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.