Kotaku put out a piece this week on how to game without wrecking your body, something that’s probably bound to come up in the average MMORPG player’s life. It’s filled with basic tips like “drink water, ya moron” and “sit up straight” and “don’t eat garbage” and “look at stuff other than the screen” but there are also some useful tips in there like “stretch before you binge” – including your hips and wrists, which you might otherwise overlook.
For this week’s Overthinking, I’ve asked the writers to expound on two things: first, the most unhealthy video gaming moment or habit they’ve ever had, and second, one specific thing they do to keep themselves from completely destroying their bodies when their hobby has become their career.
Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Ah man, this one’s going to be kind of boring. For me, the unhealthiest gaming moment was probably my first Monster Hunter real meet. You paid a little bit of money so you could play MH with some people in a restaurant after hours (it was like 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.). The restaurant wasn’t serving food, just renting the space, so people brought “snacks” to share. Only the “snacks” were just candy and soda. By and for adults. I was 27 and possibly the youngest person there. So on a Friday night, after a hard day of work in Japan, I rode a train two hours to play Monster Hunter all night with strangers with nothing but candy to fuel us, then rode the train back the next day… and missed my stop, adding another 30 minutes or so to my trip. I don’t even remember the rest of the weekend I was so exhausted. What’s worse is that I would do it again every other week for the next 2 or 3 months, except I started napping on my train ride over and bringing dried fruit and vegetable chips for everyone because yeesh, as an adult, we really should try to up our snack game!
My healthiest gaming habit though? Literally working out when I play, whenever possible. I’m sadly cramped in my room with no space to weight lift, but I’d hit the bench during raid downtime in college (I was a class lead, so you know my folks were doing their jobs after each wipe!) or when harvesting nodes in Darkfall. I’d do curls, crunches, or pushups during loading screens or enemy turns on my consoles games. It’s probably one of the biggest reasons I still play Pokemon Go; I have a gaming community and I get to walk… or sprint to rare spawns on community day!
Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): Yeah I’m sure I’ve done all the bad stuff. I ate the junk. I forgot to drink enough fluids. I sit funny with a leg under my other leg because my feet only barely reach the ground when I’m sitting at the right height for my desk. I used to stay up until 4 a.m. raiding and roleplaying. Probably the worst was when I was pregnant and sitting even more weirdly than usual for months and thereby developed a nasty muscle knot in my back that used to take me out of commission for days until I finally found a doctor who would do more than hand me some Vicodin. Months of therapy (and sitting on a ball instead of a chair during my last pregnancy) and I am mostly back to normal for the past few years. But it was rough there for a while.
I used a giant gaming mouse for years and caused myself crippling wrist pain before I figured out the mouse was the cause, so fixing that was the best thing I’ve done by far. That’d be followed by sleep. Having children made me value sleep so much more. I don’t miss sleep for games now. I can’t really enjoy it half-zonked out anyway, falling asleep on my keyboard so guildies had to call and wake me up to move to the next camp spot – so why bother? I’d rather enjoy it – awake. I also used to try light step aerobics at a counter while playing WoW. It’s doable; I just don’t think it did much.
Of course, we’re talking physical health here. Justin’s advice is always the best in terms of mental health and getting your mind right when it comes to gaming.
Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): When it comes to being unhealthy, two things come to mind. First is prioritizing gaming over anything else that really should be more important — family, work, responsibilities, etc. But in terms of health, I’d say that some of my more bonehead moments have come when MMORPGs have held midnight releases and I’ve stayed up really late (or gotten up way too early) to be among the first in the game. I always ended up regretting it, because if I don’t get at least seven hours, I’m a wreck for the next day. So sleep over gaming, always.
In that vein, I’d advise to listen to your body. If you’re tired, put a bookmark in your questing and come back the next day. Don’t force it. Take breaks and pursue smaller goals. I haven’t done much “marathoning” in years, and I honestly don’t regret it. Smaller and more focused gaming sessions can be just as fulfilling and purposeful.
MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): Me? Unhealthy video gaming moments? I might have had my share of one or two. They feel pretty minor, though. I’ve slept gamed at the keyboard before (auto-follow and one-key healing ftw!), forgotten to eat more times than I can count (can’t really blame gaming though since I just don’t experience hunger), and gotten emotionally wrung out thanks to crazy people and their drama. Any marathon gaming sessions can lead to these. But the one thing that comes to mind for recently is streaming for 14 hours on Tuesday! Oh my goodness: Even with short breaks between the three streams and quick breaks during the longest ones to stand up and stretch and such, my back and backside were both sore by the time I finally went to bed. My wrists are still aching. I literally went to lay down between two streams for two hours just to really stretch out on my memory foam.
For me, movement is a key. Not only do I fidget and move around in my chair, but I make sure to get up often to walk around and stretch (damaged kidneys actually really help me be sure to do this LOL!). I have a small stool under my desk to with two steps to change leg position often. Movement also includes my eyes — looking away from the screen to things on my desk, up at family to chat or to kitties, or out window. I make sure to move my eyes away from the screen as often as I can.
Tina Lauro Pollock (@purpletinabeans): My unhealthiest gaming period was definitely in my early twenties: I picked up World of Warcraft again in a big way after a breakup and also started writing about games for a small independent site around the same time, and fairly soon I found that I was spending more waking hours gaming than I was studying… oops! 24-hour gaming sessions were not uncommon and I didn’t really bother with breaks and diversions. I lost some weight at the same time, having not much focus on eating during busy days of burying feelings in writing and playing, and I wasn’t doing much socialising outside of the gamespace and Ventrilo. Thankfully, I found my balance after a few months of burning the candle at both ends and my gaming time became much more positive fairly quickly as soon as I started making the habit physically more social by gaming at my local gaming café with real-world friends.
I still eat, sleep, and breathe gaming, and it is still a massive social tool in my world, but I took up cheerleading at 29 when I returned to university to study Computer Science and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’m now a qualified coach and still compete: I’m just back from University Nationals and I dedicate around 10 hours a week to practice. This helps me with fitness, focus, and endurance: When you stretch daily for flexibility and train hard throughout the week, you’re far less likely to have that back, shoulder, neck, and arm ache after long play sessions. I want to also swear by dog ownership: Brendan walks my two twice daily and his general health and fortitude for long gaming and programming sessions is far better with the physical activity too!
Patron Archebius: When I was in college, my dorm room had this tiny little desk that was roughly the length, width, and height of a stack of Post-It notes. Of course, that didn’t stop me from spending hours gaming at it, but that meant my wrists were always pressing against the edge of the desk, which, from what I now understand, is not considered ergonomically friendly. I always knew it was time to take a break when my hands started to go numb. Looking back, I really should have found a better setup, but for some reason I figured that daily numb hands were just the price I had to pay for going to a second-rate school instead of my mom’s alma mater, which presumably had much nicer desks. And real teachers. Prestigious opportunities. Greener grass. Etc.
Of course, for me, my hobby isn’t my career. But I do work in IT, which means eight hours at a desk, and then usually a couple hours of gaming in the evening. That means bad habits snowball – if I do something at work, I probably do it at home, too. For that reason, I’ve really had to focus on keeping my posture straight and taking breaks to do other things. Nothing like going on vacation for a week to help you realize that the pain in your right shoulder isn’t a pinched nerve, but the byproduct of how you sit at your desk…