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Video Games and Vision

Updated on October 10, 2015
Daughter Of Maat profile image

Melissa Flagg is an ophthalmic technician with over 21 years of medical experience working with patients in the eye care field.

Video games can improve your vision!
Video games can improve your vision! | Source

Video games have a bad reputation for polluting the mind and creating couch potatoes. I've heard many parents tell their kids "you'll ruin your eyes that way."

As a gamer, and an ophthalmic technician, I have never found any of the negative stereotypes surrounding video gaming to be true. In fact, I’ve found quite the opposite, and there is research that proves video games actually enhance visual perception (it's not just my biased opinion).

Playing video games, specifically action video games (like the first person shooters Call of Duty Modern Warfare, Halo, and Unreal Tournament Series) can actually improve visual acuity and the eye's ability to track objects quickly. Because there is so much action on the screen the eyes are constantly moving, which strengthens the eye muscles. But it also affects the occipital lobe, the area of the brain that processes the images we see.

Source

Visual Attention

The occipital lobe is the largest part of our brain (the purple area on the right in the diagram above), which is a bit ironic, because animals have better vision than we do (like dogs and cat). However, they do not have the ability to use selective visual attention.

Selective visual attention is the ability to pick and choose bits of information for more processing while we ignore others. Essentially, it’s a safety feature of the brain to prevent a sensory overload. Cool, right? There’s more. Visual attention can be very specific. It can be directed at a certain area of the retina, specific objects and even moments in time.

About the Author

Melissa Flagg is an ophthalmic technician who has been examining patients on a daily basis for over 20 years.

She has had rigorous training under the supervision of an ophthalmologist and specialized in the cornea, cataracts, and retina as well as how systemic disease affects the eye. She has been certified by JCAHPO as a Certified Ophthalmic Assistant and Scribe.

There are several different types of visual attention including:

  • Visuo-Spatial Selective Attention
  • Objects of Attention
  • Attention in Time

This enhanced processing allows for much faster reaction times, and lower detection thresholds (certain things are more easily detected), while at the same time the unused information is actually suppressed.

The article Stretching the Limits of Visual Attention: The Case of Action Video Games, written by Bjorn Hubert-Wallander et al. has this to say about visual attention:

In many cases, the allocation of attention can be the difference between seeing and reacting appropriately versus missing the event of interest, with all the negative consequences it entails.

This paper discusses the benefits of action video gaming on the ability of visual attention. Action video games refer to first person shooter fast paced video games such as Halo, Call of Duty Modern Warfare, and Battlefield 3.

These games require the player to continuously maintain focus on the center of the screen so as to aim accurately, while also monitoring other enemies in the surrounding area. In many of these games, there are up to 66 players in a game (as in Battlefield 4). This requires the player to monitor multiple targets at one time.

The Video

Below is a video of my husband playing Battlefield 4. I choose this clip because of everything that's happening on the screen, it really gives you a good feel for the action in gaming (plus it's really cool).

Vision and Movement of Video Games

Visuo-Spatial Selective Attention

Visuo-spatial selective attention is the ability to distribute our attention to specific areas around us. This allows us to search for specific targets. Visuo-spatial selective attention is most commonly used when driving. We are constantly scanning the areas around us for possible threats.

When gaming, this comes in quite handy. For example, when playing Modern Warfare 3 (one of my favorite games), the gamer has to constantly scan their surroundings for enemies, while also keeping an eye out for grenades, claymores, C4 and incoming air assaults.

Playing video games is an intense experience and requires a large amount of attention from various parts of the brain, making it the perfect activity for those with ADHD.
Playing video games is an intense experience and requires a large amount of attention from various parts of the brain, making it the perfect activity for those with ADHD. | Source

Multiple Object Tracking

Most of us can handle three to four targets at a time, but anymore and they become distractions. Video gamers have a much higher tolerance due to the multiple targets they encounter and the frequency in which they encounter them.

This essentially bestows the ability to hyper-focus, but to do so with amazing efficiency. They can easily see, aim and kill their targets, while ignoring (but remembering) everything else around them.

I’ve seen this when my husband plays. It’s almost like in the movies, when the main character just finishes a fight, but then somehow “knows” there’s someone behind him and turns around and kills him. It is situational awareness.

Children can benefit greatly from gaming as it helps develop hand-eye coordination and visuo-spatial reasoning.
Children can benefit greatly from gaming as it helps develop hand-eye coordination and visuo-spatial reasoning. | Source

Moments in Time

Gamers have an enhanced visual memory. They essentially "refresh" their short-term visual memory constantly, and they are continually updating their memory with new targets as the game progresses.

This allows gamers to process several successive targets with accuracy and do so efficiently. Many gamers (myself included) are hyper-observant because of this.

They can keep a higher number of items in their visual working memory without losing anything.

Gaming can be frustrating.
Gaming can be frustrating. | Source

Hand-Eye Coordination

Video gaming actually improves hand-eye coordination. The gamer has to connect what the eye sees on the screen with what their hands are doing on the controller.

Using the controller isn’t easy; all it takes is very subtle movements to aim at a target. This can be very tricky, especially in fast paced action games. If you use more movement than you need, you miss the target.

Reaction Time

Video gaming also increases reaction time. In gaming, this is the time between seeing the target and hitting the fire button. Gamers have to be faster than their opponent, or they lose a life.

The kill/death ratio tends to be very important to players, and the more deaths you have the lower the kill/death ratio. This encourages the player to be consistently faster in reacting to an enemy.

I have experienced this personally. I didn’t start gaming until about nine years ago, and before then, my reaction time was horrible. After nine years of gaming, my reaction time has increased dramatically. In fact, I’ve avoided several car accidents because of it.

Source

Improvement in Contrast Sensitivity

Contrast sensitivity is the ability to differentiate different shades of the color grey on a monochrome background, usually white.

Contrast sensitivity is most important when driving at night and is the first thing affected by cataracts. But not all contrast sensitivity problems are caused by changes in the optical ability of the eye.

In a study conducted by Bavelier et al., it was found that video gamer players (VGPs) had better contrast sensitivity than non-video gamer players (NVGPs). In this study, Bavelier et al, states:

The VGP group showed enhanced contrast sensitivity as compared with the NVGP group, and this population difference interacted with spatial frequency, indicating a greater group difference at the intermediate and higher spatial frequencies than at the lowest spatial frequency.

Video gaming didn’t actually improve the function of the eye. It improved the cortical plasticity of the brain. Plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to adapt and, essentially, rewire itself in an effort to accommodate newly learned skills.

This happens in children as they grow and learn; their brains are constantly changing and making new neural connections. This same process happens in both children and adult gamers.

Resources

Li, R., Polat, U., Makous, W. & Bavelier, D. (2009). Enhancing the contrast sensitivity function through action video game playing. Nature Neuroscience.

Hubert-Wallander, B., Green, C. S., & Bavelier, D. (2010). Stretching the limits of visual attention: The case of action video games. WIREs Cognitive Science, Wiley, 1. PDF

Video Games Aren’t Bad

Contrary to popular belief, gaming isn’t a bad thing, although moderation is the key.

I let my daughter play video games because of the enormous benefit it has on her visual spatial perception, visual memory, and hand-eye coordination. But like all things, I have to monitor how much time she spends gaming.

Everyone can benefit from video gaming, including adults. You're never too old to game!!

© Copyright 2012 - 2015 by Melissa "Daughter of Maat" ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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    • Jlava73 profile image

      Jennifer Vasconcelos 4 years ago from Cyberspace and My Own World

      I see how there are actually quite a few real-world benefits to be had we have a game system, these days it doesn't get much use.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

      Mel, my husband is a huge gamer and would love your article, because yes I admit sometimes I have razzed him a bit for all the times he has played over the years. Watching your husband play Modern Warfare 3 was like being home for me (because my husband loves this game). also loved seeing your daughter and the picture where she was getting a bit frustrated when daddy was beating her was priceless. Seriously thanks for sharing all the good points to video games. I have voted up and shared all over :)

    • Heather Says profile image

      Heather Rode 4 years ago from Buckeye, Arizona

      Great article! I managed a Gamestop for 5 yrs and I had tons of parents coming in to buy a Nintendo DS for their child (usually due to a lazy eye) as ordered by the eye doctor. I thought it was awesome the first time I heard it! My husband had a lazy eye as a child and wore a patch for awhile. Technology is so amazing. I have always argued that all my gaming is great for my hand eye coordination ;)

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      @Jlava Indeed, I was actually surprised there were so many. I knew about the tracking and hand-eye corrdination, but the contrast sensitivity was a new one for me! Our gaming system is on 24/7 it seems! lol

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      @Janine... our hubbies need to get together online!! lol Although, I admit MW3 is my favorite, and Greg likes Battlefield better, but he plays MW3 for me :D.

      After reading all these studies, I made Sam play the COD where you can turn off the blood (I think it's the first MW). I about died, she actually gave Greg a run for his money!! He's tough to be even for me! He did get her in the end, and that's the pic I captured lol. WE had lots of fun working on "mommy's hub" today! If your hubby wants to play let me know, Greg's always up for a game!! (It gives me time to write when he plays!!)

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      @Heather Says, and you are SO right!! lol Gaming is fantastic for those with amblyopia, especially if they patch the good eye. It'll strengthen the muscles in no time. I've seen it happen in about a week! Greg's parents are always telling him "all those games are bad for you." lol Nope, no they aren't! :D

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      DOM......I should HUG you. For all the video gaming my grandchildren are involved in....I could worry a lot less and love it. Thank you so much for helping me to realize my precious babies will not blow up, fall apart or get goofy from these things!! .UP++

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      @effer, that was my motivation for writing this. I keep hearing parents complain that all their kids want to do is play video games. And while I agree there needs to be moderation, all of this new research sheds new light on the subject. It's motivated me to get back to gaming! lol :D Glad I could alleviate your fears!! :D

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Excellent information, but I'm still not gonna share it with the hubby. :) Voted up and sharing! :)

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      This is good to know as I worried about my son spending too much time playing 1st shooters. I'm more into RPGs and life simulations. Are there any benefits to be found in these?

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      lol I know I tried to hide it from my hubby too, but it didn't work!!

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      Yep, hand eye coordination and tracking both benefit from RPGs as does critical thinking skills and thought processing. I tried to hide that one from hubby too, but it didn't work. lol

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you, DOM. I'm not keen on 1st shooters as I find them a bit too graphic. My youngest daughter can't get enough of shooting people and blowing things up.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      I know, sam can't get enough either!

    • atechwiz profile image

      atechwiz 4 years ago

      Very informative hub. I enjoyed reading it. This may be a little off topic but back when I was a kid we had the Atari 2600 and NES. I remember my parents always telling me that I was wasting time and that if I spent as much time studying as playing games I would be a genius. In addition to the benefits that you have listed, games spurred my interest in the technology behind them and led me into a career in technology. They now admit that they are glad I was interested in gaming as it lead me to my dream job. Gaming has many benefits.

    • Daughter Of Maat profile image
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      Melissa Flagg 4 years ago from Rural Central Florida

      @atechwiz Wow, that is awesome!! and I think that it is right on topic. Gaming has taught you a lot! That's why I don't mind that my daughter loves playing. You know how good her hand eye coordination is now?? Plus it helps in teaching her how to read! :D

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