We’ve all been in this situation - you’ve just picked up the new game all the kids are talking about, fire it up and dive in headfirst. Suddenly you realize, “Holy shit, I’ve been playing for 8 hours straight.” Your eyes are red and dry like one of those beach balls in the Ben Stein Clear Eyes commercials. Your wrists feel sore and tight, and your back… is adult-onset scoliosis possible? Probably.
Many of the negative symptoms that pop up after a long gaming binge can be prevented. Do we have to give up our marathon gaming sessions? Not necessarily, but they can be approached in a smarter way, lest we end up like this kid from Columbus, who landed in the hospital after a Call of Duty binge. You wouldn’t want to be one of the extreme cases that nagging parents/spouses cite when kicking their gamers outside, would you? Don’t ruin it for the rest of us, I burn in the sun.
Nutrition and Hydration
Earlier this week, we asked our Facebook friends what they stock up on in preparation for gaming marathons. Mountain Dew, Cheetos, alcohol, candy and other assorted “junk” were the responses. While we entirely agree with the need for snacks like these, it’s important to include one missing item - water. Humans can only survive 3-5 days without it. Symptoms of mild dehydration can include irritability, tiredness, headache and even dizziness-none of which will help you up your stats.
An important thing to remember is that caffeine and alcohol-as well as other stimulants-are diuretics, meaning they make your body lose fluids more rapidly. While you think you’re getting plenty of fluids from that sweet nectar of the gods Mountain Dew, it’s actually a net loss of fluids due to the caffeine. Anyone who regularly drinks a lot of beer should also know about the nasty side effects of those fluid losses - mainly frequent trips to the restroom and dehydration induced hangovers the next morning.
So, how do we balance this all out? We suggest following a tried and true method to combat hangovers - mix in water between sodas or alcoholic beverages. If you alternate between a Code Red, and a similar sized glass of water, it should help to keep you at adequate levels of hydration. Don’t forget to toss in some fruits and veggies into the mix between whole bags of Cheetos and Funyuns. And for the love of god, follow our friend Matt’s advice, and just dump the Cheetos from the bag directly into your mouth instead of using your hands - no orange grime on your mouse or controllers!
Ergonomics and RSI
No, RSI doesn’t stand for “Really Stupid Idiots”. Repetitive Stress Injuries occur from- you guessed it- repeatedly doing the same thing over and over. For example, holding down the W key, or pulling that left trigger then pulling the right trigger and making something die. Even writing repetitive, nasty comments on Youtube and Reddit can cause RSI issues. Any of you desk jockeys out there can attest to the pain and stiff wrists after a long day of pounding out that TPS report (with cover sheet) that is due by the end of the day. Anecdotally, when Diablo 3 came out I started to lose feeling in my right hand, which scared me into doing a bit of personal research to figure some of this stuff out. Luckily, I found that a few adjustments to your gaming station and your habits can help alleviate a lot of these issues.
A simple break and stretch from whatever you’re doing every hour or so can go a long way to avoiding these issues. Whenever the scoreboard comes up at the end of a match, or a dreaded “Loading…” screen interrupts your pillaging, take a moment to stand up, stretch your arms above your head, and push / pull on your hands to stretch out your wrists. Maybe this would be a good time to make contact with the outside world too, as somebody might want to know you’re still alive.
A decent desk and chair is also important for members of the glorious master race of PC gamers. My old desk had sharp corners, and my chair had un-padded arm rests, so nerves were compressing in my elbow and wrist, leading to some interesting issues. First were the pins and needles in my hand, then my fingers went numb, and before I knew it, half of my forearm was dead. Now, I have a desk whose top is rounded off, my chair has some fancy armrest pads, and I subsequently have sensation back in my hand. An added bonus to the new desk is a monitor stand that puts the monitor more in line with my eyes, eliminating the need to constantly look up or down, which in turn would stress my neck and back. Many options exist for monitor stands, arms, and mounts to fit your budget and needs.
Everyone’s body is different, so it may take some experimentation to find the optimum workstation setup for you. The key here is to listen to your body and don’t put off things until it gets too late. Pain, pins and needles and loss of feeling are all warning signs - just like the frantic beeping after your helicopter has taken too many hits in Battlefield - it’s time to bail out!
Our eyes are one of our most precious body parts, and to keep them strong we need to work them out. I’d suggest starting with staring at the sun for long periods of time, then once night falls, drive around with your sunglasses on. Really put them to the test!
Actually, don’t do any of that. Not only will you do irreparable damage, you might crash your car and die. The key to happy and healthy eyes is the same to happy and healthy wrists. Give them a break! Staring at the same lighted screen, at the same distance, causes strain in your eyes and the muscles that control them. Taking a break from staring at the screen when you are stretching is a huge help. Another suggestion is to vary the distance of what you’re looking at. Try staring down the hall, or looking out a window to focus on something far away.
Keep in mind that any TV or monitor is essentially a big light bulb. Just as you would never stare directly at the sun, staring directly into a bright light isn’t any good either. To minimize the harshness of the screen’s light, make sure you have adequate room lighting as well. Even a small desk lamp can help. Some companies sell “gamer glasses”, that supposedly reduce eye strain by putting a yellow filter on the lenses that blocks UVA / UVB light, and reduce harshness of the contrast between a bright screen and dim surroundings. I’ll withhold judgement as I don’t have any personal experience with them, but they’re worth mentioning as a potential benefit if you’re experiencing a lot of eye strain and other suggestions above haven’t helped.
A healthy gamer is a happy gamer (usually)
Will we ever be able to break the grip of epic games that completely absorb and hold us for hours on end? That’s a question we’ll each have to answer personally, but until we can definitively say “no”, using some of the tips above can keep us fragging each other for many years to come in decent health. Remember that pain and discomfort are your body’s way of warning you that something isn’t right. Just as you wouldn’t run your car without oil or coolant, make sure the machine that is you has plenty of nutrients and water. If your environment isn’t helping you hit your high scores, there are small changes we can all make to help alleviate some of the issues preventing your greatness. I’m not saying a new desk or fancy glasses will turn your K/D ratio around, but it might not hurt either.
After having written this article, hunched over a laptop, now my back hurts. Time to stretch!
Have you had to overcome any of these common health issues? Any tips or tricks you’ve found to keep gaming after long hours without sacrificing your health? Let us know in the comments below!