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Free Weekly. What Dreams May Come

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By Doug Thompson

Afflicted by nightmares? Maybe you should play lots of “Halo.”

A Canadian college professor has found some evidence that people who spend a lot of time playing video games have more control of “their” actions in a dream. Here’s a link: www.msnbc.msn.com/id/37342086.

The professor hasn’t done a rigorous study yet, but wants to.

I suggest reading the article. The part that intrigues me is the idea that people who play games can “control” themselves in dreams like a game-player controls his character on-screen. They run away more effectively and they often fight back very effectively. They aren’t just helpless victims watching their demise like it was a cop show where they’re the targets.

The researcher found that game-playing dreamers are not more aggressive than dreamers who don’t play games. In fact, gamers are less prone to act aggressively — a finding that all the people who hate videogames should ponder.

When forced into an aggressive response during a nightmare, however, the game player’s response is much more effective than the non-game player’s.

“If you look at the actual overall amount of aggression, gamers have less aggression in dreams,” the researcher told MSNBC. “But when they’re aggressive, oh boy, they go off the top.”

If you’re going to hit somebody, hit him enough, as the saying goes.

We’ll see if this particular research pans out. Even if true, do the games you play make any difference?

Could a game be designed to be therapeutic? Maybe; A better bet would be to find a game that fits a recurring nightmare and play through it. Afraid of monsters? Play “Alien vs. Predator,” perhaps.

I know a lot of adventure games that don’t exactly branch out. You have to follow a very strict plot. You have to find certain triggers that lead down one very clear path — clear in hindsight, anyway. You can play out your “destiny” gracefully and skillfully or as a clumsy oaf, but the end result is the same. Do those help? Does it make a difference? Do you get “control” in your dreams, or are you more helpless than when you started?

There is one generalization I can make: Treat people like a jerk and go in to any given situation with guns blazing and you get killed, either in real life or in most games I’ve experienced.

I played one game where the sheriff in a small town got killed despite my attempt to help him. I found the key to his apartment on his body. I went to his apartment, saw some stuff I could use, and started pilfering. Then I opened a door to one room where I found the sheriff’s pre-teen son. He asked me who I was, what I was doing there and where his father was.

To say that I felt like a jerk would be a severe understatement.

I’m fascinated by World War I air-to-air combat. I played a very realistic flight simulator on that theme once. At one point, I looked at the screen and grumbled aloud, “This isn’t any fun.”

The profound truth of that hit me almost immediately.

There are no “health packs” in the real world. You can’t go to a nearby hot dog stand and replenish your health after you’ve been shot and wrecked your car, as you do in “Grand Theft Auto.”

I think there’s some value in teaching people — particularly young men — that they’re not bulletproof. I especially approve of methods that teach that lesson without using real bullets.

And now for a swift change of topic.

I didn’t want to write on politics this week. The primary season and the runoffs have given me political overload. However, there was an event last week that is too important to ignore.

President Barack Obama’s national approval rating is clearly below his disapproval rating by a significant margin on “Pollster.com” for the first time. It took the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, apparently, but the separation is measurable and significant: 2.6 percentage points, with 48.9 percent disapproving and 46.3 percent approval.

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