Thumbless in Seattle
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.