One of the things that is great about Robot Unicorn Attack is that it’s one of those games that enables you to enter a trance like state. Your conscious grasp of what’s going on on screen is replaced with a holistic understanding of everything.  It’s beyond hand-eye coordination, the universe is no longer experiencing itself subjectively, there’s just an inevitable flow of happenings.  When you’re in the zone, time will disappear from your life.  Suddenly, it’s an hour later.  This is a common experience, and comment.  It’s also like Schopenhauer’s sublime. Your head pops out of dreary existence and into the world beyond will. You are off the wheel of desire and failed fulfilment. Ataraxia. Nirvana. Your cynical defences are down, your ego has disappeared, you are completely unaware of the rainbow joy you are mainlining. Then you crash into a wall.

The one-button-game Canabalt is so successful at causing this state that I was worried at first that the two buttons needed for Robot Unicorn Attack would be overcomplicated.  Then I realised.  Of course, Tetris has far more complicated controls, and that’s the king of the zentrance.  Learning arbitrary controls may require an initial conscious effort, but once they’re successfully mapped inside your head…

You are not pushing ‘z’ – you are jumping

… and once the zen kicks in… you are no longer jumping,  there simply is a jump

I saw this on the BBC from the Institute of Psychiatry at Oxford University.  Two groups of subjects were shown traumatic stuff on video. One group then sat quiely. The other group then played Tetris.  It seems that the 6 hours after seeing something are crucial for memory formation.  Apparently Tetris uses the same areas of the brain and so disrupts the laying down of the memory.  A week later the Tetris players had fewer flashbacks.

The beeb article goes off on one about the ethics of erasing mempries, which (OF COURSE) isn’t what the research is about.  It’s not about forgetting what happened.  It’s not even about never remembering it. It’s about lessening the impact of that memory.  Not overstrengthening it so that it’s all you ever remember ever again. This is about seeing something terrible and it not haunting you for the rest of your life.  In the original article[IAMAFOOTNOTE] (which is from Jan 7, 2009 so how this is still news I’m not sure hey-ho) they say that there’s been a lot of good work done on treating PTSD, but not much on preventing it. They talk about a “cognitive vaccine”, but since they are suggesting applying Tetris thirty minutes after the trauma it seems to me more like “cognitive first aid”.

I’d like to see what happens if they play Tetris before the trauma.  Would that make it worse? Would it be warming up your visual comprehension or wearing it out?  Does it only work for trauma?  If you watch a beautiful film that makes you feel wonderful, and then you play Tetris, does that mean you have fewer “positive” flashbacks?  I guess so, but I don’t think that Post-Elation-Happiness-Disorder is either recognised, or contraindicted.  Away from trauma, is this a danger for revision?  Is there really no effect on conscious recall?  If you’ve just watched a film, and then you play Tetris, will you not remember the film as well?  I mean, be careful.

What can we learn from all this?  If you’ve seen something bad on the internet, then just looking at a nice picture afterwards isn’t good enough. To firmly cock up that memory becoming all powerful you need to actively engage your brain, and apparently the zen-like-trance that you get into playing Tetris is good for that.

What I’m taking from this is that there is such a thing as a Unicorn Chaser, but you have to be active. Can you tell what it is yet?  The true brain bleach is:

Robot Unicorn Attack!!!

[IAMAFOOTNOTE] Holmes EA, James EL, Coode-Bate T, Deeprose C, 2009 Can Playing the Computer Game “Tetris” Reduce the Build-Up of Flashbacks for Trauma? A Proposal from Cognitive Science. PLoS ONE 4(1): e4153. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004153