Playing computer games could help improve people’s peripheral vision, new research reveals.
Researchers have found a significant improvement in the peripheral awareness of people who played computer games specially designed around using peripheral vision.
This finding opens up the possibility that these types of games can be used to help improve players’ performance in team sports – so they can spot team-mates quicker – or to help them to identify potential hazards at the side of their vision.
Researchers at Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications were keen to explore how players’ peripheral vision might be used within computer games and if playing games could help to improve a players’ peripheral awareness.
“Most computer games involve looking directly at targets, or following the movement of characters, because that is the most natural and intuitive way we use our eyes,” said Mr Ramirez Gomez.
“We wanted to explore the opposite – is it possible to play games just by using our peripheral vision, is it possible to develop strategies to overcome the challenge, would it be engaging and fun and could these games improve our peripheral awareness?”
They created three games, which are based on popular culture and mythology – such as the stories of Medusa and Cyclops.
The Medusa game, for example, involved having Medusa dig up mushrooms in her garden while avoiding looking directly at the mushrooms – otherwise they would turn into stone.
The suite of games, collectively called SuperVision, require players to use a mouse to select, or steer, objects within the game using their peripheral vision.
Eye-trackers check for when players look directly at objects within the game and players are penalised accordingly.
“Players struggled at first as they attempted to control and resist their instinctive impulse to look,” said Argenis Ramirez Gomez, PhD student and researcher at Lancaster University.
“The games go against our natural behaviour.
The players know they can’t look but having to make decisions and interact with objects in the games forces players to lose control over their instincts and so they indulge their desire to look directly at the objects, failing in the game.
But over time people developed strategies to overcome the challenge, such as focussing on a particular spot on the screen.”
The researchers assessed each player’s peripheral vision using a large protractor held to their eye level and by showing them coloured visual clues at different angles within a 180° radius.
Mr Ramirez Gomez said: “We evaluated the participants’ peripheral visual capabilities before and after the games to test for skills development.
We found a significant improvement in object recognition in the participants’ peripheral vision after playing the games.”
Even just one gaming session resulted in improvements in the players’ peripheral awareness.
The study continued over two weeks and the participants continued to show improvements in their peripheral vision throughout the duration of the research.
The participants did not play the games over the weekends during the study.
This created a gap of three days between playing the games and researchers taking a measurement of the players’ peripheral vision.
There was no noticeable decline in performance over this gap, suggesting improvements in peripheral vision can be lasting, at least in the short-term.
The study is outlined in the paper ‘SuperVision: Playing with Gaze Aversion and Peripheral Vision’, which was presented at the ACM CHI2019 academic conference recently held in Glasgow.
The research authors are Argenis Ramirez Gomez and Hans Gellersen of Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications.
While staring straight ahead and without moving your eyes or head, try to be aware of the objects to the left and right, above and below you. These objects lie outside your central field of vision, in what is called your peripheral vision.
Peripheral vision is the part of our vision that is outside the center of our gaze, and it is the largest portion of our visual field.
A normal visual field is approximately 170 degrees around, with 100 degrees comprising the peripheral vision.
Peripheral vision is broken down into three segments of the field of view:
Far-peripheral vision: the vision at the edge of the field of view
Mid-peripheral vision: the vision in the middle of the field of view
Near-peripheral vision: the vision just adjacent to the center of gaze
Most people do not appreciate their peripheral vision until they begin to lose it. The loss of peripheral vision results in a condition known as tunnel vision. The opposite condition—the loss of your central vision while retaining your peripheral vision—is known as central scotoma.
Peripheral vision is weaker in humans than in many other species, and this disparity is even greater where it concerns our ability to distinguish color and shape. This is due to the density of the receptor cells on the retina.
The retina is a layer of tissue located in the back of the inner eye that converts light images to nerve signals and transmits them to the brain.
The receptor cells on the retina are densest at the center—the area known as the macula—and more diffuse at the edges. There are two types of receptor cells: rod cells and cone cells.
Rod cells are essential for seeing in dim light, but they are unable to distinguish color. Cone cells are concentrated in the center of the retina and enable us to see bright lights and color.
So what happens when we lose our peripheral vision? Let’s go over that now.
Peripheral Vision Loss
Symptoms of peripheral vision loss—which may be very subtle, and may not even be detected by the patient—may include difficulty seeing in dim light and a decrease in ability to navigate while walking.
Many eye care professionals agree that the loss of peripheral vision (also known as peripheral field deficit) is linked to nerve damage, which can be caused by glaucoma or injury, among other things. Additional causes of peripheral vision loss may include:
- Eye strokes or occlusions
- Detached retina
- Brain damage from stroke, disease, or injury
- Optic neuritis and other conditions that cause neurological damage
- Compressed optic nerve head (papilledema)
If you feel you are losing your peripheral vision, you should see an eye doctor immediately.
He or she will give you a visual field test to determine where your blind spots are located. Any sudden decrease or loss of peripheral vision is a reason to seek medical attention immediately, since it could indicate a serious problem – for example, a detached retina.
Treatment for peripheral vision loss may not be as simple as wearing eyeglasses. Occasionally a prism can be added to eyeglasses to help expand the field of view.
In most cases, however, your eye doctor will want to determine the cause of the loss and treat that first, in hopes of restoring your peripheral vision or at least preventing further loss.
What to Expect When Testing Your Peripheral Vision
There are several ways to test your peripheral vision. Some tests can be done at home rather than at your doctor’s office, but only an eye doctor can give you a correct diagnosis. Three major tests are used to determine the extent of your peripheral vision loss:
- Automated Perimetry: During this exam, you sit in front of a dome or cone and stare at an object in the middle. You press a button when you see small flashes of light in your peripheral vision.
- Confrontation Visual Field Exam: During this exam, your eye doctor sits directly in front of you. While you cover one eye at a time and stare straight ahead, your doctor asks you to tell him or her when you can see their hand moving in front of you.
- Tangent Screen: This test is also known as the Goldmann Field exam. When taking this test, you sit approximately three feet away from a screen with a target in the center. You are then asked to stare at the target and tell your doctor when you can see an object moving into your peripheral view. This exam creates a map of your peripheral vision.
Most people do not need to prepare for any of these exams, which generally cause no and do not require any eyedrops. By conducting peripheral vision tests, your eye doctor should be able to detect any loss or decrease in your peripheral vision.
If your results are poor, additional tests may be performed by your eye doctor or another medical professional. For example, a Humphrey Visual Field test may be administered in order to rule out glaucoma.
Ian Boydon – Lancaster University
The image is credited to Argenis Ramirez Gomez.
Original Research: The study was presented at the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Glasgow.