Recent studies show that action video games improve vision – especially the first person variety like the mind bending Portal puzzle game. Other action video games that rank high for their realism and visual intensity include Half Life 2 and Team Fortress 2. Games that didn’t improve vision at all included Tetris and The Sims. But why would this be? Aren’t all video games bad for your eyesight?
How Video Games Improve Vision
According to Daphne Bavelier, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, video gaming has a lot to offer our eyesight.
After just 30 hours of game play, participants showed a substantial increase in the spatial resolution of their vision, meaning they could see figures like those on an eye chart more clearly, even when other symbols were crowded in.
What’s more, newer research shows that video gamers display a whopping 58% improvement at perceiving fine contrast differences. In a light fog at dusk, that’s the difference between seeing the car in front of you – or not.
“When people play action games, they’re changing the brain’s pathway responsible for visual processing,” says Bavelier. “These games push the human visual system to the limits and the brain adapts to it. That learning carries over into other activities and possibly everyday life.”
Amazingly, the research shows that action video games improve vision for months and even years after the original video game training.
Since their invention, all video games have suffered the stigma of being bad for your vision. This is particularly true for people with myopia, who suffer additional near point stress (especially while wearing their corrective lenses) when focusing for prolonged periods at anything within a 7-foot range. The best way to avoid this may be to practice eye relaxation exercises while at the computer.
Yet this appears to be the first evidence that shows video games improve vision. While they can’t improve the health or structure of your eye ball, they do appear to teach your brain’s visual cortex how to make better use of the information it receives. It’s all about cognitive processing; an area of vision improvement that is seriously overlooked.
While you are alert, your mind is being bombarded with visual information. You may think that you are consciously aware of everything that is going on around us, but this is simply not true. Your brain is constantly appraising the visual scene around you and choosing which elements to attend to at any one time. This means you can teach your brain to attend to certain aspects of vision which are currently being ignored. Your eyes do not see any differently; it is a matter of handling information differently in your brain – called cognitive vision.
In the latest study, Bavelier’s team tested the contrast sensitivity function of 22 students, then divided them into two groups. One group played the action video games Unreal Tournament 2004 and Call of Duty 2, which are known for their first person realism and rich contrast.
The other group played The Sims 2, which is also richly visual, but does not require as much visual-motor coordination. The volunteers each played 50 hours during the nine-week test before their vision was tested again.
Those who played the action games showed an average 43% improvement in their ability to discern close shades of gray, whereas The Sims players showed no improvement at all. And when comparing people who played action video games routinely for more than six months to those who don’t play computer games, the increase was an even higher 58%, Bavelier said.
This is the first demonstration that contrast sensitivity can be improved by simple visual training, explains Bavelier. Perhaps most impressively, the positive effect remained even two years after the training was over.
Meanwhile, Bavelier’s research has shown that people who played action video games for a few hours a day over the course of a month improved by about 20% in their ability to identify letters presented in clutter – a visual acuity test similar to ones used in regular ophthalmology clinics. In essence, playing video games improves your bottom line on a standard eye chart.
Intriguingly, this natural vision improvement was seen both in the part of the visual field where video game players typically play, but also beyond – the part of your vision beyond the computer monitor. So the participants’ vision improved in the center and at the periphery where they had not been trained. This suggests that people with visual deficits, such as amblyopic patients, may also be able to gain an increase in their visual acuity with special rehabilitation software that reproduces an action game’s need to identify objects very quickly.
Having established that action video games improve vision in two different ways, the team at Rochester University is now delving into how the brain responds to other visual stimuli. They plan to use what would be a video gamer’s dream: a new 360-degree virtual-reality computer lab.
Bavelier’s breakthrough research has been published in the science journals, Nature Neuroscience and Psychological Science.
Eye Exercises to Improve Vision
Such research lends credence to the idea of vision training – a natural way of exercising the eyes to achieve better vision without glasses.
According to Rebuild Your Vision, most vision disorders are caused by refractive errors, caused by bad vision habits and chronic eye strain. Eye exercises teach you to undo these habits and get your eyesight back into shape, so that you can see clearly without glasses. Learn more here.