A new computer game, freely available online and developed by neuroscientists, could help visually-impaired children lead independent lives.
Development of the browser-based game, called Eyelander, was led by computational neuroscientist Jonathan Waddington from WESC and Timothy Hodgson, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Lincoln’s School of Psychology. It is designed to help young people with visual field loss caused by Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI) – usually the result of a brain injury rather than damage to the eye itself – to use their vision more effectively.
The behavioural therapy featured in the game trains players to move their eyes more efficiently by finding the correct colourful shape in a range of competing colours and shapes shown at different positions on the screen, all led by an animated avatar and punctuated with encouraging words to motivate the player.
According to the developers, this kind of activity is often not viable for children with functional vision problems because of complications viewing screen graphics.
Through regular practice, the exercises can improve performance in daily activities that require good vision, such as walking more safely in a crowded environment or reaching for something in the supermarket. Researchers believe that playing the game 10 times over four weeks may give users improvement in their functional vision.
“Functional vision is used to perform everyday tasks such as safely crossing the road or finding a book on a bookshelf, but when the visual pathways between the brain and the eyes are interrupted, the messages aren’t correctly relayed and the visual field becomes reduced,” said Mr. Waddington.
“We wanted to take existing therapies used to rehabilitate adults with visual field loss and make them more engaging for younger participants. We developed a prototype game with input from the residents of our school, and spent two years testing it with NHS patients before working with a professional games developer to create a browser game.”
The WESC Foundation is now asking for visually impaired young people to play the game and take part in further research to gather data that will advance their understanding of the complex challenges faced by young people with visual field loss. Anyone can register to play the game free online. With parental permission, data collected will be analysed by the WESC research team to determine the impact of completing the therapy.
Prof. Hodgson said: “We are very hopeful that this game will provide not only a real solution to help people live a fuller, more adaptive life, but also offer a bit more fun for the eye training tasks they have to do.”
To take part in the trial, contact JWaddington@wescfoundation.ac.uk
To play the game, visit www.eyelander.co.uk.