Aches, Pains, Aging, and Gaming

Click. Wince. Click. Wince. With each gentle tap of my right index finger an electric ache runs across my palm and settles into a dull, throbbing sensation in my wrist.

Nestled between the terminals of my armbones lay the tendons that help direct my fingers as they flick across the surface of the mouse. They're irritable, these sinewed cords. Packed ropelike into a tiny channel, they've become inflamed by a thousand twitching motions and now they grind and press against my nerves as if to bully them into ceasing their demands upon my digits.

It will be almost a month after I cancel my World of Warcraft subscription before that feeling finally subsides, and I can once again drape my fingers across the mouse without my wrist protesting. In the meantime, I'm grateful for ibuprofen.

My father, though not a gamer, is well acquainted with such pain. As a potter, he's spent half a lifetime up to his elbows in whirling mounds of clay. With his hands he coaxes symmetry, shape, and function from mundane piles of clean earth. He carries the evidence of his past suffering in his hands.

On each of his palms there begins a faded bolt of lightning, its short path traceable just past the wrists. Once bright crimson, the scars are now pale and smooth. I remember, before the surgeries, when he feared he'd never sit at a potter's wheel again. For months he had lain awake at night while the increasing pain pulsed within his forearms. Several times needles were placed in his wrists and cortisone was pushed through to soothe the ache. The injections worked, but only briefly. Eventually, his wrists were cut open so the canals through which the nerves passed could be widened.

First one wrist, then two months later, the other. That was years ago. The surgeries worked, and now, at age 55, he takes his seat at the wheel and throws with ease. His hands and arms no longer complain, and he sleeps soundly.

It's increasingly clear that my carpal tunnels share the same flawed design as his. Long hours with Elder Scrolls: Oblivion recently gave rise to the familiar ache. It subsided after a week or two of rest, but I wonder how long this will be the case. Before I reach my father's age I may very well need the same surgery. And when that time comes I won't be able to tell my doctor that my suffering was borne of a dedication to my work. It won't have been a life of honest labor that maimed me, but countless hours of gaming indulgence.

It gets me thinking. I'm only 32 years old but sometimes my body protests and complains in ways it never did before. The afflictions of the aged once seemed an impossibility, yet now, as my parents buy reading glasses and take longs walks instead of jogging, I realize that I'm just a single generation removed from those everyday ailments that rearrange peoples' lives. I consider such things as hyperopia and arthritis and the inevitable slowing of body and perhaps mind and I wonder, will I always play games?

When I was a child, gaming was largely the province of youth. My peers and I are now grown, however, and often married, sometimes with children. We're still playing games, but not like we used to. Not quite as often, and not quite as well. Online, the youngsters grate on our nerves, not just because their antics sometimes annoy our adult sensibilities but because they're often better than we are. They're possessed of sharper eyes and quicker reflexes, and their capacity to learn and adapt remains untarnished by age.

They make us feel old, even though we're not. Not yet, anyway. But twenty, fifty years from now, will we have moved on to other activities that demand less of our hands and our minds? How long will we consider ourselves "hardcore," and enjoy the types of games we play today? Will those of us who reminisce fondly about Mario Bros. and Half-Life and Final Fantasy be regarded as quaint anachronisms?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but I suspect that they're rooted not just in our changing abilities but in the medium's potential to mature as we do. I hope that even if some of my grandchildren's games demand more than I'm willing or able to muster, there will still be games for those of us who still cling to this hobby as we approach our twilight years. And I hope that there's more to choose from than virtual pets and the beguiling promises of a younger brain.

For now I take solace in the realization that, in spite of our aches and pains, my hobby and I are alive and well. We're young, and the years ahead of us still seem bright with potential. I just hope my wrists hold out.

Comments

Ugh... I'm right there with you. Even as I type this, I'm debating between settling back down to watch television and enduring the pain to enjoy a bit of Day of Defeat.

Amen brother. I am right here with you. You've captured the subtle erosion of age eloquently. I wish I could tell you that the slide from 32 to 40 was less poignant than ...

Wait. I can. I think the early 30's is the hard part. For me it was something around 34 that was the nadir. Harder to keep weight off. Knees hurt in the morning. Sleep gets harder. Alcohol tollerance goes down the tubes. But at 35 I reached that classic midlife bit, and like many of my friends, we chose to get serious rather than buy a red convertible and find a mistress. I put my head down, spent 4 hours a week in the gym and at least that many riding. Drink less. Quit the other stuff. etc. etc...

The end result is that I'm probably sharper now than I was at 32 (YMMV). Sure, my hands still can't do more than half an hour on guitar hero (easily the hardest on my hands), but I've learned exactly what position and equipment I need to get the pressure off on the keyboard, and which mouse is perfect for my hand, so now I can party like it's 1992.

Great piece.

Staats wrote:

Ugh... I'm right there with you. Even as I type this, I'm debating between settling back down to watch television and enduring the pain to enjoy a bit of Day of Defeat.

It's all that dang pointing.

You know your are a games addict when you fight through the pain barrier to finish that level. My wife finally realised just how bad I was when I struggled to complete Doom 2 despite the fact that the game gave me awful nauseous headaches. I took to playing the game with an eyepatch over one eye because that gave me some relief. Thankfully my good lady resisted the impulse to leave me on the spot!!!

32 is too young for your body to start seizing up - Deffo get some medical advice on this. A good desk and chair for your PC may help. I find the crappy little computer tables useless - now I have a great big table so I can rest my whole fore arm on the table while using the mouse - definitely relieves some of the strain.

I wouldn't worry about your interest in playing games over time. You don't play games now as much as you used to and what's to say that trend won't continue, and why assume that 20 or 30 years from now you will still want to play games? I love gaming as much as anyone here but if when I'm 50 I don't find them interesting anymore then that's ok. I play them now because I enjoy them. If I don't enjoy them later then hopefully that means that something else has replaced them and I am still having fun doing something.

There are lots of valid things to worry about for the future but your taste isn't one of them. You don't really have an active role in deciding what appeals to you. You may find your self 3 decades from now sitting at a potter's wheel.

Get a lightweight mouse that's very sensitive so you don't have to move it much. Or sometimes a trackball helps. Support your forearm as you play. All that will help.

I occasionally get bad wrist pain when I do far too much gaming. I find wearing a good immobilizing wrist brace really helped, both while gaming and not (around the house or while sleeping).

Nahguag wrote:

A good desk and chair for your PC may help. I find the crappy little computer tables useless - now I have a great big table so I can rest my whole fore arm on the table while using the mouse - definitely relieves some of the strain.

I will second this, and cannot emphasize how important a good setup is. I am at very high risk because I am working at a computer for 8-12 hours per day, and I'm totally anal about ergonomics now. My home workstation is a lab table rescued from NCSU, and a comfy office chair with elbow rests. My arm is totally relaxed when mousing, elbow resting on the armrest and wrist on a raised wrist rest. I did an eighteen-hour ML3 raid in DAoC a couple years back with this setup - no trouble.

At work I moved things around a few weeks ago and within days my arm was aching. I was reaching up and over for my laptop - an adjustment of my chair fixed the problem. Little things like that make a huge difference.

Yeah, It's absolutly nessesary to have a good setup. I always monitor how I feel when I'm at work or gaming. If things start to hurt, you just doing something wrond. I also have a PC workplace and game alot at home. But I don't have any trouble yet, and I sure want to keep it that way.

And yes, the worse thing about losing, is losing from those youngsters.

Yeah, get yourself a wrist rest:

IMAGE(http://rps.net/QS/Images/wristrest.jpg)

Quintin_Stone wrote:

Yeah, get yourself a wrist rest:

Actually, you shouldn't use a wrist rest. Your wrists shouldn't be touching anything while typing or mousing. It puts additional strain on the carpal tunnels.

bennard wrote:
Quintin_Stone wrote:

Yeah, get yourself a wrist rest:

Actually, you shouldn't use a wrist rest. Your wrists shouldn't be touching anything while typing or mousing. It puts additional strain on the carpal tunnels.

I think you missed the point of that wrist rest;)

I think this revelation hit me when i once played deathmatch against my dad - himself a gamer and soley FPS gamer.... i thrashed him so hard that i felt pity for his skills. The good thing, the thing that comforts me the most is that he has completed almost as many FPS's as i have, meaning that those easy level options actually serve some purpose. So as with scaling down your daily jogs to long walks.... i wonder when my gaming level will be reduced from hard to easy....

Ahh, a post to lure me out of Lurk Mode...

I've been playing computer games since Pong was new and at 47, I think I can safely say I won't be stopping any time soon if ever.

I have a big problem with my wrist as well. A few hours of Oblivion or WoW can be sheer agony.. though it doesn't stop me.

I've been scouring the interweb looking for some alternative to the mouse that can stand up to gaming and not ruin what little skill I have at them. I also play FPS games such as Half-life2 etc. and so far, nothing I've tried has worked without ruining my aim and so on.

I'm now looking at vertical mice like this one:

http://www.evoluent.com/vmouse2.html

And I've tried this one in a non-gaming environment (at work):

http://www.contourdesign.com/rollerm...

I think the Rollermouse has a lot of promise.. just might work once you get used to it. It's a bar that goes below your keyboard.. the bar rolls and slides in all directions.. seems very responsive, at least in windows.

But at near 200.00, it's a little pricey. Still, once I make sure I can return it if it doesn't work out, I may fork over the dough and give it a go.

I've had to cut way back on my gaming because of my wrist pain but I can't seem to find a suitable replacement time waster.

My peers and I are now grown, however, and often married, sometimes with children. We're still playing games, but not like we used to. Not quite as often, and not quite as well

I had to laugh at this, because while the first part is true about the friends, if anything I'm playing more games as I get older. I now have the time & money (I'm 29) to do this. I'm also better now at gaming than I ever was before, although I will admit I play mostly strategy/mmporg games nowadays, although I do quite well on ET.

This could all change though at the drop of a hat. One day, I'll figure out how to integrate women into this world of gaming.

As for health, I do Salsa classes twice a week, which means that my whole body gets exercise without needing the gym (/shudder). It also means that you prevent burnout of fav games. And a wonderful method of meeting positive minded women.

Your dad is a potter? That is so absolutely cool. (sorry for the delay, somehow I missed this FPP when it went live.) Does your dad sell his stuff online anywhere? I love hand thrown pottery.

Klaz, groovy links, thanks! And Salsa? Dance on with your bad self! I wish I could talk the Duc into something like that.

duckideva wrote:

Your dad is a potter? That is so absolutely cool. (sorry for the delay, somehow I missed this FPP when it went live.) Does your dad sell his stuff online anywhere? I love hand thrown pottery.

Nope, his first love is teaching, so he's made a career out of that. He gives most of his personal work to friends and family. Although he got his MFA in ceramics, he's been very busy with glass and bronze casting in recent years (the man loves to blast, burn, and melt things).