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Game On

Virtual spaces may help blind people navigate real ones.

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Video games aren’t just fun time sinks. Research suggests they may help blind people navigate virtual—and possibly real-world—spaces. In a recent study, Lotfi Merabet and Jaime Sanchez, a collaborator from the University of Chile, reviewed research in which blind people played computer games that employed audio cues such as footfalls and door knocks to guide players through a virtual maze. Subjects were then asked to use blocks to re-create the route taken. Their overwhelming success revealed that they had created new cognitive spatial maps. Even more intriguing, functional magnetic resonance imaging of participants’ brains showed activity not just in the auditory and sensory–motor regions, but also in areas associated with vision. Merabet, an HMS assistant professor of neurology then with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and now with the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, hopes that such games will offer blind people another means of learning to navigate their environments.

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