Pac-Man elbow. Space Invaders wrist. Back in the early '80s, video-game addicts probably suffered from one of these overuse injuries—usually caused by the repetitive motion of jerking a joystick or mashing a fire button—at one point or another. The cure was quick and physically painless—a little rest and ice and you were good to go. Those quarters were good for laundry anyway.
Like the games themselves, video-game injuries are becoming more complex and sophisticated with each passing year. Forget tendonitis: Nintendo Wii junkies are figuring out how to damage their bodies in increasingly fine fashion. Black eyes. Cuts so deep they require stitches. Even broken bones.
The main culprit is the Wiimote, a wireless controller that has a tendency to wallop innocent bystanders at high speeds and smash through light fixtures with ease. Compounding the problem is the Wiimote's flimsy wrist-strap, which is known to fall apart with excessive use. A Wiimote in the hands of an overzealous user is a weapon with the ability to inflict blunt force trauma and long-range air strikes, and it is as dangerous to the person using it as it is to those within arm's distance. It's almost enough to make you unplug your console.
"My girlfriend was playing tennis and pulled a muscle in her chest," says Gerry Hubley, who has also experienced severe shoulder pain from playing Wii Sports: Home Run Derby. She went to the doctor and he told her not to do anything vigorous. She didn't tell him how she did it, because she didn't want the doctor telling her not to play anymore."
Even pets aren't immune to injury. "I was playing Wii Sports Bowling, and had a good system down which basically revolved around me swinging my arm as hard as I could," explains Benjamin Eagles, a casual gamer. "When I went forward for the throw and release, my sister's cat jumped up onto the bed, and without me even knowing it I smashed the Wiimote off of the cat, hitting it in the head. The cat came out unscathed, but the sudden impact of the controller meeting the cat's head caused the motion sensor to shake loose, rendering it basically useless."
The Wii injury bug has become so commonplace that the New England Journal of Medicine has dubbed injury from Wii overuse, "Wiiitis," and several websites have popped up, including wiiinjury.com and wiidamage.com, documenting Wii-related incidents. The New York Times, the London Times and The Wall Street Journal have even dedicated space to the growing epidemic. Consumer watchdogs are on high alert. Should Wii junkies be alarmed?
"It's being played up," says Darryl Wall, manager of The Last Gamestore in Dartmouth. "I think people are being stupid, to be honest. Anyone who uses the Wii knows how hard it is to break the straps, so anyone who does break it has to be ridiculous. I had mine since launch and have played almost every game that's come out, and my TV doesn't have a big crack in it. It boggles the mind."
An avid gamer—his favourite console is the Xbox 360—Wall places some of the blame on inexperienced players. Games like Mario Party 8 and Wii Sports are simple multi-player games designed for parties and family fun, which allows people who have never laid hands on a joystick before to enter the fold. Watching Uncle Mort try his hand at Wii Boxing might be good for a laugh, but it also might be good for a trip to the hospital.
"It's a console for people who don't play video games so you're bound to see stuff like that happen," says Wall. "Not that I am saying that people who play games are smarter than people who don't play video games, but I kind of am, aren't I?"
Wall preaches a common-sense approach to using the Wii. No overzealous playing, use the wrist strap when needed and always remember to wash your hands. "Don't eat greasy pizza and expect to have a good grip on the Wiimote," he says with a laugh.
Video games and video-game injuries have evolved since Space Invaders wrist made its debut over 20 years ago, but good old-fashioned common sense is still good old-fashioned common sense. If your arm is sore from playing too much Wii Tennis, switch games for a bit. If a friend is swinging for the fences on Home Run Derby, move all breakable objects and stay out of the way. And for the love of god, go get that laundry done. No one likes a dirty gamer, not even a dirty gamer with a Wii.
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