Smokers looking to quit could be helped by a cigarette-crushing video game, according to a study published in the journal CyberPsychology & Behavior. A group of Canadian researchers discovered that smokers placed in a virtual reality environment full of cigarettes to be destroyed showed a significant reduction in nicotine cravings.
The study took 91 regular smokers and randomly assigned them to two groups. All participants went through a 12-week anti-smoking program involving questionnaires, tests and counselling, as well as four weekly sessions with a head-mounted video game set in a medieval castle. One group was tasked with collecting virtual balls, while the others had to track down and crush cigarettes.
The results showed that the cigarette-crushers had a significant reduction in nicotine cravings compared to the ball-collectors. At the end of the 12-week treatment, 15% of the cigarette-crushers had abstained from smoking, while just 2% of the ball-collectors had managed to give up.
Virtual treatment also had a lasting effect. When interviewed six months later, only 20% of the ball-collectors said they had not smoked in the last week, but 39% of the cigarette-collectors had resisted lighting up.
The researchers suggest a number of reasons why cigarette-crushing helps keep from smoking. The act of destroying a virtual cigarette could boost a person’s confidence in their ability to give up real cigarettes, or make them want to give up more. Enjoyment in the game could also lead them to change their response towards cigarettes – presumably from “I’m dying for a smoke” to “die, cigarettes!”
Whatever the explanation, this research could lead to new anti-smoking treatments. Instead of reaching for the nicotine patches, you might end up patching your PC with some cigarette-killing software. Anyone for a game of capture the fags?
Girard, B., Turcotte, V., Bouchard, S., & Girard, B. (2009). Crushing Virtual Cigarettes Reduces Tobacco Addiction and Treatment Discontinuation CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12 (5), 477-483 DOI: 10.1089/cpb.2009.0118