Shoot-'Em-Up Video Games Improve Vision

Watching for sneaky bad guys helps train brain to better see changes in contrast


A recent study has shown that playing video games can improve vision. And not just any video games. Researchers found the benefit came in action-packed, first-person shooter games like Call of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament 2004 -- in Death Match mode.

Playing Sims 2, well, not so much. Those players were the control group in the study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The researchers paid volunteers from the University of Rochester $8 an hour to play 50 hours of either the calmer Sims 2 or the frenetic shooters. Either sounds like a great gig for a college student.

The improvement came to contrast sensitivity, a measure of a person's ability to see changes in shades of grey against a uniform background. That's important for things like driving at night or reading.

What is also interesting is that the study showed it wasn't the eye that was changed, but how the brain processes images. Researchers had thought training can improve other aspects of vision, but not contrast sensitivity.

Instead, the game software managed to recode the brain's software. Watching for sneaky bad guys raised the brain's awareness of small changes in contrast.