The Great Eye Speed Experiment

One physical ability stands out above all others in terms of your ability to hit targets quickly. It’s probably intuitively obvious, if you stop to think about it. When it comes to driving the gun into a target, aligning the sights, breaking the shot, then finding the next target to rinse and repeat on, by far the top physical ability you need is eye speed.

No doubt about it at all. If you can’t see the target, pure luck is the only thing you can use to hit it. If you can’t find and focus on the next target quickly, you can’t line the gun up on it quickly, either. If you can’t shift focus from the target to the front sight quickly, you’ll be very limited in terms of how accurately you can acquire and hit all but the closest and easiest targets. In the practical shooting community, we’ve long known about these things and utilized a number of different exercises to speed up and strengthen our ability to move our eyes precisely from place to place, and shift focus from one distance to another quickly. There’s a lot of them out there…

But, there’s an element of eye speed that these drills don’t address, and one that’s critical for an extremely important skill: shot calling. Simply put, the frame rate(*) your eyes see at determines how accurately you’re actually calling your shots, and basic eye movement exercises don’t speed up the effective frame rate you’re seeing at. A full discussion on exactly why is kind of out of scope for this discussion, but if there’s interest, I’ll get around to it. The short of it, though, is that your eyes don’t actually see fast enough to see the gun cycle, and therefore you don’t actually see the sights moving like you think you do – and if your eyes’ frame rate is relatively slow, the issue gets worse. The human body is an amazing thing, though, and it gathers enough information to try to present you with a smooth image of the sights in motion. It turns out, though, this is a best guess based on the information your eyes are pulling in and your brain is using. So, how do we speed up the rate at which the brain is pulling in that information and using it?

After some research, I came across several examples of some interesting research that suggest that playing video games, and specifically first person shooter games, speed up a great number of eye related skills, including effective frame rate. Don’t believe me? Let me Google that for you…. Here’s just one example

I decided to give it a go. I’m a complete noob as far as video games go. I’ve never owned a console in my adult life, and have only played a few flight simulator games with any regularity in the past. So, jumping into something like this is a little daunting. After a little research, I settled on an Xbox 360 console. In the end, it came down to most of the people I knew who were gamers were playing on that system, and most everyone I asked said that FPS games are a bit better on the Xbox. I decided to use Call of Duty: Black Ops as my first test ground, and I think I’ve got something like 4 hours in game, right now, between playing Zombie mode, a little Campaign play, and (mostly) Multiplayer online play. I dove in head first, basically.

As an Open division shooter in USPSA, I wondered how the aiming skills would transfer over to the FPS game world. The games don’t require you to line up front and rear sights precisely, as you would have to with a real iron sighted gun, so the transition over from Open division is actually a little more direct – but it gets even more so when you’re able to add a red dot sight to your in-game weapons. I swear it’s just like shooting an Open gun! Later, you can even add in custom dot arrangements… like smiley faces…

The next step is to figure out how to track this back to a performance improvement on the shooting range. I need to run some baseline drills this weekend to assess target transitions (both side to side and back to front) and shot calling accuracy, and determine what a useful set of data will be. Then I’ll periodically re-run those same drills and gather data again to try to determine if there’s been a useful increase in speed. Time will tell if the studies are correct in as much as the shooting sports go…

If you’re a gamer, and have some thoughts, post ‘em to the comments below. If you’re looking to hook up online, sometime, my gamertag is xre4632….

(*) Ok, “frame rate” is really not a good term for how our eyes see and work. We don’t see in discrete frames (for instance, like an actual movie), but instead each rod and cone in the eye presents the information to the brain via the optic nerves in an asynchronous fashion. The brain then conglomerates and organizes all of that info into what we perceive as a constant moving picture. However, it’s easy to demonstrate that certain things can and will occur more quickly than our visual system can perceive. “Frame rate”, therefore, is an easily understood analogy that we can use to talk about these things… Hopefully that makes sense?

About the author


USPSA Grand Master, NRA Instructor, http://re-gun.com/about/

Permanent link to this article: http://re-gun.com/2011/02/the-great-eye-speed-experiment/


1 ping

  1. M ack says:

    Hiya – I’m curious as to how you’ll measure a baseline and then future performance. What’s your approach?

    Have fun!

    1. DaveRe says:

      Mack, at some point, I’ll write up an article describing how to drag all the right data out of a shot timer, and that will probably help explain the process. But, basically, I’ll use a handful of drills. I’ll run them several times (5 is usually a good number), and write down all the important data from each run – draw times, reload times, times to index between targets, times between shots on each target, and the total number of points I shot. I can then sort of average up the runs for each drill, and compare those between sessions to show a trend.

  1. DR Performance says:

    RT @drperformance: FPS games to speed up the eyes? We'll find out! http://bit.ly/h5p9lN

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>