Meet The Woman Using First Person Shooters To Treat The Visually Impaired

Developmental psychologist Daphne Maurer can't imagine herself ever enjoying video games, and she worries about the impact of the interactive violence, but that hasn't stopped her prescribing first-person shooters to patients with visual impairments. In this interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Maurer discusses her research, and her thoughts on why first person shooters in particular help patients.

"I'm a reader," said Maurer. "My husband and I don't have children. So computer games wouldn't be a part of our lives. I've never played one. I can't imagine enjoying playing one."

But after a study showed that gamers with normal, functional eye sight showed improvement after playing shooters, she wondered if it might also help the visually impaired.

"I couldn't help but wonder: If they helped the normally sighted, why not people with impairments? Also, I saw studies where enriched environments for rats improved aspects of vision damaged after early deprivation. Well, what's an enriched visual environment for a human? It might be a computer game. I thought, "Click, why not give it a try?

"We tested their vision for five hours. Because there's a learning curve to gaming, we supervised their play for another 10 hours. Then they went home with a loaded console and played for 10 hours a week, though never more than two hours at a time. At the end of a month, we tested their vision again. They all showed some improvement on a number of tasks. Some were seeing better with their better eye or with their worse eye — or with both. Most improved in their ability to see direction of motion. They could see smaller details. They were able to see things that are in lower contrast. We were elated. This was a sign that the sensory brain can change in adults."

Bizarrely, other researchers tested for similar effects with Tetris, but found no improvement — there appears to be something about playing in the first person perspective that effects vision.

"You have to look at the screen, make a decision and push the joystick in the right direction," she said, referring to shooters specifically. "So you are not only sensing the world, you are acting on it. We know that combining vision and the motor system is most likely to be effective. Now, not all games do this. Other researchers have tried a game called "Tetris" with people with normal vision. It's not from the first-person perspective, and it is not fast-paced. They found it had no effect."

It's pretty incredible, and it's well worth heading to the original article for more information. Just be prepared for a slightly patronising line of questioning, and a little bit of ignorance. The important point it that the effects of video games on people with visual impairments is a real and positive thing. And that's awesome.

Computer games find a higher purpose [SMH]


    That's fantastic they're doing that, it really is. Love how people are making use of technology like this.

    Btw on a side note mark: Isn't it Impaired, not empaired?

    "and it is not fast-paced"... try at hgiher levels!!

    Good idea. Though I couldn't help thinking of this Monty Pyhton clip :P

    It'd be interesting to measure it with other genres and even specific games. Halo online multiplayer vs Tetris is a no brainier, but Portal could go either way. Even amongst gamers not all people like shooters enough to really get into them, and I'd say getting into the game enough to take it seriously is a large factor in the studies success. Walking forward and dying, or putting the god mode cheats on, probably won't help much at all because you're not using your eyes to scan for detail and quickly attack.
    Being able to say 'ok, if you like shooters try something fast paced and arcade-y like Call of Duty or Halo, but if that's not your thing try New Super Mario Bros, Plants vs Zombies, StarCraft, etc' is probably vital to making any sort of 'video game therapy' work. There's plenty of fast paced non-violent/PG violent games out there.

      Side note: I know they suspect adrenalin may be linked to their results which has given them reason to stay away from those non-violent/PG games I mentioned. I'm not 100% sold on that idea but even if it is true there are plenty of games that bring an adrenal rush without violence. I'd say most Kotaku readers are familiar with getting a rush out of doing something in a non-violent game.
      I know a close victory in Mario Kart does it. Even games where you're only competing against the clock like Blast Corps or Trials HD can do it.

    It's good to see video games in the media linked to something positive for a change!

    I'm not really sold on the results though.. I have very sharp eyesight and I find that FPSs tend to fatigue my eyes and actually make it harder to focus on things! That could be muscle stress, but still..

      I think that's why she limited her study to play times of not more than 2 hours at a time.

    Pretty sure playing with such a shitty FOV can only serve to make my vision worse.

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