1. Tetris helps fix eyesight
So far, all conventional cures for lazy eye have been either uncomfortable or ineffective. Sticking a patch over a kid's good eye in an effort to improve their vision seems more likely to create an angsty teen pirate than a well-adjusted kid with decent vision, and yet that's a common treatment for the 3% of the population that suffer from the condition, which is sometimes known as ambylopia.
At its core, ambylopia prevents your eyes from working together. Without them working in tandem, you'll end up with bad depth perception and the inability to see that damned boat in the Magic Eye image. 3D movies are also a no-go, which does give the added benefit of being able to tell how much Avatar sucked. Treatments for the condition want your eyes to work together despite their differences, like a buddy cop movie where the by-the-book officer and the freewheeling loose cannon grow to respect one another. There wasn't an effective and non-obnoxious way to do this until McGill University researchers created the world's craziest way to play Tetris.
Senior experimenter Robert Hess and his team came up with a unique set of goggles that displayed the game dichoptically, that is to say it sent different images to each eye. As seen in our (admittedly crude) facsimile above, one eye is only shown see the falling blocks, while the other eye is shown just the blocks that have already landed on the ground. Thus, the Canadian researchers have just innovated the most comfortable way to trick stubborn eyes into cooperation, as long as you're willing to play enough to see falling blocks in your sleep.
In the small pilot study, 18 lazy-eyed adults who want you to stop staring at the wandering one were assigned to play Tetris. Nine of them were equipped with the aforementioned goggles, and the other played the game with their non-lazy-eye obscured. As you might suspect, those who used the goggles had a dramatic improvement in vision over their eyepatched colleagues. Don't worry -- the scientists later had mercy on the second group and gave them the handmedown goggles so they too could improve their eyesight.
While that was just a small study and it needs further research, it's heartening to know that amblyopics might soon have a way to get better than doesn't totally suck.
2. Super Mario 64 makes your brain bigger
No one can ever say "video games will rot your brain" ever again. You can thank a study out of Berlin's Max Planck Institute for Human Development for showing that avid gamers have differing brain structure from those with social lives. It makes sense that the ol' "But mom, it improves my hand-eye coordination!" excuse might actually have some truth to it, but never before has casual gaming been linked to an increase in brain volume. That's right -- playing games actually makes your brain bigger. And this time, scientists were able to track these changes in (pretty much) real-time.
Even better: The video game involved with the experiment didn't totally suck. Copies of Super Mario 64 were lent out to 23 adult participants who were prescribed at least half-an-hour of platforming daily, for two months. And boy did it pay off -- compared to a control group who had abstained from playing the genre-defining classic, subjects in the Mario group emerged with bigger brains.
And these growers aren't just for show. MRI scans indicated that the increased brain beef in three key regions: right hippocampus, right prefrontal cortex, and the cerebellum. Yes, every piece of your brain is important, but these areas oversee major functions useful across a range of activities, such as memory and spatial awareness. It even helps adroitness of the hands, which is a fancy way of saying your fingers are more nimble (and probably better at video games).
Those who most enjoyed their gaming experience displayed the greatest benefits, suggesting that playing your favorite games affects your brain more than say, another round of Shaq-Fu or Superman 64. Though this is another small study, this kind of research still holds medical promise; it appears as though video game therapy can be used in the treatment of common neurological disorders, including dementia and Alzheimer's. It might seem like you wasted your time on that nine-hour marathon, but at least you'll probably remember it.