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How to Interpret Dreams of Movies, TV, and Video Games

Exploring the playful dynamics between media and dreaming.

Key points

  • The media a person watches can have a powerful impact on their dreams, which can convey important psychological insights.
  • The intensity of a TV show or movie and the frequency of its viewing can greatly influence whether it makes its way into a person's dreams.
  • The dreaming mind actively selects, integrates, and plays with the media we experience in waking.
Kelly Bulkeley
Source: Kelly Bulkeley

The media we consume during the day can have a big impact on what we dream of at night. Movies, television shows, and video games have an especially strong influence on dreaming. This might sound like a harmful intrusion into the private space of one's unconscious, and perhaps in some cases, it is. But a closer look reveals that most dreams with references to movies, etc., actually convey important psychological insights if you know what to look for.

Any kind of cultural content can make its way into our dreams. Intensity and frequency seem to be the most important factors. For instance, 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 will increase the chances of its appearance 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 selective and integrative: They choose certain characters, themes, and settings for inclusion, and leave out others. They combine these references with the dreamer’s ongoing concerns in waking life, weaving new tapestries of meaning that may lead in directions far from the original movie, TV, or gaming content. It could easily be argued that dreaming is the original form of fan fiction.

The best way to understand this process is as a mode of play. Dreaming treats movies, television shows, and video games like toys that can be taken up and explored, imagined, and combined in various ways. As a mode of play, dreaming expresses itself in a variety of spontaneous, whimsical, and exaggerated forms. And like other modes of play, dreaming tends to revolve around people’s basic life concerns, their deepest hopes, fears, and desires. (Nightmares are the dark play of dreaming, just as horror movies are the dark play of cinema.) The appearance of cultural references in dreaming widens the sphere of significance from your individual concerns to the concerns of your community, and perhaps the concerns of all people. The dream isn’t just about you anymore; it’s potentially about bigger movements happening in the world around you.

If you have had a dream like this—let’s say it was a dream in which a female character from a video game appears—try taking a few moments to reflect on it with the following three questions in mind.

  1. How would you describe this character to someone who doesn’t know anything about the video game? Who is she? What is she like? How does she behave? What are her strengths and weaknesses? How does she relate to others in the game? The more you can amplify your awareness of the character’s place in the life-world of the game, the more you will understand her specific presence in your dream and what her character is bringing to your conscious attention.
  2. What kind of energy does this character add to your dream? How does she change or impact what happens in the dream? How is the dream different because she is there, rather than another character from the game, or an ordinary person from your waking life? Of all the impressions and experiences that passed through your mind during the day, your dreaming mind selected this specific character to appear in this specific dream. What does your intuition tell you about the meaning of this very particular choice?
  3. Where is this character leading you? After the dream, she is no longer just a part of the game. She is part of you. You now have a totally different relationship with her, a dramatically expanded frame of reference for who and what she is. A playful dynamic has emerged between your imagination and this character, mediated by your dream. She is now an active, living presence in your waking mind. As you reflect on this felt presence, do you have a sense of what she wants, where she wants to go, and what she wants to do?

If your dream still seems obscure after reflecting on these questions, be patient. The meanings of dreams do not always appear easily or immediately. We can invite them in, make them comfortable, and open ourselves to whatever they have to tell us. But what they say and when they say it is up to them.

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