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Ask Dr Mark
Game Dreams

Mark J. Kline | 18 Nov 2010 15:32
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Hey doctor mark

Recently I've been having these odd dreams revolving around video game maps and worlds. I dreamed I was in Dead Rising's Mall, in front of me was a zombie, laughing, calling me a weakling. I notice I'm holding a sledgehammer in my hand. I swing it against this thing, but I can't make myself hit it--moments before impact I regret and stop the action, even though it may mean my doom.

What could this mean?

It's very difficult to understand the meaning of a dream without more details about a person's life. Some researchers even question the idea that dreams may be "the royal road to the unconscious," as Freud concluded in his famous book The Interpretation of Dreams. In my work, I often find dreams very useful in understanding what is going on for a client, but I don't assume that each dream must be somehow profound and meaningful, and I wonder if some are just the result of a particularly bad taco.

Does this dream indicate a secret sympathy for zombies? They do seem to be getting killed in vast numbers across all forms of media these days. Could the dream reflect some doubts about your competence or anxiety about being ridiculed? Could it mean you are having ambivalence about swinging your hammer--able to hold it yourself but not sure whether taking a swing or failing to swing will cause problems? Psychologists often interpret such images sexually, but to paraphrase Freud, sometimes a sledgehammer is just a sledgehammer.

The experience you report is more interesting to me as an indication of the way video games affect the minds of players.

When I played World of Warcraft, I found myself thinking about the game constantly, even when I wasn't playing. Sometimes, I was struggling with a practical or interpersonal problem in the game. Other times I was planning a program of play or thinking about how I could use my playing time most efficiently. I often found myself daydreaming vividly, experiencing the events of a raid that went well and enjoying the sense of triumph and achievement. Or I would replay a failure over and over in my mind trying to think about how it could come out differently the next time around. The game seemed to dominate my thinking whenever my mind wasn't otherwise occupied, sometimes it even pushed its way into the forefront when I should have been focused elsewhere. This became a way to extend my involvement with the game beyond the time I was actually playing.

Visual images from the game entered my dreams and I recall dream action taking place in various WoW scenarios. As I often played very late into the night, game experience displaced sleep, but also immediately preceded it, so in a sense I took these powerful images and strong emotions to bed with me, for the brief intervals I did sleep.

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