It’s the number two item on every child’s wish list this year (after all of the Frozen merchandise): video games. As parents, it is important for us to make sure to provide healthy opportunities for our children. It can be tempting to ban video games from our children’s toy repertoire. After all, we were told that too much TV is not good for our eyes, right? The same has to be true for video games.
Recent studies have been showing more and more that playing video games, in moderation, is actually good for you. There are educational, physical and psychological benefits to playing video games, and there are also reports that playing video games is good for a variety of visual conditions.
Playing first-person shooter games has been shown to improve your contrast sensitivity, the ability to determine subtle changes in shades of color. Adults with amblyopia (lazy eye) have also been noted as receiving benefits from playing video games. Even patients with cataracts have reports of 30% visual improvement after playing games similar to Halo and Medal of Honor.
Because your eye is rapidly moving across the screen, you condition and train your eyes to notice subtle changes as you are required to pay attention to a series of fast-moving events. You virtually train your eyes to move quickly and focus on fleeting details in order to complete onscreen objectives.
While the research is most compelling for particularly first-shooter style games, those games are not always child-appropriate due to the violent nature and themes of the games. However, there has been some evidence that playing any type of video game is a good thing for your eyes. The key is playing in moderation.
With any type of lighted screen, it’s important to guard against computer eye syndrome. Consider the 20/20/20 rule. After every 20 minutes that you are staring at a screen, look away for 20 seconds at an object 20 feet away. This will help reduce computer eye syndrome which can be a big cause of migraines and eye fatigue.
Also make sure to limit video game playing to daylight hours. Too much exposure to blue light (the light emitted by computer and television screens) at night can be disruptive to our natural sleep rhythms. Exposure to blue light limits the body’s natural release of melatonin which is the hormone that regulates sleep.
The amount of time you play is also something to consider. About an hour a day is good; too much more and you actually can lose the benefits of playing.
As you’re reviewing your child’s wish list this holiday season and see some video games up near the top of the list, consider granting their wish and maybe even sit down on the couch with them. You both might get the benefit of improved vision and some great quality time together while you’re at it.