More mobile users were spending time playing Pokémon Go than on Facebook. Yes, I am talking about it in past-tense because Pokemon Go is just not what’s up anymore. While spending a lot of time behind a screen is often said to make our vision worse, this may not necessarily be the case with Pokemon Go. Since the screen is not always at the same distance from our eyes, it may finally be time to get even with mom and feel good about playing a video game app for once.
Improved contrast sensitivity.
Li and Bavelier published a study in Nature Neuroscience in 2009 that demonstrated that video games can change our vision for the better. For instance, contrast sensitivity — the ability to differentiate similar shades of gray — is used for driving at night. Pokemon Go likely improves contrast sensitivity because when catching a Pokemon, the Pokemon is displayed in a variety of locations with different lighting. Your eyes are trained to distinguish the Pokemon from its various backgrounds. In other words, if you ever go to the doctor and need an x-ray, doctors who play Pokemon Go may actually be able to see more on that x-ray as they otherwise would.
The ability to detect subtle changes in brightness, which is at the core of contrast sensitivity, is one of the first aptitudes that decreases with age. If video games such as Pokemon Go can improve that, this could mean that we can train our brains to be younger!
A study published in Seeing and Perceiving in 2012 tested a group of seniors who suffered from cataracts to see if they would improve their vision by playing video games. Popular shooter games such as Call of Duty were part of this research. After playing for approximately four weeks, the test subjects showed improved vision by being able to read small prints and recognize facial traits more easily.
There are two main points that stand out in this study. First, the brain is assumed to adapt to new habits after a time period of approximately 30 days. This means that the visual enhancements are likely to last. So, playing Pokemon Go regularly for 30 days in a row may actually have a temporary or even long-lasting impact on our vision.
Second, Pokemon Go doesn’t have faces of people like the shooter games the test subjects were playing, but Pokemons are designed to resemble real faces. The Pokemon characters’ faces are constructed based on the baby schema. It is no coincidence that puppies is still one of the most searched for terms on YouTube and that we think young children and baby animals of any kind are cute. The baby schema concept often referred to as the Kindchenschema, is a set of physical features that are instinctively perceived as cute. Examples include overly large eyes and head as well as a round face. Sound familiar? Pokemon characters, just as Disney characters, fit this description perfectly. In other words, Pokemon characters appeal to us instinctively and there is little we can do about it.
Impact on the visual cortex.
Playing video games has been proven to have a direct affect on the part of the brain that processes vision, the visual cortex. Video games require visual attention which means an increase in the activity of brain cells in the visual cortex according to a study by Green and Bavelier, published in Nature in 2003.
The research also showed that video games “enhance visual attention to the borders of the computer screen” which is interesting in relation to Pokemon Go because there are no borders of the screen. Pokemons appear in your actual environment and even thought smartphone screens are limited by dimension, the camera turns as the phone turns. This means that theoretically, there are no borders. Your brain cell activity in the visual cortex is therefore increased beyond the borders while playing Pokemon Go because the game moves around with you.