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Gaming Can Seriously Damage Your Health

Ow! My wrists

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Much has been made recently of the supposed links between real-life violence and violent computer games, but being killed by a BFG wielding maniac is not the only danger that faces gamers today.

EuroGamer takes a look at how playing computer games can damage your health...

Daley Thompson - he may have been an inspiration to a generation of British athletes, but the game named after him ruined the wrists of a generation of British computer gamers


The Repetitive Strain Injury (or RSI for short) is probably best known as something suffered by people who use computers at work, but gamers could also be at risk.

If so, "Daley Thompson's Decathlon" for the Commodore 64 was probably responsible for destroying the wrists of an entire generation back in the 1980s. An Olympic sports game named after a famous British athlete of the time, most of the activities in "Decathlon" involved waggling your joystick from side to side as rapidly as possible.

Sprinting? Waggle your joystick! Hurdles? Waggle your joystick and press the fire button to jump! Javelin? Waggle your joystick and press the fire button to throw the damn thing! Long jump? Well, you get the idea...

You might think that such wonderful "gameplay" was restricted to the "good old days", but you would be wrong. Nintendo were recently sued in America by a group of parents whose children had been injured while playing Mario Party on the N64. The game included a number of activities, most of which involved rotating a joystick as fast as you could. Sounds familiar?

Because of the way the joystick was designed, this could apparently cause blisters, friction burns, lacerations and other injuries! Although only a handful of the million Americans who bought the game complained, in the end Nintendo were forced to distribute "gaming gloves" to protect the hands of young children playing it.

Only in America...

Everquest - bad for your social life maybe, but is it bad for your health?


Nobody is entirely sure what causes RSI, but bad posture, poorly designed equipment and long periods of uninterrupted computer use are all under suspicion.

So as you can imagine, playing Quake or Everquest late into the night slouched over your computer isn't likely to improve your health. In fact, a guide written by Britain's "Health & Safety Executive" says that "intensive use of a mouse, trackball, or similar pointing device may give rise to aches and pains in the fingers, hands, wrists, arms or shoulders". Bad news for Quakers everywhere.

Meanwhile console gamepads are causing what doctors have dubbed "Nintendo Thumb". Hours of hammering away at your pad playing Tekken, Soul Calibur or Goldeneye can apparently cause muscle fatigue, strained tendons and nerve damage in your hands.

The rise of Force Feedback probably isn't helping either, as your joystick or gamepad can now fight back whenever you try and move it. Last week I found myself grappling with a joystick at a press launch for Microsoft's new space combat sim, Starlancer.

Every time my ship made a hyperjump the joystick would vibrate wildly, and unfortunately the joystick was also somewhat past its prime, with a nasty tendency to try and wrench itself out of my hands for no apparent reason at random intervals. After playing the game almost non-stop for a few hours, my hands were aching like hell...

"Pokemon, gotta catch 'em all!" - preferably not at knifepoint though...


Back in December '98 I played in an "Endurance Quake" competition at a LAN party. Around fifty players set out to deathmatch their way through all 32 Quake II maps back to back, but only about a dozen of us were still conscious when the event ended the next morning.

Some players can take things a little too far though... Last month the South China Morning Post reported that a 37 year old Korean man had died of heart failure after playing a game for seventeen hours non-stop in an arcade in Pusan! Apparently the man had been awake for several days by this point, and hadn't been eating properly either, spending all his spare time playing a game called, appropriately enough, "One Thousand Years".

Also making the headlines recently is the Pokemon craze, which has been causing something of a juvenile crime wave here in the UK. Some of the rarest Pokemon trading cards are changing hands for up to £30 (almost $50) in playgrounds, and children desperate to get hold of them are resorting to mugging other children and breaking into shops that stock the cards. One eight year old even offered to swap his baby sister for a rare card!

Meanwhile in California, a pupil recently sued his school when his Pokemon card collection was "lost" after being confiscated by teachers. In the end he received $1500 in compensation. It's a crazy world out there...

Punish your machine


It's not always the gamers that are on the receiving end of the injuries though - apparently "computer rage" is a growing problem.

So far the publicity has all been for computer rage in the office, with workers frustrated by crashes and buggy and unhelpful software taking it out on their computers, often resulting in expensive and embarrassing damage.

A recent survey by Compaq apparently showed that 75% of British people who use computers at work swear at their machines, and 25% have resorted to physical violence. This actually happened to me last year, when I punched my computer after a long string of crashes and lock-ups. Unsurprisingly the computer never started up again, and I had to buy a new case and motherboard to repair the damage. These days I restrain myself to shouting and cursing at the infernal machine.

This kind of thing is nothing new for gamers though, and its not unusual to see people hitting keyboards and mice, or even hurling them across the room in frustration. Ion Storm's John Romero is infamous for damaging computers and throwing mice around after losing a deathmatch, but rumours that this is the real cause of his company's financial woes are so far unproven...

John "Gestalt" Bye

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