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Thursday, July 08, 2004

UltraGaming - Playstation 2 , Xbox, GameCube, PC and more

UltraGaming - Playstation 2 , Xbox, GameCube, PC and more

Ultra Gaming Version 3.0

RSI hard for gamers to grip
When it comes to playing video games with a passion, sore thumbs and weak wrists can be a harsh price to pay while
--Former Staff January 30th, 2003
When it comes to playing video games with a passion, sore thumbs and weak wrists can be a harsh price to pay while desperately trying to get to the next level or trying to score the game-winning goal.

Most gamers, especially younger ones, may not see the chronic effects of tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome until later on, but soreness and short-term arthritic injuries can be very common for those who spend a lot of time in front of a PC or console.

The Arthritis Society says as many as four million Canadians deal with some form of arthritic pain which can come about from repetitive strain injuries (RSI), and suggests the number will grow to one million per decade. What was once considered an older person’s disease now affects children as young as 10 years old.

Heather Howdle, who runs a physiotherapy clinic in Winnipeg, has treated many video game-related injuries, mostly from 10 to 14-year-old children.

“If one part of the body is doing too many repetitions, then it starts to swell and wear out because the tendons start to inflame leading to increased pain and lack of movement,” Howdle explained in an interview. “(With video games) this typically happens when players have their wrists and elbows bent in a certain direction for a long time. The constant repetition and intensity in pushing the buttons on the control pad just adds more pressure on the wrists and elbows.”

Howdle advocates a practice she calls “pacing,” which minimizes the threat of injury through frequent breaks from gameplay and a change in posture no less than every 15 minutes. The more severe the problem a person has, the more frequent breaks they should take, she said.

“We all get so focused and forget how much time has gone by,” Howdle said. “But joints and muscles need intermittent breaks and injuries happen because they have no time to recover from the contraction that accumulates (during gameplay).”

Howdle doesn’t blame the design of the control pads, insisting that anyone using any type of control input is prone to the same injuries. And though she acknowledges that those who may be more flexible or work out on a regular basis may not be affected as easily, the risks still apply to everyone.

David Morelock, the Head Industrial Designer at San Diego-based Mad Catz, that designs and produces various types of hardware for consoles and PC, insists the company pays very close attention to the dangers of arthritic pain.

“We design controllers to be comfortable and we’ve found that the most efficient way to design a comfortable controller is to give a model to people and ask them how it feels,” Morelock said in an e-mail interview. “We have a lot of gamers in the office, including a team of tech support people, that play a lot of games and for long hours. Sometimes we go to retail stores in our area and ask employees and store managers. Sometimes I find a friend or a cousin or a neighbor, anyone with an opinion will do.”

Morelock added that Mad Catz favours the geometric diamond button layout Sony has always used. The company was the first to design a diamond layout controller for the Xbox, and most other companies seem to have followed suit.

That said, Morelock is also adamant that gamers should be aware of how their hands react to the stress placed on them during gameplay, adding that they should stop if their hands feel sore or fatigued in any way.

“Gamers should take time to build up their endurance,” he explained. “Designing the control pad to be as comfortable as possible is the best way to avoid thumb pain, however that pain is mostly due to muscle strain from pressing on the buttons, and that is a matter of endurance.”

Randall Helm, a leading physiotherapist in computer-related arthritic injuries based in Waterloo, agrees that posture and pace are integral to staying pain-free.

Carpal tunnel syndrome in office environments has been well documented over the past several years, but Helm says the effects on children playing games on their PC can be just as hazardous.

“Teenagers are prone to a slouched, forward head posture and computer (and console) gameplay promotes this further,” Helm said in an interview. “It has been estimated that it often takes up to 10 years of computer use before many of the negative effects of using one develop. Hence many children may not feel the effect but it will catch up to them in their early adult years.”

Helm added that it would be possible to reduce the negative effects of using a computer keyboard and mouse by using a controller but that soreness in the thumb and wrists might persist anyway, much as Howdle described.

Like Howdle, Morelock suggests that gamers find a comfortable amount of time to play, while giving the muscles time to recuperate through breaks.

“Just like any activity, your muscles get sore if you overwork them,” he said. “Don’t play too much in one day.”


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