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An Optometrist’s Review of the Nintendo 3DS

For months, I’ve been reading, writing, and speaking about the Nintendo 3DS, all without actually seeing or using it. I was finally able to change that yesterday. After helping put the kids to bed, I slipped off to Best Buy and purchased a shiny black 3DS. I brought it home and Cristina and I spent a few hours setting it up and using it. We’ve had a Nintendo DS at Bright Eyes for years that we use as a reward activity during vision therapy, so it was immediately very familiar.

3D Effects

One of the biggest selling points of the 3DS is that the user does not need to wear special glasses to see the 3D effects. This is called autostereoscopic 3D and is definitely where 3D technology is going. It works surprisingly well, considering the small screen. You do have hold the screen flat relative to your head. If you angle the screen, you will either see double or lose the 3D effect. The 3D does work from positions other than dead-center. This means that, while not ideal, it is possible for more than one person to see the 3D effect at one time.

I was particularly interested to see how well the “3D volume” slider worked. This allows users to adjust the amount of 3D shown to suit their tastes and the particular game. It works amazingly, seamlessly well. I was able to adjust the 3D anywhere from none, to just-noticeable, to full with just a flick of my thumb.

Augmented reality3dsar2

One of the most intriguing aspects of the 3DS is its use of AR (augmented reality) as part of the game. This allows the viewer to play the game within the room or area that they are really in. (See picture to the right). Not only is this extremely fun, there are some potential visual benefits to this. If the game is getting further away, it is more likely that the user will hold the game further away and look further away, potentially reducing some strain on the eyes. (I should note that I don’t have any research on this, but it occurred to me while playing.)

3DS vs. DS

One of the biggest visual concerns with 2D game systems such as the original Nintendo DS is that children tend to hold the screens incredibly close – as close as 3 or 4 inches. A person of any age should not hold a book or game closer than their Harmon Distance (or the distance from the knuckle to the elbow). With the 3DS, the 3D effect is better when the game is held a foot or so away from the eyes, so this will naturally encourage users to stay within their Harmon distance.


Much has been made, appropriately, of the potential adverse effects of using 3D technology, due to the differences of 3DS and real-life 3D. Nintendo’s official warning of “vision damage” occurring for those six and under has gotten a lot of attention. While I haven’t seen any proof of this, I think it is reasonable because a person has to pretty visual sophisticated to use the 3DS. So I do recommend keeping it away from the young kids. They should be building with blocks and playing outside anyway,

3dsjustinFor the older kids and adults (like Justin, on the left) who use the 3DS, eyestrain is possible. Already, I’ve talked to patients who have experienced headaches, nausea, and blurred vision from the 3DS. I’m happy to report that after an hour neither Cristina nor I experienced any of these symptoms. However, we routinely do activities during vision therapy that require visual skill and flexibility. For that reason we are much more accustomed to the visual demands required by the 3DS.

The #1 thing to remember: moderation. Take frequent breaks, even if you feel OK. Use the 20/20/20 Rule – Every 20 minutes, look away from the screen at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Even Nintendo recommends that players take a 10 minute break every hour.

If you or your children do experience symptoms, or don’t see the 3D even with the 3D on “full” be sure to get a through eye exam to look for vision or eye coordination problems. And remember that eye exams are recommended at age six months, three years, and before kindergarten.

For more on potential health effects of the Nintendo 3DS, see my interview with PCWorld. See also the American Optometric Association’s press release on the subject


In summary, the Nintendo 3DS easy to use and fun. The 3D effects are effective and being glasses-free is very nice. The augmented reality really works well. When used in moderation for the appropriate ages, I do not see any harm. If you do have concerns, schedule an appointment at Bright Eyes either on our webpage or calling 813-792-0637.

Dr. Nate

Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD
Bright Eyes Family Vision Care
Located in the Westchase area of Tampa.
Dr Nate Google PlusBright Eyes Tampa on Google PlacesBright Eyes Tampa on FacebookBright Eyes Tampa on TwitterBright Eyes Tampa on YelpBright Eyes Tampa on foursquareWestchase Patch

A Warning about the Nintendo 3DS and Childrens Vision

Today there has been a lot of discussion about an unreleased hand-gaming system cleverly called the the Nintendo 3DS. The system is similar to the popular Nintendo DS, which has a small touch-screen, but the 3DS allows users to play games in 3D without the use of 3D glasses.

The DS can be a lot of fun and can even be used as therapy in some cases. However, its tiny screen and close viewing can cause eye fatigue, blurry vision, headaches, and discomfort with prolonged use. The best advice is to hold the game at Elbow Distance and take frequent breaks.

Not surprisingly, the new 3DS can provoke similar visual symptoms. Today, both CNN and the LA Times have both reported on the warning that Nintendo itself released:

“Vision of children under the age of 6 is in the developmental stage. Nintendo 3DS, 3-D, including 3-D movies and television, delivers 3-D images with different left and right eye images, which has a potential impact on the growth of children’s eyes.” (translation)

It is true that young children are still developing visual skills (adults do as well, just not as quickly) and it is likely that intense near work plays a role in the development of myopia or nearsightedness. So it is a good idea to minimize the amount of time young children spend on any near task, whether it be 2D or 3D. Playing outdoors is a great alternative.

For older kids and adults, the 3DS is probably a lot of fun. I definitely will try it out. But remember, as always, moderation is important. Take breaks every 20 or 30 minutes. If your eye doctor has prescribed glasses for reading, use them while playing. And if you do experience headaches, blurry or double vision, or other problems after playing the 3DS, be sure to have a thorough eye exam. That could be the indication of more serious problems.

UPDATE: For more info and background, see this VisionHelp post by Dr. Len Press.

See Well!

Dr. Nate

Nathan Bonilla-Warford, OD
Bright Eyes Family Vision Care
Located in the Westchase area of Tampa.

Dr Nate Google PlusBright Eyes Tampa on Google PlacesBright Eyes Tampa on FacebookBright Eyes Tampa on TwitterBright Eyes Tampa on YelpBright Eyes Tampa on foursquareWestchase Patch


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