Video games improve sight in adults born with a rare eye disorder
Doctors have treated people born with a rare eye disorder by prescribing a course of gun-toting video games. The surprise results challenge the view that computer games are necessarily bad for sight.
Researchers found that adults who played the games for 40 hours a month improved enough to read one or two lines further down a standard eye tests chart.
Games that require players to respond to action directly ahead of them and in the periphery of their vision, and to track objects that are sometimes faint and moving in different directions, strengthened the visual system in adults whose eyesight had been severely impaired from birth.
The surprise results challenge the view that computer games are bad for the eyes and suggest that the adult brain can be trained to overcome certain conditions.
"All of them showed substantial improvements in eyesight. They also came to see objects with lower contrast, and more subtle differences among faces and moving objects," said Daphne Maurer, a psychologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, described her study at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver.
She said: "All of them showed substantial improvements in eyesight. They also came to see objects with lower contrast, and more subtle differences among faces and moving objects,"
Playing a video game appeared to rewire the patient's visual cortex and reverse some of the damage to their eyesight. Games achieved the best results when players were engaged at the highest skill level they could manage.
Maurer expects the improvement in eyesight will last, but is monitoring the patients. She said a clinical trial was the next step before video games could be commonly prescribed by doctors.
"We used to think this deficit was permanent, but recent evidence suggests that it may not need to be. The adult brain may still be sufficiently plastic to allow remediation," Maurer said. " video games have got a lot going for them in terms of them being an optimal visual therapy."
Maurer is now working with other researchers to develop a non-violent computer game. "I don't favour making people play first-person shooters," she said.