Source: Kelly Bulkeley
The media we consume during the day can have a huge impact on what we dream about at night. Movies, TV shows, and video games are particularly powerful influences on dreaming. This may sound like a harmful intrusion into the privacy of one’s unconscious, and perhaps in some cases it is. But a closer look reveals that most dreams related to movies etc. do in fact provide important psychological insights if you know what to look for.
Any kind of cultural content can find its way into our dreams. Intensity and frequency seem to be the most important factors. For example, a movie that makes you feel intense emotions is more likely to influence your dreams than a less stimulating movie. Likewise, watching a movie multiple times increases the chances that it will appear in your dreams. This frequency factor is a common phenomenon among hardcore gamers and TV binge watchers.
Media-related dreams are not just unconscious mirrors that passively reflect our waking experiences. These dreams are both selectively and integrative: They choose certain characters, themes and settings for the shot and leave out others. They combine these references with the dreamer’s ongoing concerns in waking life, weaving new tapestry of meaning that can lead in directions far removed from the original film, television, or game content. One could easily argue that dreaming is the original form of fan fiction.
The best way to understand this process is as a gameplay. Dreaming treats movies, TV shows, and video games like toys to be picked up and explored, imagined, and combined in various ways. As a style of play, dreaming expresses itself in a variety of spontaneous, whimsical, and over-the-top forms. And like other varieties, dreaming usually revolves around people’s basic issues in life, their deepest hopes, fears, and desires. (Nightmares are the dark game of dreaming, just as horror films are the dark game of cinema.) The appearance of cultural references in dreaming expands the circle of meaning from your individual concerns to the concerns of your community and perhaps to the concerns of all persons. The dream is no longer just about you; It may be about larger movements taking place in the world around you.
If you’ve ever had a dream like this—let’s say it was a dream involving a female character from a video game—take a moment to think about it while keeping these three questions in mind.
- How would you describe this character to someone who doesn’t know anything about the video game? Who is she? How is she? How is she acting? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How does she relate to others in the game? The more you can expand your awareness of the character’s place in the game’s lifeworld, the better you will understand their specific presence in your dream and what their character brings to your conscious attention.
- What kind of energy does this character bring to your dream? How does it change or affect what happens in the dream? How does the dream differ because she is there and not another character from the game or an ordinary person from your waking life? From all the impressions and experiences that went through your mind during the day, your dreaming mind chose that particular character to appear in that particular dream. What does your intuition tell you about the importance of this very special choice?
- Where does this character take you? After the dream, she is no longer just a part of the game. She is part of she. You have a completely different relationship with her now, a dramatically expanded frame of reference for who and what she is. A playful dynamic has developed between your imagination and this character, mediated by your dream. She is now an active, living presence in your waking mind. As you think about this felt presence, do you have any idea of what she wants, where she wants to go, and what she wants to do?
If your dream still seems unclear after pondering these questions, be patient. The meaning of dreams does not always appear easily or immediately. We can invite them, make them comfortable, and open ourselves to whatever they have to say to us. But what they say and when they say it is up to them.