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Gamers Reveal Inner Workings of the Eye

The human eye is so intricate, even today it continues to defy attempts by the most modern computers to decode its secrets. Luckily, researchers have come up with new cutting edge technology that is literally remapping everything we know about the eye. That technology?

Video games.

Yes, as crazy as it sounds, scientists and game designers have come together to crack one of the most complex codes in science, thanks to the online game EyeWire, which tasks players with mapping out retinal neurons.

“It’s actually extremely challenging,” Amy Robinson, EyeWire’s creative director, told Popular Science. “No computer program can do it automatically.”

So how exactly does it work? It’s pretty simple: Players start by signing up at the EyeWire website, where they play through a brief tutorial that explains the game’s controls. Players then tackle 3D maps showing cross-sections of a mouse retina, coloring in segments of a specific neuron. Coloring correctly earns points for the player – and helps create a 3D model of the neuron.

EyeWire initially rolled out back in December of 2012. Since then, over 130,000 gamers have signed up and played along. The resulting data allows scientists to reconstruct the neural wiring of the retina; a hypothesis based on the game on how the eye tracks motion was published in May.

Studying the eye through gaming is a natural fit in many ways given that video games are an inherently visual medium, constantly pushing the boundaries of vision and perception through devices like the upcoming Oculus Rift. And perhaps the only people more obsessive about attention to detail than scientists are gamers.

So the next time someone on your friend list sends you one of those annoying invitations to play an online game, think twice before saying no. Because it might not only be fun – it could also change the way we see the world.