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Patients level up their vision by playing video games

Patients level up their vision by playing video games

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Playing video games actually improved the vision of patients born with cataracts

Video games get a lot of flack. Detractors say they make kids less social and more violent. Sitting in front of a screen all day keeps kids from going outside, it makes them fat, and don't even get me started on how bad they are for your eyes.

Well, on that last point, we might be wrong. One researcher is using video games to improve patients vision. Playing video games actually improved the vision of patients born with cataracts. Forty hours of a first person shooter game gave these patients two extra lines on an eye chart.

The New York Times spoke with Daphne Maurer, the researcher behind the work. She's actually never played a video game in her life, but she spent many years working with patients born with cataracts. When someone is born with cataracts, they don't develop their sight the way a normally sighted baby might. Even if the cataracts are removed at a young age, they still have trouble with their visual development. Maurer told the New York Times:

Then, Daphne Bavelier of Rochester University began publishing studies showing that computer games improved the vision of people with normal eyesight. I couldn’t help but wonder: If they helped the normally sighted, why not people with impairments? Also, I saw studies where enriched environments for rats improved aspects of vision damaged after early deprivation. Well, what’s an enriched visual environment for a human? It might be a computer game. I thought, “Click, why not give it a try?”

So the woman who had never played a video game in her life sat down with a bunch of patients and had them play hours and hours of video games. And they got results. But, like any therapy, video games to treat vision comes with some risks. Maurer says, "The game was violent — they would have to wield a symbolic gun and blow away their “enemies” on a screen. It could increase aggression. The game could be addictive. Seven of our adult patients decided that the hope of better vision was worth the risk."

So they played, and their vision improved. Maurer says she's not sure that the game has to be violent for the therapy to work. But it also could be that the rush of adrenalin fueled by a violent game is key for creating an environment in the brain that allows adaptation. They'll just have to find out.

So if you want better vision, maybe you should stop eating carrots, and start blowing things up. Just don't tell your mom.

Via: New York Times

Image: JD Hancock

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Rose Eveleth

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Rose Eveleth is a freelance writer, producer and designer based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, OnEarth, Discover, New York Times, Story Collider and Radiolab. She holds degrees from the University of California, San Diego and New York University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure