If you're like me, you've heard people tell you a million times that video games will screw up your eyes. Well, guess what? Turns out video games can actually make your (lazy) eye all better. That's right. Using games to improve your health isn't just for Wii fit any more.
Researchers at the University of California Berkeley have found that playing video games can significantly improve both depth perception and visual acuity for people with lazy eye. As it turns out lazy eye, whose scientific nomenclature is "amblyopia," is a neurological disorder, not a problem with motor control or muscular alignment. The look that we usually associate with amblyopia - one eye looking off to the side - is actually a different issue altogether, called strabismus, that sometimes co-occurs with amblyopia (called strabismic amblyopia). Therapy for amblyopia usually consists of some poor kid wearing a patch over one eye until their youthful neurons (which are renowned for their plasticity) are exercised up to a healthy (or perhaps I should say "normative") level. Unfortunately, there are a lot of adults suffering from the disorder. Many may not know that they are, and adult neurons are not nearly as plastic as their younger counterparts.
Back on point: The researchers performed a few studies in which they had participants play Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault or Sim City Societies for a few hours nightly, and they found that visual acuity, depth perception, and other spatial elements of vision in the participants' amblyotic eyes were significantly improved following the course of the study. This news is a particularly big deal because these are adults who are responding well to the video game-based therapy - adults with their old, crotchety neurons that might not otherwise respond well to treatment.
Though the sample sizes for these studies are not large, the team behind them has received a $1.7 million US grant to perform a large-scale follow-up to compare video game therapy to the traditional patch-over-the-eye treatment.
The results of the pilot studies have been published in PLoS Biology and can be accessed freely here.