Good Game Research: How Video Games Might Help Alleviate Lazy Eye

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Shadows of the Damned’s Paula

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.

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A firefight in Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault

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.

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SimCity: Societies, not exactly a frenetic, action-packed game

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.

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Kratos just wants to help the cyclops

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.

Cody Gulley

About

I am a research student with a history in psychology. I am a fan of tactical rpgs and I love to travel. I hope to one day be a clinical psychologist.



  • Mike Nieto

    This is very interesting and it seems logical that gaming could benefit the condition. As Cody said, it should have been a big number test subjects instead of just ten. Still seems very nice that people all over the world are starting to take gaming serioulsy for this kind of things.

  • DrWawee

    That first image is the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen game related…… including parts of Prey, Quake 4 and Dead Space.

  • Misogynerd

    Video games are pretty intense activities for our hands, eyes, and brains. No wonder they can help people with problems in those areas or help us train that area.
    Still, for some reason, the industry is just worried about sexism. Even more than mobile games, the film/book/comic book/TV industry mentality people have about gaming is just dragging down the medium.

  • Nagato

    Seems like a good excuse to post this vid:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdP8MsZxw90

  • deadeye

    Well, I have a lazy eye, and also have been playing games for as long as I can remember.

    Can’t really say if my vision has benefited from games or not. i still wear glasses and without them my left eye still wanders around like an idiot. And even with glasses I can barely see out of my left eye. Granted, I probably have more issues than just lazy eye. But hey, maybe video games have stopped them from getting worse.

    I’m glad research is being done to see if video games have positive health benefits though.

  • Montrillian

    They had a specific method of “therapy” where the participant with lazy eye patched their good eye while playing one of the games. This is also a pilot study and they may be seriously off. Hope that explains a bit further.

  • CRUNCH SALMONSTEAK

    I was diagnosed with lazy eye when I was… 5~6? The doctor recommended video games as a treatment with one eye covered (pretty much how I got introduced into video games).

    For me the treatment never really worked because covering my good eye made it extra sensitive in the long run, and I ended up using it more when it wasn’t covered.

    Still, good to see actual research on this rather then the usual video game violence = real life violence bullshit.

  • dsadsada

    I appreciate you pointing out the low sample sizes calling the results into question. From the results alone, it sounded like a big deal until you mentioned the fact.

    Were the participants of the control group that had the 2 hour training sessions then given the video game session also given eyepatches, or were they left as is? It seems like high activity that requires sight and thinking being forced on the lazy eye is what’s leading to their improvement. Also, did they see if it was a temporary thing? It could be that once the participants are done, they’ll end up back at where they were prior to the experiments. These are just my thoughts. Even if they were answered, the low sample size is still an issue over the reliability of the results.

    Looking forward to the next research you’ll be looking into.

  • Montrillian

    Yes, the control participated in the same form of experimentation as the experimental group with the only difference being that they were given half the time. You are right in the assumption that the high activity level is what is believed to be the cause of this improvement, and the reason why watching movies or reading a book wouldn’t have the same effect.

  • Zombie_Barioth

    Doesn’t really surprise me video games can actually help improve eyesight, this isn’t first I’ve heard of it. I believe it was found that playing in 3D helps with depth perception or something like that.

    This just yet another point on the list of positive benefits games have that most people tend to overlook in favor of violence, fanservice, and political correctness.

  • Miguel Angel Opazo Arancibia

    This is the kind of research i want to see.
    I agree that the test group is really small and non significative.
    It only “suggest” that their hypothesis may be true.
    It smells to me, like a tentative proposal. They may be baiting their department with a cool and simple proyect in order to get more money and do a full research.
    Been there. That’s the way it works in academy after all, we are all the time begging for money.