Playing Tetris Helps Treat A Tricky Vision Problem. SCIENCE!

“As you can see by these bar graphs, the Z-piece is a total jerk.”

Lazy eye (Amblyopia) affects up to 3% of adults. In children, the condition is treated by wearing an eyepatch over the stronger eye six hours a day for six to twelve months. The eyepatch treatment is not effective in adults, and it also doesn’t train both eyes to work in concert to judge distance and see in 3D. Now Robert Hess (pictured) and his team at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, have hit upon a shockingly-fast treatment we can totally get behind: playing Tetris.

Recent experiments suggest that in patients with amblyopia the stronger eye suppresses signals between the weaker eye and the brain. To get the dominant eye to work with the weaker eye instead of suppressing it, the researchers had to come up with a task which could only be accomplished if both eyes were involved.

The new treatment involves setting up the video game of Tetris so it can only be played effectively using both eyes. […] The researchers split the image between the eyepieces of a pair of head-mounted video goggles so that one eye could only see the falling pieces and the other eye could only see the pieces sitting at the bottom of the screen. […] After playing Tetris that way for an hour a day for two weeks, nine adults with lazy eye showed a big improvement in the vision of the weaker eye and in their 3D depth perception, the researchers reported in a paper published this week in the journal Current Biology. [CBC, emphasis ours]

Splitting the game between both eyes was much more effective than playing with only the weaker eye, as a second group of nine test subjects did. Hess says the treatment should work for any game in which the image can be split across both eyes. He plans to test the treatment with juvenile test subjects later this year (“But mom, the video games are medicine!”).

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this study is that it was funded by the Canadian government. If the U.S. government wants to compete, they should fund our proposal for a study of the effects of playing Mario Kart on one’s willingness to litter while driving.