Computer and video games have become one of the most popular sources of entertainment today. Children and young adults may spend as many as six hours or more per day looking at computer and television screens while playing video games. When they are not playing video games, many are surfing the Internet, sending email, or communicating via on-line messaging. The purpose of this article is to describe the potential consequences and benefits of playing video games and staring at computer screens for extended periods of time.
Can video games damage the eyes?
Video games do not physically damage the eyes or cause cataracts, glaucoma, or other eye diseases. Unlike the first televisions that were available in the 1950’s, modern day televisions, computer screens, and portable video game displays do not emit radiation that will cause cataracts or other eye diseases. There have been reported cases in which video games that display flashing images similar to a strobe light can cause seizures, dizziness, and nausea. Children and adults with epilepsy should avoid playing such games.
What is the best type of screen to look at when playing video games or working on the computer?
Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) monitors are the safest display for the eyes. They emit less radiation than televisions and cathode rate tube (CRT) computer monitors. LCD monitors and televisions provide high contrast, high resolution, and a brilliant image that allows users to see images and text on the screen without having to reduce the ambient room illumination. 19-inch LCD computer monitors are recommended for use on home computers while 20-inch LCD television sets are recommended for gamers who play X-Box, Playstation, Game Cube and other console video game systems. LCD televisions offer many advantages over conventional television sets. First, they use less energy, emit less radiation, and they are lighter in weight which provides tremendous advantages over traditional television sets which can fall and crush young children in an earthquake or when children pull on the set while attempting to change the volume or controls.
Where is the best place to position my computer monitor or TV screen?
Computer monitors should be placed approximately 20 inches away from the eyes of the user. The monitor should not be set too high because this will force the user to tilt his/her head upward and cause neck strain and force the eyes to work harder. Ideally, the top of the screen should be at the eye level of the person viewing the display. The use of adjustable height computer chairs is strongly recommended to achieve the optimal eye-screen relationship.
Video gamers who use television console systems such as Playstation should sit 8 to 10 feet from the television screen and purchase cordless controllers that allow players to sit farther from the TV. Video game controls that attach to the console are relatively short and force gamers to sit 3 to 4 feet from the screen.
Computer monitors and television sets should be positioned in an area of the room such that windows, doors, and glare sources do not face the screen. This location will minimize glare reflecting from the screen into the eyes. Sit in the chair and look for any visible reflections from the screen. If you can see reflections or glare, rotate or tilt the screen to eliminate optical reflections.
How can playing video games or using computers hurt my vision?
Video games and computers themselves do not hurt or harm the eyes. However, they can force the eyes to work harder and cause eyestrain, eye fatigue, and other visual problems. In the relaxed state, the eyes are designed to focus on distant objects such as trees, mountains, and other objects beyond twenty feet. Because computer screens and television sets are usually positioned much closer than twenty feet, the muscles of the eyes must work to see images on the screen clearly and as a single image. Prolonged muscle contraction can cause headaches, eyestrain, double vision, neck strain, and it can also cause blurred distance sight (nearsightedness).
Can playing video games and using the computer too much cause permanent vision problems?
Prolonged close work without re-focusing on distant objects can cause vision problems. Many people who use the computer all day at work or play video games for extended periods of time will develop myopia, a condition in which their distance sight is blurred while their near view is clear. This phenomenon of forming blurred distance vision after performing prolonged periods of reading is called “law student myopia” after it was noted that law students who performed extensive amounts of reading developed nearsightedness or blurred distance sight. Muscle spasms tend to alter the shape of the eye, contributing to the development of myopia.
It has also been found that many people who play video games or work on computers for long periods of time will develop eye muscle coordination problems. Their eyes may develop a tendency to cross as a result of prolonged convergence of the eyes. The closer that an object is to the eyes, the more that the eyes must cross to see the object as a single object. You can experience this by watching the eyes of a friend cross as you make him or her to look at your finger as you bring it closer to his or her nose. Prolonged crossing of the eyes can cause eye muscle spasms, which result in the eyes showing a higher tendency to turn inward or cross. This condition is called esophoria.
Another condition that may develop as a result of prolonged computer or video game use is called accommodative dysfunction. This heakth issueis a treatable condition in which the eye muscles are slow to shift the focus from far to near and causes blurred sight when students try to shift the focus from the chalkboard to their paper. Such students may be very slow when copying from the board to their paper or they may make many mistakes when performing this task. Vision therapy exercises can treat accommodative focusing problems very easily.
What can be done to prevent the development of these eye problems?
Computer users and video gamers must remind themselves to look at a distant object every five minutes. This will allow the muscles of the eyes to relax as the eyes focus far. Reading glasses that are designed for computer use and video games can also be prescribed to prevent the development of eye muscle strain, accommodative focusing problems, and may also impede the development of nearsightedness. The primary purpose of looking at a distant object or for wearing computer glasses is to prevent the eye muscles from having muscle spasms and losing their flexibility to focus at various distances.
Do video games improve eye-hand coordination and depth perception?
Video games do not develop eye-hand coordination or depth perception. In real life, eye-hand coordination involves the eyes guiding the hands and fingers to touch or grab the object of attention. When playing video games, the eyes are focused on the screen while the fingers are always on the controller. There is no direct interaction between the hands and what the user sees. Similarly, the gaming mechanics in video games are using animated clues to simulate depth perception, and there is no real interaction between the hands, body, or feet with the image seen on the screen. Video games will not help a child to be able to catch a ball more easily.
Are there any visual benefits from playing video games?
Yes. Video games offer many advantages for the optical system. They improve visual attention, visual reaction time, visual figure ground discrimination (ability to see the object of interest among a crowded background), visual-sensory integration (ability to use other senses with the visual system), and other visual processing skills.
Many children and young adults with eye teaming problems and eye focusing problems can benefit from playing video games. For example, children who have blurred reading sight or difficulty converging their eyes together when reading and writing can benefit from playing video games. Optometrists and ophthalmologists can evaluate the accommodative focusing and eye teaming skills of young children to identify, which children will benefit from video games in a therapeutic manner. Patients with accommodative dysfunction, exophoria (reduced ability to converge the eyes), hyperopia (farsightedness), and amblyopia (lazy eye) can even benefit from playing video games as directed by their eye doctor.
Extensive research has been conducted on this topic in the recent years, and those studies show that video games are not harmful to the vision of the gamers. Of course, prolonged staring at anything will cause muscle problems and eye fatigue, and computer screens are no exception. Also, due to the constant progress in technology, our displays and monitors are better and better, and the improvements in quality reflect on the health segment as well. In other words, our eyes and our vision are more protected, and this means that modern gamers and people who work behind a computer all day long will have better “work conditions” with the newest displays.
Even though muscle strain and tiredness can cause blurry vision and myopia, or some similar problem, video games per se are not the ones to blame for the problems that some of the users may have with the vision. As a matter of fact, playing video games can even have some benefits to the human health, and that is why we should be careful not to judge something before learning a thing or two about the subject in question.