Video Game Play Improves Eyesight

A research study showed that playing first-person shooters like Unreal Tournament 2004 and Call of Duty 2 improves vision.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

March 30, 2009

3 Min Read

(click imagefor larger view)Unreal Vision Improvement From Video Game PlayingResearchers have shown that video game play can result in better contrast perception versus "regular" contrast perception.

In the latest study to address the impact of video games on game players, researchers at the University of Rochester and Tel Aviv University have found that action-oriented video games can improve players' vision.

The findings, reported in the March 29 issue of Nature, indicate that action games offer players the chance to improve their contrast perception by as much as 58%.

The research report's lead author, Daphne Bavelier, professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, expects that video game playing may prove useful as a treatment for certain kinds of vision problems.

"Video game training ... may become a useful complement to eye-correction techniques that are routinely used in the clinic to improve eyesight," the report states.

The new research builds on similar work by Bavelier that was published in the journal Psychological Science in February 2007. Bavelier's work was then funded by the National Institutes of Health; currently, it's funded by the National Eye Institute and the Office of Naval Research.

The U.S. military has for years been at the forefront of using video games for training and recruitment.

Not all video games affect contrast perception. Bavelier's study -- conducted with Renjie Li, a graduate student; Walt Makous, professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester; and Uri Polat, professor at the Eye Institute at Tel Aviv University -- divided a group of 22 students into two groups. The first group played Unreal Tournament 2004 and Call of Duty 2, fast-paced action video games, or first-person shooters. The second group played The Sims 2, a video game that doesn't require quick reflexes or hand-eye coordination.

After 50 hours of game playing over the course of nine weeks, students in the first group showed a 43% improvement in their ability to distinguish between shades of gray. Students in the second group showed no improvement.

"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration that contrast sensitivity can be improved by simple training," Bavelier told the University of Rochester news service. "When people play action games, they're changing the brain's pathway responsible for visual processing. These games push the human visual system to the limits and the brain adapts to it, and we've seen the positive effect remains even two years after the training was over."

Other video game studies have found benefits arising from game playing, such as improved surgical skills and enhanced creativity. Other studies have found video games to be harmful. Video games have been linked to childhood aggression and troubled relationships, for example.

Often video game study findings correlate with the funding organization's political and social agenda, a coincidence that raises questions about the validity of the science that produced the findings.

In considering the palliative effective of video games on vision, one should bear in mind that video game playing also has been associated with computer vision syndrome and musculoskeletal disorders.

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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