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France's Health and Safety body says kids shouldn't use 3D

Update: Nintendo responds, points to existing usage recommendations


Nintendo has issued a statement in response to the findings, pointing out that it has long recommended that the under sixes not use the 3D features of the 3DS.

We acknowledge the results of the ANSES study into the effects of 3D technologies and have supported corresponding recommendations since the launch of Nintendo 3DS in 2011.

We have always advised that parents and caregivers restrict the use of 3D for children aged six and under, by using Parental Controls to restrict access to the 3D mode. In fact anyone playing on a Nintendo 3DS can use the 3D depth slider to scale back the 3D effect or even turn it off completely at any time.

Since then, we also launched Nintendo 2DS, which allows anyone, including children aged six and under, to enjoy playing a console that renders games and images in 2D mode only.

Finally, regardless of age, we recommend that consumers take periodic breaks when playing on a games console, whether this is in 3D mode or not.

Original Story

France's health and safety executive, ANSES, has recommended that children under six not be exposed to stereoscopic 3D images, such as those used by 3D televisions or the 3DS handheld, for fear of impairing the development of their visual systems.

The findings, published in early November, say that a process at the heart of the brain's processing of stereoscopic 3D signals, called "vergence-accommodation conflict", could well be damaging the eyes of younger children. Adults will feel the effects of the conflict as weary eyes or mild headaches, but for those young enough to still have rapidly developing brains, the forcing of focus and perspective which creates the illusion of 3D could be teaching the brain bad lessons.

"The last ten years have seen the rapid development of new stereoscopic audiovisual technologies in 3D," the report reads. "The substantial increase in the supply of films in 3D at the cinema since the middle of the 2000's has been followed by a growing range of televisions, computers, games consoles, mobile phones and other devices equipped with 3D technology. The development of these technologies raises the question of their possible impact on health, and in particular on human eyesight, in cases of prolonged exposure, especially in children and adolescents. Indeed, several manufacturers of devices with 3D technologies have issued warnings recommending that children should not use these products.

"Against this background, ANSES issued an internal request to assess the potential health risks related to the use of all audiovisual 3D technologies. "An analysis of the available scientific literature identified different potential symptoms related to exposure to 3D audiovisual interfaces, resulting from the visual fatigue caused by "vergence-accommodation conflict". In the real world, to perceive depth and relief, the eyes converge (i.e. they are directed at the same object) and accommodate (the lens of each eye changes shape to obtain clear vision) at the same distance, i.e. the distance to the object being observed. The creation of artificial stereoscopic effects by technical means (3D) makes it impossible for the eye to respect this physiological principle. The eyes' accommodation (to a screen, for example) and convergence (on an object located in the foreground or background of the screen) do not therefore occur at the same distance."

Against this background, ANSES recommends that:

  • children under the age of six should not be exposed to 3D technologies;
  • children under the age of 13 should only use 3D technologies in moderation, and that both they and their parents should be vigilant concerning any resulting symptoms;
  • persons subject to certain visual disorders (disorders of accommodation, vergence, etc.) and problems with balance should limit their exposure to these technologies, including in the context of occupational exposure.

However, there is scepticism from some quarters about the validity of the research, which originated in Italy. The New Scientist suggests that, unless the "pioneering research" is truly ground-breaking, the findings and subsequent recommendations should probably be taken with a pinch of salt.

"So is its recommendation reasonable? Not if it's based on existing evidence," the New Scientist report concludes. "Crucially, the agency's report is unclear about what exactly this "pioneering analysis" is. However, what is clear is that there is no published research, new or old, showing evidence of adverse effects from watching 3D content other than the short-term discomfort that can be experienced by children and adults alike. Despite several years of people viewing 3D content, there are no reports of long-term adverse effects at any age. On that basis alone, it seems rash to recommend these age-related bans and restrictions."

Nintendo has been contacted for comment on the report.

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