How Playing Video Games Can Actually Improve Eyesight
personalEYES | 6 Jun 2019
Two independent studies have found that playing certain video games can actually improve vision, a finding that is contrary to popular perception.
Parents have a whole range of reasons to get their children away from computer games. They will tell their kids that they need to exercise, to clean their rooms, that that the dinner table needs to be set. But unfortunately for mums and dads, one argument seems to have been debunked; as it turns out, video games are not actually bad for eyesight.
Two separate studies, one in Geneva, Switzerland, and one in Ontario, Canada, have found that playing first-person shooter games can improve perception and eyesight. Though these might sound like studies paid for by a gaming company, both were undertaken by independent researchers interested in brain plasticity (adaptability) rather than video games themselves.
Daphne Bavelier PhD of the University of Geneva undertook a study to investigate the effect playing video games has on the brain. Her research suggested that first person action games improve cognition, perception, concentration and importantly, vision. Bavelier went so far as to say that reading is more detrimental to eyesight than playing video games. This is because reading confines the field of vision to a narrow area, whereas action games require the player to be aware of everything happening on the screen before them.
Inspired by this research, the coincidently named Daphne Maurer, from the University of Ontario, set out to discover whether video games could have a similar effect on people with eyesight problems. She tested a group of people aged between 19 and 30 who were born with cataracts. Over a month she had the subjects play 10 hours of shooter games every week (enough to have all parents shaking their heads).
At the end of the study the results were unequivocal; every person showed some improvement in their vision. Some subjects improved in one eye, others in both, but unlike what parents would have their children believe, none of them had their eyesight get worse.
For Dr Maurer, the research suggested that the sensory brain can adapt after childhood. This is an encouraging development, with many researchers believing that a brain’s ability to compute senses cannot be changed once a person progresses into adulthood.
It might seem odd that both researchers used first-person action games in their research; violent games receive a lot of negative attention and using them in the laboratory was bound to raise some eyebrows. However, as Maurer explained to the New York Times, there are cogent reasons for using these types of games. Because the threat of attack can come from anywhere, the games require the player to be aware of the whole field of vision, rather than just a particular point. Additionally, the excitement in these games causes rushes of adrenaline and dopamine, two chemicals that may positively influence the brain’s ability to adapt.
Though these studies were simply for research purposes, perhaps in the future those with bad eyesight will visit hospitals fitted out with computer screens. Who knows? For now, it is too far off to see.