According to a recent study, playing video games can actually improve vision. Neuroscientist Daphne Bavelier and her team tested the vision of seven patients after 10 hours per week of playing. They played no more than two hours per day over a nine-week period. The results were unexpected, especially among disgruntled girlfriends and concerned parents. Playing first-person shooter games was improving the player’s vision and the results were lasting long-term.
Vision Benefits of Playing Video Games
1. Improved Visual Acuity
Visual acuity is the ability to see details, sharpness, and letters or numbers at a distance. Eye doctors often have patients do the Visual Acuity Test. They must read a board of numbers and letters from a distance until they can no longer see them. As we age, it’s normal that our ability to see details from a distance diminishes. Through Bavelier’s study, the visual acuity of the players improved significantly. Their results on the Visual Acuity Test were actually better than those who didn’t play video games at all.
2. Improved Peripheral Vision
First-person shooter video games are often set in life-like arenas. Some are in cities, the wilderness, or post-apocalyptic worlds. Video game designers jump through hoop after hoop making the backgrounds of these games appear life-like. The player may only be focusing on where they’re shooting, but their brain is taking in the whole screen, including the background. By having random objects in the background move naturally (wind through trees, civilians walking down the street, etc.), the player must use their peripheral vision. This is incredibly beneficial for real-life activities like driving, walking in a straight line, and being aware of your surroundings at night. The players in Bavelier’s study had a significant improvement in peripheral vision.
3. Improved Greyscale Vision
It had always been assumed that the ability to discern different shades of grey was fixed, therefore it couldn’t be improved. Having a low visual sensitivity to contrast in colors is dangerous. It means driving at night is a scary feat, especially when there’s fog or smoke. Due to Bavelier’s study, she discovered that greyscale vision is, in fact, not fixed. You can improve it through playing video games. Certain video games are able to retrain your brain to beat low-vision and improve greyscale clarity. Up until this point, people with contrast sensitivity would strongly consider surgery or corrective lenses to fix it. Video game developers are currently working on video games targeting low-vision players to even further improve their vision.
4. Increased Dopamine Levels
If you’ve never played a first-person shooter game, you should know that it can cause a roller coaster of emotions. A brain scan would show dramatic spikes in adrenaline dozens of times in one hour of play. Bavelier and her team argue that these spikes in adrenaline are causing sporadic releases of dopamine from the brain. Dopamine is known as the “happy hormone”; it elevates your mood. By triggering the brain to release dopamine from visual triggers, the players are rewiring the connectors in their brain. And, new connectors from the brain to optic nerve are created. This means that the brain can interpret more visual cues than before, thus improving vision.
5. Improved Amblyopia
A new study from Berkeley University built on Bavelier’s research. However, they found that video games also improved the vision of people suffering from amblyopia. Amblyopia, also known as “lazy eye,” occurs when you have weak eye muscles in one or both eyes. The affected eye doesn’t have the same mobility or strength as the other. Through playing video games with a patch on, the players experienced a 30 percent improvement in visual acuity after 20 two-hour sessions. Another group of participants with amblyopia wore an eye patch but did not play a video game for the same length of time. They noticed significantly less, if any, results.
6. Long-Term Results
After Bavelier’s study, players were retested five months later. The benefits they first experienced from playing first-person shooter games were still going strong. Their requirement to play 10 hours per week wasn’t standing, so it’s unknown if the continual improvement is from continual playing. The players could have lowered their playtime after the study, yet still maintained the benefits from it. While five months of lasting results might not seem long, it’s very promising. We can improve vision through this accessible method Bavelier researched, and build upon it.
Are All Video Games Good for Vision?
Bavelier’s study discovered that non-action video games did not yield the same results as action games. Playing Sims and other less aggressive games didn’t improve peripheral vision, acuity, or increase dopamine levels. However, the study from Berkeley reported that playing both action and non-action video games improved the amblyopia for their participants. So, it would seem that you need to understand what your vision issues are before attempting to treat them with video games. Scientists and game developers are working on creating games that improve vision without being violent.
Should Kids Be Playing Video Games to Improve Vision?
There’s discussion over whether video game therapy is suitable for children with low vision. Kids today are often playing video games at home and with their friends. But, child-friendly games aren’t usually first-person shooting games like the ones in Bavelier’s study. It’s clearly not recommended for children to play violent and aggressive action games. Until game developers and scientists come up with a game that provides the same results without violence, children shouldn’t be using this type of therapy for vision issues. Contrarily, children who suffer from amblyopia can improve their eye muscles with non-violent games. In these cases, parents should speak to their child’s eye doctor.
The breakthroughs in these two studies have changed the way we see video games. Players were once viewed as lazy and unintelligent. Now, it’s possible they have high brain-functioning and even superior vision. The future is bright for video game therapy, especially in addressing vision impairments.