Thumbless in Seattle

right hand in brace

A moment's hurry at just the wrong time combined with two big rackmount Dells, and it was time for a trip to the emergency room. The verdict was some cuts that needed stitches and a broken bone in my thumb that needed 3 pounds of half-cast layered over a bunch of other wrappings. For the record, I did NOT smack the doctor at the urgent care clinic when he couched that verdict in terms like "with your age and condition" and the sort of wheedling, faux-soothing tone that doctors used on my great-grandmother when she didn’t want to take her medications.

The whole thing just sets my teeth on edge. There's a Velcro strap holding this surgical sandwich together, and the exposed-hook side picks up everything but boys and money. It itches. It's a pain (in both respects) to do just about anything. And the cruelest blow of all, it's just about impossible to game. A lot of injuries you can work around, but most games don't go well when free use of your dominant hand is limited to your pinkie.

I've been scrabbling around like a mouse in a Mason jar, trying anything I can think of to make a game work. Consoles aren't going well. I've tried holding a controller on my lap, angling it in various degrees so I can try to reach across with my left thumb. I managed to get myself logged in to Xbox Live that way, but beyond that it's been a bust even in the arcade realms. You can bloody well forget that trigger buttons exist. I spent some time working it different ways, but all I really got out of it was some smart-alec comments about trying to play Mass Effect 2 one-handed (that's what she said!) that my younger son interjected to try to lighten my frustrated glowering and muttering.

I went to my PC and broke out Sins of a Solar Empire. I was poking my big trackball around with my pinky and then having to move over to the left button on the other side to hit it. That left me with no mousing precision or speed and an inability to effectively drag the cursor to select. Tried switching to left hand but I wasn't much better off. I spent way too much time cursing the controls and not nearly enough on actual strategy. I could fight my way out of a wet paper bag, but if I ended up in a plastic one I was hosed.

In a drive to make anything work, I tried playing it with my voice recognition software. That was an interesting exercise, but only in futility. As good as Dragon can be in the business realms, I couldn't come up with a string of commands that meant "Select Kodiak Heavy Cruiser at top left of screen and chase down that yellow-bellied Vasari," so it just sat there. I re-read the documentation and spent a couple hours trying other options that did just about anything but what I wanted. Thankfully it continued to ignore me when I finally lost my temper after many failed attempts at phrasing coherent commands and made a couple pointed suggestions for actions it could take on itself.

I got so disgruntled with the whole business I went back and started powering through vocals for The Beatles: Rock Band because I knew I could do it. I five-starred all the songs and all the Chapter Challenges. So now I have unlocked all the pictures and videos, sport a gold microphone icon, and I’m swilling hot tea with lemon and honey to nurse some thrashed vocal chords. Thank you, Helter Skelter. Now I’ve got to let that rest for a day or two. Gorram it!

I know I'm not the only gamer who has faced this kind of challenge. I remembered that back in 2007, one of our forum regulars who goes by the name DSGamer announced to the forums that he'd managed to injure both of his pinkie fingers. I contacted him and asked him what he did to try to adjust.

At the time I played the DS a lot, thus my handle. I had an original DS, the Phat, and I would hook my pinkies into the GBA slot and that way I could get a pretty good grip on a system that was otherwise uncomfortable for me. With no use of the pinkies, the DS was out of the question. So it put me on hiatus from a whole console.

This, along with my wife doing the Ironman, led me to purchase an XBox 360. I figured with that controller I could just adjust, and I did. The only real issue was that sometimes my pinkies would bang into each other as they dangled below the controller. I also didn't play many action games. So I started off playing board games and games like Uno on Live. This led me to games like Catan and eventually board gaming. So there is definitely a happy ending.

I don't have a DS anymore.

I didn't give up trying different things, and I asked some friends for input. I got some interesting ideas with some good results. The Wii is hit-or-miss. I can get beat like I stol'd sumptin, uh, I mean "play kendo on Wii Sports Resort just like usual," but I can’t defend my honor over on the archery range. Can’t really navigate Mario, but I can chase star bits for someone else playing Super Mario Galaxy. I already was a pretty good shot lefty, so House of the Dead and Link’s Crossbow Training worked pretty well. I dug out that old, turn-based time vampire Civilization and did the same thing I used to do every night: tried to take over the world--only this time I'd do it with my pinkie. The old-school text adventures like Zork were a fun blast from the past (and fared better with the voice recognition, that's for sure).

What You See Is Never The Real Problem
I've been dealing with life with one hand effectively tied behind my back for over two weeks now. In the intervening time I've reached some clarity. I realize the part that really makes me want to punch something and scream in a primal rage is that, if I sit down and face facts rather than let my annoyance at his condescending bedside manner mask them, the first doctor wasn't in actual error. I am older. I do have a couple different medical "conditions" that mean that I have to take a little more consideration with these things. But no one wants to hear that, and admitting it to myself rowels at my soul.

As infuriating as this whole situation is, I can at least look forward to an end. Aging and the sins of a misspent youth have given me a large collection of weather-wise aches and those conditions he was talking about. They impact my gaming all the time and they won't be going away. They are the basis of my struggles with the bass pedal in all the Rock Band games, and conspire with my work/kids/life schedule in my getting my arse shot off by anything smarter than a grunt.

Anyone who knows me can tell you I'm not good at being told I can't do something. It may be a perfectly valid point, but there are so many things that have begun to limit what I can physically do that I won't give an inch I don't have to. Telling me I can't do something may not mean that’s the next thing to do, but it moves it several notches up the priority list. That's certainly been true for gaming these last weeks. I'd been complacently sitting on Assassin's Creed 2 since mid-January. The minute I can't play it, having it just sit there is an itch I can’t scratch.

I asked DSGamer how he felt about gaming in general at that time.

I can't say it make me want to game more or less. The thing is, I dislocated the first pinkie while playing in a Rec league basketball game. I injured the pinkie and just taped it up and finished the game. I played well, too. Scored 25 points. The next week I came out with that pinkie in a splint and dislocated the other pinkie. I kept playing. I finished out the season. So I'm not one to give up easily when my body says "no". I just played through it, on the basketball court and in front of the TV. I even rode my bike with my pinkies splayed to the side. I think my biggest takeaway was that you do what you want to do as long as it's safe.

So in my case I kept playing games, but I played slower games. I played some RPGs, I played some board games on the 360 and I played some analog board games. But I kept being me. Kept working, kept playing. It did get me thinking, though, about the future. I know I will have to adapt more in the future as things come up. As my body gives. Right now I'm dealing with tendinitis in my thumbs. What that means for me is more iPhone games, fewer FPSes. At least for a while.

I guess that means I also learned that I'll have a hard time letting go if I ever have to.

I did some checking around online and found some resources for gamers who face disabilities and movement limitations. I've been reading game reviews up on AbleGamers, hoping for tips and tricks that might help. It's shown me there's a lot more out there than I'd thought, but it also underscores the incredible scope of the problem. I won't be alone in my struggles with these things as the gaming population begins its own climb up and over the hill.

I went to see my regular doctor and now the stitches have been removed. Instead of that ridiculous mess I’d had to wear, I've got a lighter brace that gives me a lot more freedom with those other fingers. Still not all that great for gaming, but at least I can comb my own hair again. If all goes well, I get to take this thing off in two more weeks and just wear a regular finger-splint for a couple more. He asked me how things had been going, and I gave him chapter and verse on all my frustrations, starting what the other guy said and what I felt about it. He chuckled a bit, but he was sympathetic. He already knew I am not a complacent patient from our other adventures tilting at windmills.

In the end, I'm going to have to behave myself. I have Assassin's Creed 2, Need for Speed: Shift, Mass Effect 2 and Bioshock 2 each burning their own smoking hole through my desk. I’ll work around what I can, and wait for what I can’t. I'll figure this out somehow.

But my thumb had better be in working order by March 9th when Final Fantasy XIII hits shelves, or I'm going to be one grumpy, gimpy gamer.

Comments

My roommate dislocated his thumb and tore 2 tendons about a year and a half ago.
After he got it fixed and went through the initial cast period, a few hours of video gaming a day was a part of his physical therapy. He did warm ups with his putty and did stretching and then would settle in and play Killzone 2 multi-player for hours.
He got mobility and strength back in his thumb at an amazing rate because he had a direct desire to and actually rehabbed it every day.

I figured out what worked for me, as you can gather from my handle....

Your best bet is older slower PC games (Civ's many incarnations) Commandos or other slower RTS games or selected Wii games like bowling, tennis or Boom Blocks will work OK one handed. I managed to find a few when my baby daughter was really small - enough to keep me going in the small hours of the night when it was my turn to be awake.
Boom Blocks was very satisfying, Civ on no sleep isn't so much (and it can keep the no sleep thing happening too long dammit just 1 more tech level and I can take them).

Euchre, Crib and other card games work as does Peggle and Zuma and there is a lot of fun to be had in the rest of the Popcap range with one hand I suspect.

Forget FPS, console and Ipod gaming (unless its card games) and that should get you through.

I wonder if anyone made it through driving game on the PC one handed - its possible I suspect.

I broke the 4th and 5th metacarpals on my right (dominate) hand last Summer while preparing for a Hap Ki Do demonstration. I was in a wrap/brace for the first three weeks (the doc thought it would heal without a cast) but then ended up needing surgery after all. I was in a cast for two weeks and another hard brace for two weeks after that. I had no idea just how devastating that was going to be to my day to day life.

Writing was gimped. Taking a shower with a baggie over my hand blew chunks. Even having to dial it down for HKD classes was managable. The worst part of it all was the impact it had on my gaming and general computer use (job and R&R). It took me all of two hours before I had found a small saw and cut out a hole around my thumb so I could at least use a mouse a grip a gaming controller.

Not that I was able to do much beyond turn based games and some XBLA titles that just used the left stick and a button or two. But at least I was able to do something.

I sympathize and understand you've got it even worse given it's your thumb that's out of commission. Good luck with the turn based games and Pac-Man (and I hope you have a speedy recovery).

Playing solitaire for a few hours each day using the mouse left-handed got me better at using it. It was never as good as the right hand but when that was out of commission it was better than nothing.

You might be able to play Katamari if you have it. I discovered while trying to earn one of the multiplayer trophies in Katamari Forever that it's actually pretty easy to set the controller on the ground and just use your whole hand to steer with the analog sticks.

I had a similar problem:

http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/4...

Sorry to hear of your injury. I got Broken Sword 3 in the Steam Winter sale and am currently enjoying it. It has a control scheme that I hadn't seen before, using WASD and the cursor keys, which for me translates into the first 3 fingers of each hand. Not sure what other games use that scheme, but it works fine there.

From the sounds of it, the time to get an image on the outside of your cast has passed. Still fun though...
IMAGE(http://neatorama.cachefly.net/misscellania/castoo.png)

Coincidentally I just got back from my first physical therapy session after breaking by left thumb and pulling the attached ligament out of place during a fall while skiing. It was kinda rough when I had the big cast on, but got better once they moved to the smaller brace.

I had the surgery right around the time Mass Effect 2 released, and didn't want to wait a month to be able to play it so I bought this crazy 17 button mouse , remapped all the most used keys to it and surprisingly enough was able to play through without much difficulty.

Haven't played any console games since the injury, as managing two thumbsticks was impossible. Looking forward to picking them back up this evening now that the thumb in theory should be mobile enough to at least attempt it.

First of all, why not remove the time pressure entirely and try going the turn based strategy route? I'm sure Civilization would be very doable with a cast on.

Secondly, this is a great opportunity to delve into board games.

A guy at another gaming forum I go to lost his arm in a motorcycle accident.

I second wizard_in_motley. When I developed mild carpal tunnel in my right wrist from too much dungeon delving in Diablo 2, I started using my left hand for mousing at work, and my right hand for mousing at home. This helped me get rid of the pain, but people at work still think I'm weird for mousing "backwards".

I dug out that old, turn-based time vampire Civilization and did the same thing I used to do every night: tried to take over the world--only this time I'd do it with my pinkie.
Valmorian wrote:

First of all, why not remove the time pressure entirely and try going the turn based strategy route? I'm sure Civilization would be very doable with a cast on.

Look. Colleen and I worked far too hard on that sentence for you to skim over it entirely.

Now go back and reread the whole thing!

Wow. There is this part of me that really isn't all that surprised since I know you so well. If you ever need some cheering up, you could talk to my Pekoppa plant and ask it all sorts of funny questions.

This is probably a killer for you for I see you regularly playing Beatles: Rock Band.

Have a speedy recovery!

TsuDhoNimh wrote:

I second wizard_in_motley. When I developed mild carpal tunnel in my right wrist from too much dungeon delving in Diablo 2, I started using my left hand for mousing at work, and my right hand for mousing at home. This helped me get rid of the pain, but people at work still think I'm weird for mousing "backwards".

This is exactly what I do. After three months or so of using the left hand at work I am actually pretty dexterous with it.

Kier wrote:
TsuDhoNimh wrote:

I second wizard_in_motley. When I developed mild carpal tunnel in my right wrist from too much dungeon delving in Diablo 2, I started using my left hand for mousing at work, and my right hand for mousing at home. This helped me get rid of the pain, but people at work still think I'm weird for mousing "backwards".

This is exactly what I do. After three months or so of using the left hand at work I am actually pretty dexterous with it.

Every once in a while I sit at someone's computer to do tech support and can't figure out why something seems wrong.... and then I realize they use the mouse left handed and I've just fallen back into goin' southpaw.

wordsmythe wrote:
I dug out that old, turn-based time vampire Civilization and did the same thing I used to do every night: tried to take over the world--only this time I'd do it with my pinkie.
Valmorian wrote:

First of all, why not remove the time pressure entirely and try going the turn based strategy route? I'm sure Civilization would be very doable with a cast on.

Look. Colleen and I worked far too hard on that sentence for you to skim over it entirely.

Now go back and reread the whole thing!

I, for one, highly appreciated the Animaniacs reference.

For you console whippersnappers today, it's all about thumbs; for us PC gamers, it's all fingers and wrists. In 2001, I finally ordered the Half-Life Super Duper Bundle Edition -- Counter-Strike would finally be mine!

And while the package was in the mail I broke my right index finger playing sports. The timing was perfect. I developed a rotated-hand technique to use my middle-and-ring fingers for the mouse, but it sure was uncomfortable.

michaelar wrote:

I developed a rotated-hand technique to use my middle-and-ring fingers for the mouse, but it sure was uncomfortable.

For games with lots of fast clicking, L4D pistols for instance, I find my middle finger is more effective and tires less.

Coldstream wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:
I dug out that old, turn-based time vampire Civilization and did the same thing I used to do every night: tried to take over the world--only this time I'd do it with my pinkie.

I, for one, highly appreciated the Animaniacs reference.

I only registered it when Wordsmythe reposted it.

Kier wrote:
TsuDhoNimh wrote:

I second wizard_in_motley. When I developed mild carpal tunnel in my right wrist from too much dungeon delving in Diablo 2, I started using my left hand for mousing at work, and my right hand for mousing at home. This helped me get rid of the pain, but people at work still think I'm weird for mousing "backwards".

This is exactly what I do. After three months or so of using the left hand at work I am actually pretty dexterous with it.

It is pretty sinister.

I'm not sure exactly how much mobility you have momgamer but hopefully you get back to your normal gaming ways soon.

When I was 16 I destroyed my dominant (right) hand in a mountain bike accident which is what led to my handle. Even though I had hardware sticking out of my hand for months I ended up finding a way to play just about anything I wanted to play.

My thumb was more or less fixed in a position and after some trial and error I found out that in order to move in FPS style games on consoles I had to use my left hand to move the controller around my fixed thumb and that would let me manipulate the camera. I eventually got so good at this I was nearly as good as I was before my accident. The major difference was that I didn't have the same threshold for long periods of gaming.

When in physical therapy before having more surgery done on my hand I was told that playing video games while I was injured played a big role in my ability to recover mobility in my hand.

I'm a filthy skimmer and going to assume others have already well covered the various gaming options.

Next time you set out to abuse your vocal chords, be sure to lubricate. A sip or two of pineapple juice every few songs keeps me going through long Rock Band get togethers where no one else can be convinced to pick up the mic. Don't down it like you're trying to hydrate with it, use water or something else for that. The juice is simply to sip enough to keep things feeling smooth.

Thanks gang. With that lighter brace (that's the one in the pic) I'm doing much better. I picked up a couple Wii games (that Crystal Chronicles one and No More Heroes II) and I'm having fun.

My daughter did drag me back into Rockband tonight though - she's wants to gold five-star the Abbey Road Medley with her on drums and me on vocals. We got a regular five-star tonight, but we've got some work ahead of us to turn it gold.

I've got a doctor's appointment Thursday, and we'll see where I'm gonna be next week.

How about a Wii.. There's probably a bunch of stuff you can do with your left arm and the motion controller. Boom Blox for one... as long as you don't need the nunchuck.

Hey, momgamer. Sorry I didn't chime in earlier. I didn't even realize this was up. I have to say that your story is much worse than mine for one reason only. Opposable thumbs. You can stand injuries to other digits. Kobe Bryant has been averaging 35 points a game in a stretch with a broken index finger. I was bombing 3s and dribbling (awkwardly) with no pinkies. So other digits are something you can overcome. But injuring your thumbs? Those are what make us human and not monkeys. I'm so sorry. Get well soon. I would give you some advice, but that's a little tougher. Lots of board games. Seriously. Board games rock, online and off.

Your interview, actually, got me thinking again about my mortality of my digits. I got a Kindle reader for my birthday, in part to take the pressure off my thumbs holding open books, pinching the edges, etc. More adjustments will be in my future, I'm sure. Thumbs are vital.

DSGamer wrote:

But injuring your thumbs? Those are what make us human and not monkeys.

I'm pretty sure that monkeys have opposable thumbs. Rhinos, on the other hand, suffer from a shocking lack of manual dexterity!

I just sliced the tip of my finger off requiring 8 stitches.. it's my finger that hits the A key on my keyboard. Rendering me unable to turn left! BC2 is down for now! Thank god I can still use a console controller!

El-Producto wrote:

I just sliced the tip of my finger off requiring 8 stitches.. it's my finger that hits the A key on my keyboard. Rendering me unable to turn left! BC2 is down for now! Thank god I can still use a console controller!

You know, this would make an excellent medical boards question:

A 25 year old male presents with traumatic amputation of the left fourth fingertip. The patient states that since the time of trauma, he has suffered an inability to turn left, or circle-strafe in a clockwise manner. The most appropriate treatment for this movement disorder is:

a) Advise the patient to learn to love turning right.
b) Inform the patient that if it was him you were playing against the other night, circle-strafing wasn't doing him any good anyway.
c) Prescribe console gamepad usage with reevaluation in one month for return to real gaming.
d) Comfort the patient, and let him know that what you were doing with the nurse is what happens when two people love each other very much.
e) Refer the patient to a non-gamer neurologist, and watch in amusement as a neurological diagnosis is sought.

f) Lupus?

El-Producto wrote:

I just sliced the tip of my finger off requiring 8 stitches.. it's my finger that hits the A key on my keyboard. Rendering me unable to turn left! BC2 is down for now! Thank god I can still use a console controller!

I lost the tip of my left middle finger when I was 15. That'll heal right up, although a few mm shorter and with a slightly weird shape nail.