Technology & Science

Action video games sharpen eyes, study says

Taking aim with a virtual sniper rifle or rocket launcher in a first-person shooter game may actually improve vision, according to researchers at the University of Rochester.

Taking aim with a virtual sniper rifle or rocket launcher in a first-person shooter game can improve vision, according to researchers at the University of Rochester.

People who played action video games for a few hours a day over the course of a month improved their ability in a visual acuity test by about 20 per cent, said Daphne Bavelier, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester.

"Action video game play changes the way our brains process visual information," said Bavelier, whose research will appear next week in the journal Psychological Science.

"After just 30 hours, players showed a substantial increase in the spatial resolution of their vision, meaning they could see figures like those on an eye chart more clearly, even when other symbols crowded in."

Bavelier and graduate student Shawn Green tested college students with little or no experience in video games in the last year.

The researchers split their subjects into two groups: those who played Unreal Tournament, a first-person shooter game often decried for its graphic depiction of violence, and those who played the less visually complex Tetris video game.

The test was similar to ones used in ophthalmology clinics, with subjects asked to identify letters presented in a clutter.

While the Tetris players showed no noticeable improvement in visual acuity, the Unreal tournament players showed improvement in the centre and at the periphery of their vision, areas the researchers said people are not "trained" to develop.

"When people play action games, they're changing the brain's pathway responsible for visual processing," said Bavelier. "These games push the human visual system to the limits and the brain adapts to it. That learning carries over into other activities and possibly everyday life."

The researchers hope the discovery may help train people with visual limitations to develop their visual acuity through software designed to reproduce the action video game's need to identify objects quickly.

The study was Bavelier's latest attempt to quantify the impact of video game play on our senses.

In 2003, she used psychological tests to measure a subject's ability to recognize and interpret shapes of quickly flashed objects and found action video gamers could cope with more distractions and process fast-changing visual information more efficiently.