Effectiveness of a Binocular Video Game vs Placebo Video Game for Improving Visual Functions in Older Children, Teenagers, and Adults With Amblyopia: A Randomized Clinical Trial

JAMA Ophthalmol. 2018 Feb 1;136(2):172-181. doi: 10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2017.6090.


Importance: Binocular amblyopia treatment using contrast-rebalanced stimuli showed promise in laboratory studies and requires clinical trial investigation in a home-based setting.

Objective: To compare the effectiveness of a binocular video game with a placebo video game for improving visual functions in older children and adults.

Design, setting, and participants: The Binocular Treatment of Amblyopia Using Videogames clinical trial was a multicenter, double-masked, randomized clinical trial. Between March 2014 and June 2016, 115 participants 7 years and older with unilateral amblyopia (amblyopic eye visual acuity, 0.30-1.00 logMAR; Snellen equivalent, 20/40-20/200) due to anisometropia, strabismus, or both were recruited. Eligible participants were allocated with equal chance to receive either the active or the placebo video game, with minimization stratified by age group (child, age 7 to 12 years; teenager, age 13 to 17 years; and adult, 18 years and older).

Interventions: Falling-blocks video games played at home on an iPod Touch for 1 hour per day for 6 weeks. The active video game had game elements split between eyes with a dichoptic contrast offset (mean [SD] initial fellow eye contrast, 0.23 [0.14]). The placebo video game presented identical images to both eyes.

Main outcomes and measures: Change in amblyopic eye visual acuity at 6 weeks. Secondary outcomes included compliance, stereoacuity, and interocular suppression. Participants and clinicians who measured outcomes were masked to treatment allocation.

Results: Of the 115 included participants, 65 (56.5%) were male and 83 (72.2%) were white, and the mean (SD) age at randomization was 21.5 (13.6) years. There were 89 participants (77.4%) who had prior occlusion. The mean (SD) amblyopic eye visual acuity improved 0.06 (0.12) logMAR from baseline in the active group (n = 56) and 0.07 (0.10) logMAR in the placebo group (n = 59). The mean treatment difference between groups, adjusted for baseline visual acuity and age group, was -0.02 logMAR (95% CI, -0.06 to 0.02; P = .25). Compliance with more than 25% of prescribed game play was achieved by 36 participants (64%) in the active group and by 49 (83%) in the placebo group. At 6 weeks, 36 participants (64%) in the active group achieved fellow eye contrast greater than 0.9 in the binocular video game. No group differences were observed for any secondary outcomes. Adverse effects included 3 reports of transient asthenopia.

Conclusions and relevance: The specific home-based binocular falling-blocks video game used in this clinical trial did not improve visual outcomes more than the placebo video game despite increases in fellow eye contrast during game play. More engaging video games with considerations for compliance may improve effectiveness.

Trial registration: anzctr.org.au Identifier: ACTRN12613001004752.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Amblyopia / physiopathology
  • Amblyopia / rehabilitation*
  • Child
  • Computers, Handheld*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Refraction, Ocular / physiology*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Video Games*
  • Vision, Binocular / physiology*
  • Visual Acuity / physiology*
  • Young Adult