If you’re a marathon gamer or speed runner you’ll be familiar with that dry itchy sensation behind your eyes. On the third hour of trying to be one of the fastest ever to complete Witcher 3 your eyes will start to ache or burn (and you’ll still have ages to go).
Well, there’s actually a name for this. It’s called Computer Vision Syndrome and refers to digital eye strain. Using digital devices (PCS, laptops, gaming consoles...) too often can cause dry eye and other eye pain, and there are loads of associated reasons why your eyes hurt when gaming.
Let’s take a look at some of the main reasons and what you can do to help your poor, tired eyes. Other than stopping of course...
In this article
- The Main Reason Your Eyes Hurt When Playing Video Games
- Ways to Help Achy Eyes Without Shortening Your Gaming Time
The Main Reasons Your Eyes Hurt When Gaming
Reduced Eye movement
Normally your eyes move around a lot across a wide spectrum of space. But when you’re focused on beating up Sephiroth, your eye movement is limited to focus on a monitor that is usually sized between 20-24 inches and at a static depth.
Imagine if you tensed your bicep for hours - you’d be really achy afterwards. Well, your eyes feel the same way. Tracking characters results in rapid, small repetitive movements at a static depth, meaning you are never releasing your contracted ciliary eye muscles.
That’s what’s caused eyestrain, or ocular fatigue; or, if you want to get really fancy astenopia.
Not blinking enough
Did you know that humans blink about 12-15 times a minute normally and up to 22 times a minute when relaxed? But studies have found that when gaming your blink rate slows way down to 6-10 times a minute, which means you’re not spreading moisture across your irises as regularly, leading to dry eye. Surely you can afford to miss a few milliseconds of Dark Souls?
Caught up in a video game marathon, some people forget to shower, others to sleep, and most forget the importance of staying hydrated. Gamers are big fans of energy drinks and nocturnal killing sprees (on Hitman, not in real life hopefully), but nothing can replace good old-fashioned water.
If you don’t drink enough water, your body has to find ways to retain the moisture it has, and sucks it away from areas like your skin and eyeballs that rely on moisture to replenish and repair themselves. Drinking water helps flush out the salt build up and keep your eyes moist.
Screen brightness and glare
Sometimes it’s as easy as changing your screen brightness. The brightness of your digital screen and contrast settings in relation to the room around you can cause eye strain if not properly configured and although just turning the screen down seems like the obvious solution, it actually needs to be relative to the brightness around you.
The reason it seems like turning down the brightness is helping is because your eyes are struggling a bit less. Keep in mind that you could still strain your eyes if you set it too dim. It’s a question of balance.
Blue light is the enemy of gamers everywhere. It’s worse than Goombas, eviler than Ganondorf, and definitely more threatening than Nemesis.
Blue light has shorter wavelengths and higher energy than the other colors on the visible spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, indigo and violet) making excessive exposure to it dangerous as it can lead to eye strain, ruin your sleep cycle and could have serious long-term effects we don’t yet fully understand.
And it’s a big component of.... Screens! Yay, lucky gamers.
Using contact lenses
Contact lenses are awesome but they are much harder on your eyes, especially when you play.
We all have a different tolerance to them but generally speaking, there will come a time when your eyes just need a break. Using your prescription glasses more often while playing may be a simple trick to help you play more comfortably.
Too much time playing video games?
You may not like hearing this, but sometimes you just need to put the controller down and step away. Even if you are about to win for the fifth time on Modern Warfare 2 that day.
This will help your ciliary muscles relax and you can carry on gaming for a good while.
It's the same with everything. Taking breaks from time to time helps you relax, refresh and get some perspective for your next game play.
As a general rule of thumb, frequent breaks help you stay focused longer.
Ways To Help Achy Eyes
After reading this, some solutions are laughably obvious and you might wonder why you haven’t been doing them all along.
Don't be too hard on yourself.
The simple reason is that these solutions come down to forming good habits. And habits are very difficult to form ! (check out Atomic Habits by James Clear for ways to form better and more powerful habits, a favorite of the team !)
They can make you a better and healthier gamer in the long run.
- Keep yourself hydrated by purchasing a reusable water bottle to keep next to you as you game and drink as often as you can.
- Don’t forget to take breaks every so often and try to do some eye exercises to reduce eye strain. Eye doctors recommend the 20-20-20 rule; for every 20 minutes of gaming, you should look at something 20 feet away, for 20 seconds.
- Figure out how to balance your screen brightness properly. A good rule of thumb on figuring out what brightness your screen should be is holding up a piece of paper next to your monitor and adjusting the brightness on the screen until it matches the paper; this will ensure the brightness is relative to the room you’re in.
- Try to use your prescription lenses instead of your contact lenses.
- If you have really irritated eyes, try to use eye drops to relieve the stress (careful here as you would only be treating the symptom and not the cause).
Additionally, there are powerful tools you can use to prevent eye fatigue. Technologies such as gaming glasses.
Gaming glasses can help filter blue light and reduce glare, protecting your eyes on the long run, so you’re not squinting evrey time you try to find all the hidden gems in Crash Bandicoot.
Gaming glasses, a special weapon?
Although not all gaming glasses are created equal, they act as a physical shield between screens and your eyes. They block UV light, blue light and glare giving you an edge while gaming.
But although most glasses make their blue light filtration their unique selling point, lots fail to mention just how much blue light they’re filtering - which is an essential part of good protection.
Why does that matter?
Well, science has concluded that the most damaging parts of blue light is between 380-450 nanometers, and therefore the best glasses are most effective in that sphere specifically (like our gaming glasses are 86% effective, just saying).
If you’re worried that the lush lands of Hyrule, or Skyrim won’t have the same impact if you’re wearing tinted gamer glasses, know there are different lens colors. Anywhere from amber to clear. It will depend on your preference but mostly on your light sensitivity. Most people get used to the orangy tint but if that's not for your, there are some great models with clear filtration that will cover your basis.
Final Thoughts | Why do my eyes hurt when I play video games
Can video games hurt your eyes ? Yes but it is mostly indirect and there are ways to protect yourself.
Gaming for long periods of time can have unintended consequences to your eyes, and with most of us spending over 10 hours a day looking at screens, eye strain is a very real risk.
Simple things like adjusting your computer screen brightness, getting a reusable water bottle and wearing a pair of gaming glasses can help keep your eyes healthy for longer, so you can continue battling your way across the Borderlands into your old age.
All that being said, if your eyes really hurt, don't forget to check with an eye doctor. A quick eye exam could go a long way and it's super important to make sure you do not have another underlying condition.