetris on a Game Boy for a week while visiting Tokyo: "During rare jaunts from the house, I visually fit cars and trees and people together … To fit shapes together is to organize, to build, to make deals, to fix, to understand, to fold sheets. All of our mental activities are analogous, each as potentially addictive as the next."
The researchers are well aware of this phenomenon. "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 of 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."
So the next time you have a murderous craving for a doughnut (or just need to fix), why not load up a game of Tetris and wile away the hours? If you can't stop yourself otherwise, submitting to the irresistible power of the tetriminos might be your only hope.