Could Playing Video Games Improve Vision?

Could Playing Video Games Improve Vision?


Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up believing stereotypes. Not too long ago, those of us who played various types of games were considered nerds and told by our parents: “You are going to rot your brain!” While others were blaming video games for a variety of health problems stemming from hearing loss and even diabetes.

What may surprise some people is that gaming has actually been helping to heal children and adults with a varying health problems, including parkinson’s disease, childhood obesity, psychological therapies, and pain management. Even some military personnel have taken video game consoles with them on deployments to release the stresses of being in a combat zone but today videogames have been found to be even effective for optic health as well.

In late August of this year The New York Times published an article regarding some research done regarding cataracts by a lady named Daphne Maurer. As it turns out, Maurer had seen the results of a previous study regarding how video games can improve normal vision in adults, which piqued her curiosity and inspired her to create a study implementing the use of first person shooters (FPS) to treat adults with cataracts.

After recruiting some volunteers, Maurer tested each their eyes by having them play FPS games (like Call of Duty) on loaned consoles for ten hours per week. The results? Maurer’s eye tests had significant positive findings.

Maurer discovered that all of the volunteers had some type of vision improovement. Some volunteers showed improvement in tracking movement, some had gained strength in their eyes, and some were even able to improve focusing on objects

What is staggering about this finding is that these improvements support the theory that the brain maintains the ability to change throughout adulthood (Often referred to by neuroscientists as “plasticity” or “plastic.”).

This is due to the envirnment of the video games that we play. Video game environments  such as those seen in FPS games, force our brains to interact with an space in a way that is similar to seeing itself. By playing an FPS, you are essentially moving a virtual head in order to make sense of your surrounding objects. The implications for eye-treatments using games can really be changed as researchers look into the effects of other games on eyes

If Call of Duty can begin to heal eyes through a type of “simulation-therapy”, what are the possibilities for using games like Geometry Wars 2 or Super Stardust HD that have incredible amounts of things happening on the screen at any one moment? Maurer mentions an older study in which researchers studied the effect of Tetris on eye therapy and found no significant results but Tetris is a relatively easy game to visually keep track of. In fact, someone in Japan, was able to completely beat the game invisibly (an uncommon skill, I’m sure).

It calls into question whether the therapy is a result of mimicry or intense “exercise” for the eyes, although my enormous glasses and countless hours of playing all games haven’t really improved my vision over the years.

image via Official U.S. Navy Imagery