Tetris turns 30 today, and the event is being marked by a global celebration. The legendary puzzle game was created by computer engineer and games designer Alexey Pajitnov, and it found iconic status on Nintendo’s Game Boy in the late 1980s. Since then, the smartphone boom has seen it sell over 100 million digital copies as a new generation discovered its merits.

Tetris is a global icon, uniting all cultures and ages with its addictive simplicity. It has much more to offer than outright fun, however, as numerous scientific studies suggest it has incredible benefits for the human brain. As this wonderful game celebrates a milestone, we examine how playing it could be good for your health.

Improved Brain Efficiency

Brain

Medical News Today reported Mind Research Network’s revealing study in 2009. Based on MRI scans of female participants, it’s apparent playing Tetris led to the development of a thicker cortex. This could boost overall brain efficiency. One of the investigators, Dr. Richard Haier, acknowledged, “We were excited to see cortical thickness differences between the girls that practiced Tetris and those that did not.” He admitted, “How a thicker cortex and increased brain efficiency are related remains a mystery.”

It’s believed as a person improves their skills over time, the brain uses less glucose to fuel the problem solving Tetris relentlessly demands. As Jeremy Fordham states in The Neuroscience of Tetris, “What this shows is that the brain actually learns how to solve Tetris conundrums with energy efficiency while it improves performance on the same tasks that once required loads of glucose. This is a prime example of brain efficiency.”

A few benefits of improved efficiency are: stronger performances on cognitive tests, improved concentration, and greater self control.

Assisting With Diets and Addiction

Food

It’s been observed playing Tetris is a useful task for anyone wishing to control their excesses. In early 2014 Science Direct published Playing Tetris reduces the strength, frequency and vividness of naturally occurring cravings. The paper acknowledges, “Participants who had played ‘Tetris’ had significantly lower craving and less vivid craving imagery. The findings support EI theory, showing that a visuospatial working memory load reduces naturally occurring cravings, and that Tetris might be a useful task for tackling cravings outside the laboratory.”

It’s been suggested a mere three minutes of play could be enough to assuage any cravings for cigarettes, alcohol, or food. The key, it would appear, is down to the visual stimulation of the game. Psychology professor Jackie Andrade, one of the study’s researchers, told the Daily News, “You look at the brightly colored shapes and have to manipulate them to make them fit the gaps. It occupies the same mental process that you need for imagining the food, drink or drug that you are craving. You can’t do both at once, so the craving suffers, which is good if you want to abstain from what you crave.”

Potential Alleviation of Neurological Conditions

Neurology

Tetris has been at the centre of several studies into neurological conditions, and research in this area has been conducted for over 20 years. In 1994 Lynn Okagaki and Peter Frensch, in Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, concluded playing Tetris had positive results on spatial skills, such as mental rotation, spatial perception, and spatial visualization.

Prolonged bouts of play can lead to the “Tetris effect”. The term is given to someone who plays Tetris to such an extent it becomes part of their visual day to day life: they can dream about tetrominos (the four part geometric shapes in the game), and organize items they see in their environment. Robert Stickgold’s research, published in 2000 by ScienceMag, noted this intriguing phenomenon, “Amnesic patients with extensive bilateral medial temporal lobe damage produced hypnagogic reports despite being unable to recall playing the game, suggesting that such imagery may arise without important contribution from the declarative memory system.”

In 2009 his work was built upon in Can Playing the Computer Game ‘Tetris’ Reduce the Build-Up of Flashbacks for Trauma?. Dr. Emily A. Holmes postulated Tetris could alleviate traumatic memories. In her research she stated, “Pathological aspects of human memory in the aftermath of trauma may be malleable using non-invasive, cognitive interventions. This has implications for a novel avenue of preventative treatment development.” She added, “We are not saying that people with PTSD should play Tetris but we do think it is hugely valuable to understand how the brain works and how it produces intrusive flashback memories.”

David Hellerstein, M.D., a professor of Clinical Psychiatry in New York, considered this proposal in a 2012 article titled Can Tetris Prevent PTSD?. He concurred with Holmes’ findings and reiterated, “Tetris players had fewer flashbacks and lower scores on measures of trauma impact.” Whilst this research remains inconclusive, it would appear Tetris has promising potential as a mind healer.

Where To Find Tetris

Tetris iPhone

Tetris is available for a large range of computers, gadgets, and phones. There are a myriad of free editions online, such as FreeTetris on the official site. There are free versions on Facebook, the most popular being Tetris Battle, and you can find Tetris Blitz (a “race against time” adaptation) on Google Play.

Smartphone variations have been hugely popular with over 100 millions sales to date. It’s available for $0.99 on iTunes for the iPhone and iPad, and iOS users can enjoy a free version of Tetris Blitz for a mentally stimulating two minute high score session.

30th Anniversary Celebrations

Tetris

The Tetris Company is marking their birthday with a chance to win prizes and awards. Participants are encouraged to upload pictures to Twitter. As they state, “The challenge is on! Show your creative spirit and celebrate the 30th anniversary of Tetris at your very own Tetris 30th Anniversary Meetup. Tweet your photos using the hashtag #Tetris30 or #WeAllFitTogether.” You can find full details on the official site.

If you’d like to participate, you can head to Tetris30 to discover your nearest local meetup. Whether you want to compete competitively for a high score, or meet like-minded individuals, it’s a fun occasion which absolutely everyone can enjoy. It will also do your brain some good.

Featured photo credit: Tetris cookies/andromache via flickr.com

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