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Can The Nintendo 3DS Harm My Child's Eyesight?

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Can The Nintendo 3DS Harm My Child's Eyesight?

Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3DS

Image © Nintendo
The Nintendo 3DS lets us play 3D games without the aid of glasses, which is pretty exciting. However, there's some confusion over whether or not 3D images can harm the eyesight of children. Can the Nintendo 3DS hurt your kids' eyes?

"How does the Nintendo 3DS project 3D images?"

The Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo's follow up its hugely popular Nintendo DS handheld, lets users play 3D games without having to slip on a pair of special glasses. The process works thanks to a special screen that projects a 3D autostereoscopic effect. "Autostereoscopy" refers to a method of image projection that adds the illusion of depth without the aid of additional headgear.

There are several ways for a screen to project an autostereoscopic illusion, provided that piece of technology was developed to do so. In the case of the Nintendo 3DS, a "parallax barrier" inside the device's screen produces a multi-layered effect. The depth of that image can be adjusted via a slider equipped on the Nintendo 3DS, or turned off entirely.

Glasses-free 3D displays have enjoyed some popularity in certain tech, including cameras, cellphone displays, and laptop screens.

"Why is Nintendo warning parents not to let children under six play the 3DS?"

3D technology is still relatively new, and there have been few studies conducted to determine whether or not 3D images can harm a child's eyes in the long-term. Kids' eye muscles go through a lot of growth and adjustment before their sixth year, and as of yet, there's no official documentation on how 3D images might affect the visual development of very young children, if at all.

Nintendo first issued its warning at E3 2010 during an interview with the game blog Kotaku. Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime recommended that young children should not view 3D images.

"We will recommend that very young children not look at 3D images," Reggie 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. We have the same type of messaging for the [1990s Nintendo virtual reality machine] Virtual Boy, as an example."

Nintendo tends to be be thorough and cautious about the warnings it issues for its hardware. The company has become specially vigilant about said warnings since the introduction of its Wii remote, which led to some careless swinging, and, from there, some bruising, banging, and numerous Wii remotes through TV screens.

"What do medical professionals say about the Nintendo 3DS?"

Though there are no definitive answers about the effects of 3D imagery on developing eyes, and though Nintendo is being cautious with its warnings, the American Optometric Association (AoA) believes 3D imagery will not harm kids' vision--and might in fact prove beneficial.

In a statement that was published in January of 2011, the AoA declared that 3D displays from movies, televisions, and video game systems like the Nintendo 3DS are not likely to have any negative impact on the long-term eyesight of kids under the age of six. The report also pointed out that children who do have trouble viewing 3D images may in fact have an underlying vision problem that should be dealt with right away.

"Should I forbid my children from playing the Nintendo 3DS?"

You should consult with your family's optometrist if you're concerned about any ill effects that 3D imagery might have on your child's eyes. However, it should be noted that the Nintendo 3DS's 3D effects can be turned off entirely via a slider on the handheld.

Even if conclusive evidence does arise to determine that 3D imagery will not harm eyesight in any way, moderation should always be practiced when playing 2D or 3D video games. Adults and children alike should take breaks after an hour or so of play. If dizziness or any other illness comes to the fore, stop playing immediately.

"What should I do if my child complains about feeling ill while playing the Nintendo 3DS/viewing 3D images?"

Any complaints about sickness, dizziness, fatigue, or inability to "see" 3D images properly--from children or adults--should be addressed right away. See your family optometrist, or your doctor. As stated by the AoA, experiencing physical illness while playing a video game can be indicative of a greater problem, and should be dealt with professionally.
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