Despite a general consensus that video games are little more than time-wasting diversions, they’ve been getting some pretty good press lately. First, the American Heart Association gave the Nintendo Wii Fit their stamp of approval by forming a partnership with the video game maker to encourage active video game playing. Now, another popular Nintendo game has been credited with saving a young boy’s eyesight.
At the age of four, Ben Michaels was diagnosed with amblyopia in his right eye, a condition better known as “lazy eye.” By the time he was six, his vision was so poor in that eye that he couldn’t recognize family member’s faces. But things changed after he was prescribed an unusual treatment. Consultant Ken Nichal, of Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in the UK, told Ben to cover his strong eye with a patch and spend at least two hours a day playing video games on his Nintendo DS console.
After just one week of regular sessions of Mario Kart, Ben’s mom says her son’s eyesight had “improved 250 per cent.” Although his vision remains imperfect, Ben can now see well enough in that eye to read.
Nichal says the repetitive eye movement required to play this type of video game trains the eye to focus correctly. And unlike the boring eye exercises usually prescribed for this condition, kids are much more likely to get on board with type of therapy. And that willingness to play video games, says Nichal, might just be the key to the success of the treatment.
“A games console is something children can relate to. It allows us to deliver treatment quicker. What we don’t know is whether improvement is solely because of improved compliance, ie the child sticks with the patch more, or whether there is a physiological improvement from perceptual visual learning.”
While prescribing video games to improve vision may sound unconventional, the idea isn’t new. A 2009 study found that playing certain action video games improved players’ ability to discern different shades of gray, resulting improved vision at night.
Image: Seth W/Flickr
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