By now it seems a pretty idiotic idea that the Internet can cause addiction. But what about using alternate realities to cure it? That’s the concept behind a new study done by the University of Quebec in Gatineau, which tried help smokers quit by designing a virtual reality program where they could chase down floating cigarettes like Mario Bros coins–and then crush them.
For the study, 91 smokers were divided into two groups. One chased phantasmal smokes; the other was a control that went after imaginary blue balls like Labrador Retrievers. After 12 weeks of gaming and going to support-group meetings, about 15% of the cigarette crushers quit compared to just 2% of their peers. Six months later, the crushers improved even more, about 60% were able to go at least one week without smoking, compared to 20% of the control group. As scientists explained to Discovery News, the arcade theory was designed to work on two levels, both conditioning a different reflex to being presented with a cigarette and creating a mental image that someone could flash back on to reinforce that.
Just one catch: Apparently some of the quitters failed because every time they snatched a digital smoke, they just pretended to be saving it for later, overriding science with more vivid imagination.