Video games are fun to play, but can they heal as well? That’s what researches from the School of Optometry and the Neuroscience Institute at UC Berkeley are positing in a new paper. The team found that playing video games could possibly help adults with amblyopia, a brain disorder commonly known as lazy eye.
A pilot study was conducted with twenty participants who all played video games for a total of 40 hours broken up into two hour stretches for a month. The group was split up with half playing the first-person shooter Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault and the other half playing the non-violent SimCity Societies. Participants wore a patch over their good eye.
Ambylopia is a brain disorder that where one eye doesn’t develop properly. According to the National Eye Institute (NEI) the disorder affects three out of every 100 kids. Traditionally, children with amblyopic are treated with occlusion therapy where a patch is put over the “good eye” to give the weaker eye more brain time. However, adults don’t respond so well to this type of therapy and have few options.
The result of the 40 hour experiments was a 30 percent increase in visual acuity, which translates to a 1.5 line improvement on an optometrist chart. This is a remarkable increase considering children’s occlusion therapy only garners a one line increase for 120 hours of therapy. There was also a 50 percent improvement in 3-D depth perception.
“This study is the first to show that video game play is useful for improving vision in adults with amblyopic,” said Dr. Roger Li, lead researcher for the study and an optometrist at the School of Optometry.
To make sure it wasn’t just the patch that improved eyesight, participants were made to wear their eye patch during other activities like surfing the Internet but this didn’t yield the same results as the game playing. Beyond 40 hours there was no visual improvement for those that played the action games. The small study is in its early stages and was performed with a small sample size and a lack of randomization. Li cautions that since this is new research, those with amblyopic should not “self-treat” their disorders.