For decades there has been a maelstrom of debate on how video games affect people. Some researchers and academics argue that video games are a hyper masculine power fantasy that encourages sexism in its consumers, or that it reinforces violent behavior in the participant. Others, however, often call this thought into question claiming that there is little to no proof to back up this assertion.
Beneath this raging storm numerous researchers are quietly toiling away in hopes of shedding some unique light on other aspects of this hotly debated argument. Most of these researchers names will never be known, their research never discussed, and their efforts only a little more than a reference in someone else’s study.
It is for this reason that I hope to share some of their research and show that video games aren’t as terrible as people seem to think they might be. From teamwork to cognition, the topics of these studies are vast and seemingly limitless. Today we will be looking at one study that found video games may help with a problem hundreds of thousands of people face on a daily basis, Amblyopia, better known as “lazy eye.”
Researchers Roger Li, Charlie Ngo, Jennie Nguyen, and Dennis Levi have made an interesting case towards the benefits of playing video games from an ophthalmological perspective. In their study they make the claim that the leading cause of partial blindness in children is amblyopia, a disorder in vision resulting from the brain favoring the neural connections of one eye over the other. The main problem with the condition is fact is that as a child grows older, the likelihood of the eye correcting itself rapidly decreases. Once this critical period has passed, it is almost impossible to fix.
The problem is that once the critical period has passed, the neurons in the brain lose their plasticity and become extremely difficult to alter. If one could train these neurons to function correctly then the problem should correct itself. The difficulty in retraining these neurons has discouraged much of the research on correcting adult amblyopia, and has instead encouraged researchers to focus on this specific critical period. This leaves many adults suffering from amblyopia with little hope of their condition improving.
While this study is only a trial, it tested the sight of adults suffering from amblyopia by having them play video games for 40 hours while wearing an eye patch on their good eye. The results were astonishing, with participants experiencing a reactivation of the plasticity in the neurons connected to the visual cortexes, leading to a major improvement in their sight.
This experiment revolved around three different groups; ten participants played Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault, three participants played the game SimCity Societies (a non-action game), and the final group of seven participants, functioned as a control group and received visual therapy in order to determine if video games had any relevance to potential improvement. The participants experienced an increase in both low-level (visual acuity, positional acuity) and high-level (spatial attention, stereoacuity) visual processing.
These factors were vastly improved in most cases where video games were played, up to the point where several of the participants were almost cured on several issues. While it is impressive that adults with amblyopia improved that much, what was really extraordinary is the short amount of training it took. In just 40 hours of training, the adults were seeing results roughly 5 times faster than children undergoing normal corrective therapy.
While the reason for this immense improvement could be due to the eyepatch the participants wore during the experiment, this doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case. Video games offer an interactivity that no other media can offer. This demand for accuracy and focus while stimulating various other regions in the brain can have a drastic impact on training the eye that’s both safe and relaxing. In order to determine if the use of the eye patch alone was the cause of improvement, the researchers used their non-gaming control group.
After 10 days of 2 hour training sessions, the participants of the control were tested and their results recorded. Then the control group participants were then given the same video game training as everyone else was and were tested for a second time. The comparison between the two tests showed a significant difference between the effects of normal visual therapy and the video game enhanced visual therapy. This forced the researchers to conclude that video games were a central factor to the major improvements in the participants.
While I do appreciate the intentions of this study, their use of such a small sample size is a major flaw that leads me to be cautious of the results. With the experimental groups only having 10 participants at maximum, the potential for one member to distort the data is fairly high. Studies need at least 32 members in order to prevent a few outliers from skewing the results significantly. The lower the sample, the higher the likelihood that outliers will skew the results.
While I don’t know if outliers led to the significant improvement for this study, the doubt will always linger. The low number of participants also prevents for this study, I cannot be certain due to the low number of participants. Even though this factor prevents the study from being generalized to the public, the findings do open up an avenue for further experimentation.
This is the reason why a full study on this subject is needed. A pilot study with these results shouldn’t be dismissed so readily just due to a low participant size. Adults that had little hope to fixing their amblyopia progressed in their treatment five times faster than a child undergoing normal therapy. If these results are to be believed and a full study confirms this, lazy eye has just found the perfect treatment in video games.