Nintendo’s Warning About 3D Stereo Games and Visual Development

The product warning from Nintendo regarding its new 3D hand held video game system made big news last week, prominently as a front page article in The Wall Street Journal on December 31, 2010 and a variety of website releases.

The WSJ article points out that unlike movie theaters and most high-end TV sets on the market today, the Nintendo 3DS is expected to be among the first mainstream products to deliver 3-D images to viewers without requiring them to wear specialized glasses.   This is welcome news, because it takes the focus away from issues relating to the technology or comfort of 3D glasses, and places it squarely on the  stereoscopic 3-D (S3D) viewing experience itself.

Why did the Nintendo information create such interest in the media?  Let’s look at the consumer product warning itself:

The way 3-D images appear varies among individuals. Please be aware there could be times when some images cannot be recognized as 3-D depending on physical conditions, types of video pictures, surrounding conditions and so on.

If you are exhausted or not feeling well, please refrain from playing. Also, when you start feeling ill, stop playing immediately.

Watching 3-D images for an extended time could result in adverse effect on eyesight development in the case of children 6 years old and under, therefore we highly recommend a switch to 2-D display.

Well the idea of switching from a 3DS display to a 2D display isn’t new.  The entertainment industry is aware of the discomfort that some people can experience when watching S3D, hence current 3D movies are made with a 2D version as an alternative.   So what’s with all the fuss about S3D viewing potentially harming children the visual development of children six years old and younger?

The simple fact is that we don’t really have good evidence yet as to what the impact of  prolonged viewing of S3D will be on the development of a child’s visual system.  Beginning with studies at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry, evidence to date seems to pinpoint adult-like stereoscopic development by six years of age.  Exercising caution until we know more about these effects seems prudent, and Nintendo is not the first company to do this.  Sony has previously issued warnings about the potential effects of viewing 3D TV and 3D video games on the visual development of children under six years of age.

Nintendo’s 3DS is an impressive little gadget.  It incorporates a slider so that the extent of the S3D can be adjusted on a continuum from full binocular stereoscopic viewing to a mild stereoscopic viewing demand.  Or, you can elect to turn the S3D effect off entirely.  This not only allows for parental control, but has implications for optometric vision therapy that we’ll discuss elsewhere.  It also has multiple camera lenses built in to the device, allowing it to serve as a 3D camera.  Here’s a nice introductory video piece about it.

– Leonard J. Press, O.D., FCOVD, FAAO

15 thoughts on “Nintendo’s Warning About 3D Stereo Games and Visual Development

  1. Thanks,Len. Great information. The device should have a place in the treatment of strabismus. For those patients who have already developed stereovision at the intersection of the visual axes, the device would be a logical next step. Time will tell. Thanks again.

  2. Len,

    You have hit the nail on the head (as usual). We simply do not know what the long term effects of prolonged use of 3-D viewing will be, let alone what the effects will be on developing visual systems. The periodic headaches may the least of our worries.

    Thanks for writing this, and for all the work you do on behalf of our profession. I will be sharing this.

    John Abbondanza, OD, FCOVD

  3. Pingback: A Warning about the Nintendo 3DS and Childrens Vision by Bright Eyes Tampa

  4. Pingback: Nintendo 3D DS: Binocular Screening for Tots? « Wide-eyed Wonder: an artist's journey to three-dimensional vision

  5. Actually the military does have some idea of the impact of prolonged 3d. Many military war games and training simulations have been in 3d for over 10 years. Ask people over at naval research labs (vis lab) and Georgia tech. I know side effects have been nausea, and headaches. Don’t know about vision.

    • Good point, Carol. A few thoughts. Firstly, the visual process under these conditions is part of the nausea/headaches picture. Dr. Ken Ciuffreda is one of the more widely published researchers who has looked at visual-vestibular interactions demonstrating this. The military version of 3D may be a bit different than the Nintendo 3DS experience. With regard to the Nintendo warning specifically, the military simulations are being done with individuals who are older, this issue centers on the impact on visual development of prolonged 3D under the age of 6. In that regard we really don’t know what the impact will be yet.

  6. Hi Dr. Press, I just discovered this blog when searching about the Nintendo piece for my own blog. I hope you don’t mind that I quoted you! I feel that this new 3D S is going to be a great tool to make parents more aware of binocular vision deficiencies in their kids. Had my mother only known … but I was a kid in the 1960s.

    My husband’s vision problems were helped very early because, in 1953, he consistently sat too close to the new television set. He got glasses for extreme myopia, and his congenital cataracts were diagnosed by age 3.

    It is encouraging to see so many developmental optometrists rallying behind adults who are seeking vision therapy, like myself. Thanks so much for blogging … for us!

    • Many thanks for your kind words, Lynda. It is inspirational to us, as developmental optometrists, to have patients like Sue Barry writing, speaking, blogging so that a new generation of patients are empowered to share their experiences sow widely. It is as if you, Sally, and others now emerging are phenomenal proteges of this genre that Sue has created, and we now have a breakthrough in accurate information and discovery for individuals with strabismus to share, rather than being patronized with “your eyes are fine, move on with life” advice that would otherwise be accepted as resignation.

  7. Dr. Wong, I also quoted you in my post on Nintendo. My developmental optometrist showed me a copy of your article that she is displaying in her office after I gave her a clipping of the Wall St. Journal article. So I googled and found what you had written, and quoted and linked so that more parents can find the sound advice you shared.

    I’m so glad you and the other Dr.s here are finding the time to publish what you know on the web. It is a huge encouragement to find solid information on developmental eye problems, a topic that has been so NOT discussed for so long.

  8. I’m very pleased to uncover this great site. I want to to thank you for ones time due to this wonderful read!! I definitely really liked every bit of it and i also have you bookmarked to see new information in your blog.

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