Could 3D video gaming wreck your eyes?

3D TVs, game systems, and handhelds are here or just around the corner, but could they really be hazardous to your eyes?

No, 3D video gaming probably won't wreck your eyes if you're an adult--let's be clear about that upfront--but a cautionary editorial at Audioholics expands on industry warnings that it could well be hazardous for kids under seven.

Wait...what industry warnings?

In the wake of Nintendo's 3DS announcement at E3, company president Reggie Fils-Aime said the company would advise children under seven not to view games in 3D.

"We will recommend that very young children not look at 3D images," he said. "That's because, [in] young children, the muscles for the eyes are not fully formed."

"This is the same messaging that the industry is putting out with 3D movies, so it is a standard protocol."

Speaking of, Samsung just released its own bullet list of warnings commensurate with its new line of 3D TVs, advising that "parents should monitor and ask their children about...symptoms as children and teenagers may be more likely to experience these symptoms than adults."

"Viewing in 3D mode may also cause motion sickness, perceptual after effects, disorientation, eye strain, and decreased postural stability," continues Samsung. "It is recommended that users take frequent breaks to lessen the likelihood of these effects. If you have any of the above symptoms, immediately discontinue use of this device and do not resume until the symptoms have subsided."

Audioholics ratchets up the rhetoric, saying those warnings "come after years of industry spin and cover ups," and that "the truth is that prolonged viewing of 3D video may be even more harmful than the consumer electronics industry wants you to know."

The problem, they claim, involves stereopsis and strabismus. The former is how we see the world in 3D: Two eyes out front that intake slightly different images to provide depth perception. The latter is what happens when both eyes don't focus properly on the same point in space, throwing off binocular vision and goofing up depth perception, or leading to amblyopia, aka "lazy eye," a condition in which the brain favors one eye over another, leading to poor vision in the "weak" eye.

According to Optometrists Network, "a network of interconnected patient education and optometric web sites which educate the public about visual health," two Harvard Nobel laureates in the early 1960s identified a "critical period"--up to age seven--during which brains are still "learning" stereopsis. While recent neuroplasticity research suggests it's "never to late" to improve strabismus, Audioholics surmises conversely that it's "never too late to learn bad habits that could create visual problems."

Resting their exhortation about the perils of 3D on reports of "nausea, disorientation or postural instability, and visual symptoms" culled from data collected by Standard Research Lab some 15 years ago for Sega's failed VR headset, Audioholics advises "protecting yourself and your family by using that new [3D] HDTV for standard 2D viewing a majority of your time."

So is Audioholics right, or just being alarmist?

It's hard to say without taking an equally indefensible position. We're still in the nascent stages of mass 3D adoption. We're not (yet) viewing images using iterations of stereoscopic technology for hours, days, and weeks on end. We thus lack the necessary up-to-date research to say much definitively at this point. Audioholics simply builds on what others have already been saying, in turn built on dated 1990s research.

What we should do, is demand more research, independently verified, and presented unvarnished to the public. I want to know as much as anyone else whether the eyestrain I felt watching a movie like Avatar in 3D could have longterm negative ramifications for my eyesight. I want to know if my kids (when I have them) should steer clear of the technology until they're older. I want to know what's scientific and what's hearsay, and that's why we need independent researchers to step up and tell us what they're seeing (no pun intended) as soon as possible.

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Tags gamingNintendogamesconsumer electronicsnintendo dsNintendo 3DSHandheldsHandhelds / PDAsgame consoles

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Matt Peckham

PC World (US online)
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