May 14th, 2004

Will New Video Games Improve Productivity or Increase Risks?

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Want to tell the on-screen characters where to go and how to move rather than fiddling with buttons or joy sticks, while still immediately responding to instant messages from home or the office? Then the next wave of handheld video gaming systems may be just what you, or your favorite gamer, is looking for.

While two big names in video games, Sony and Nintendo, are hoping to broaden customer bases by adding features like voice recognition and instant messaging to their newest handheld games, from an ergonomics perspective, they may be doing even more for their systems.

Ergonomically speaking, incorporating voice recognition into gaming systems could have an impact on today’s kids (and tomorrow’s workers). Already extensive video game play has been targeted as a potential risk factor for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) like “Atari Thumb” or “Nintendo Thumb” as well as back pain and other injuries associated with the hours gamers log in front of video systems. A study published in 2002 by the University of Warwick’s Cybernetic Culture Research Center even found that technology like handheld video games and text messaging, has turned the thumb into the most dexterous digit for people under age 25.

In a December, 2003 interview with Ergonomics Today, Karen Jacobs, Ed.D., CPE, OTR/L, FAOTA, a Clinical Professor of Occupational Therapy at Boston University, and a mom, warned that the problems associated with video games are similar to the problems children face when using a computer extensively. “If you see the kids using [portable] games, their necks are forward flexed, they’re not holding the game with their arms next to their body, they have awkward postures. There’s repetition and duration,” Jacobs said.

While voice recognition systems built into hand-held games may help reduce some of the injury risks associated with the thumbs and make for more fun and productive play, what the new systems still won’t do is solve the problems associated with too much time spent with the gaming system. That, said Jacobs, is the responsibility of the parent.

“[The children] could be in back of a car. They could be on the playground during a break,” Jacob said. Added to other stressors like heavy backpacks, regular computer use, desks and chairs that don’t adapt to small, growing bodies and even musical instruments, Jacobs said video games, with voice recognition or not, may be just one more component contributing to the risk factors children face today for developing future MSDs.

Sources: Tech TV; Ergonomics Today



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