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Could Video Games Actually Help To Improve Our Vision?

August 20, 2012

Playing video games may improve eyesight for those born with cataracts.

Growing up, we constantly heard warnings and cautions from our parents about sitting too long in front of the television or the dangers of all-day video game marathons for our eyesight. “You’re going to go cross-eyed if you keep watching that television!” or “If you don’t stop playing those video games, you’re going to ruin your eyes!” However, to the delight of teenagers and gamers everywhere, new studies have been released which show that our parents may have actually been very wrong about vision and video games―at least for people born with cataracts. (Sorry parents!)

The idea of video games as a vision correction method for people with cataracts first came to developmental psychologist Daphne Maurer when she read about a study which showed that computer games had improved the vision of people with normal eyesight. Because Professor Maurer had regularly studied the importance of the first ten years of life to vision, she couldn’t help but wonder whether or not video games could also help people with vision impairments.

In our early years of life, it is thought that the brain region critical to decoding visual information is hardwired. Therefore, it doesn’t receive enough information during that time (sometimes due by cataracts), it struggles to make up the loss. Professor Maurer came up with the theory that an enriched environment, such as an action video game, could help force the brain to work harder and decode visual information.

She then began a unique study which followed the affect that a “first-person shooter” video game (one with lots of action and tasks) could have on people born with cataracts. She studied both men and women who were born with cataracts in both eyes and, as babies, could see light but not detail. When they were aged between 19 and 31, they took part in the study, which involved playing an action game in which they took on the role of a solider shooting the enemy or a gunman firing at aliens.

The results found that just ten hours of gaming for four weeks dramatically improved the subjects vision, and after 40 hours of playing a violent video game, they were able to read two extra lines on an eye chart. Many were also better at distinguishing the direction of movement and at telling faces apart after 40 hours of game play.

Professor Maurer believed this was largely attributed to the actions within this particular type of video game. For instance, first-person shooter games require a person to monitor their whole field of vision, rather than just what is sat ahead of them on the screen. The game also requires what is called “vision for action”―you have to look at the screen, make a decision and move in the right direction. Therefore, not only are you sensing the world, but you are acting on it.

While the study is one of the first of its kind, it brings to light a lot of important factors in improving cataract vision and how early sensory deprivation affects vision over time. What do you think about Professor Maurer’s study and the impact that video games can have on our vision? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.


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