Anyone who has played video games for too long is probably familiar with the sore, tired and dry eyes that accompany extended bouts of shooting things with rocket launchers. So it might come as a surprise that playing games could actually improve a key aspect of our eyesight.
Renjie Li from the University of Rochester found that intensive practice at shoot-em-ups like Unreal Tournament 2004 and Call of Duty 2 improved a person’s ability to spot the difference between subtly contrasting shades of grey. In the real world, this “contrast sensitivity function” is reflected in the crispness of our vision, affecting how well we see objects that don’t stand out well against their backgrounds. It’s the key to our ability to drive or walk about at night, or in conditions with poor visibility.
Unfortunately, contrast sensitivity is one of the first aspects of our vision to go with ageing and it’s compromised by conditions like lazy eyes. This loss can be caused by either faults with the eye itself or neurological problems. Opticians usually try to treat the former with glasses, contact lenses or laser surgery, but Li’s group have found that action video games can provide a counter-intuitive solution for the latter. Compared to other enjoyable but less hair-trigger games, like the Sims, playing shoot-em-ups seems to improve contrast sensitivity and their benefits last for months or even years.