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Potential Health Problems Of Online Games Use


Potential Health Problems

Online games are games that are played over the Internet together with many different people throughout the world. Online games can be classified into different genres, for example MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), online arcade games and Facebook games. No matter which genre the online games belong to, they share a similarity, which is they require long hours of constant playing to achieve high levels, thus demanding players to have their hands on the mouse and keyboard and eyes on the computer screen all the time. This can potentially lead to many health complications such as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), tendonitis, and insomnia which will be discussed below. These conditions may worsen or deteriorate particularly when the players have inappropriate sitting positions.

Computer Vision Syndrome or CVS is a set of eye problems caused by the prolonged staring on computer screens. There are several syndromes of CVS, namely eye strain, headaches, backaches, neck aches, blurred vision, double vision, dry eyes, irritated eyes and fatigue. These syndromes are usually not permanent and are only apparent after a prolonged visually demanding computer usage which in this case is playing online games. CVS is generally caused by prolonged staring at computer screens for long period of time (2 hours or more) without rest in between, staring directly at a light source which is the computer screen, low contrast of computer screens particularly when reading text and reduction in eye blinking while staring at computer screens. (Adams, n.d.) How do these relate to online games? Online games especially MMORPG require long hours of concentration of staring on the computer screen as the character might get killed anytime when the player's eyes lift off the screen. Many online game players can play for more than 10 hours straight without any break, this means that they would have been staring at the computer screen for that long and the frequency of blinking of their eyes would have reduced drastically during that period of time. Playing online games also involves a lot of reading and typing as this is the main form of communication between players in the games. Moreover, concentrating intensely on the games is expected to cause fatigues to the eyes which can cause headache. This is because when we use the computer at a fixed and near distances for long continuous duration, we will lose our focusing ability rapidly, and even more so if we are using it under inadequate lightning or glare from overhead lightning.

Since computer games usually keep users occupied for long, concentrated hours, this extensive use of computer will often give rise to Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI's). There are a few alternative names for RSI such as repetitive stress injury, repetitive motion injuries, repetitive motion disorder (RMD), and several others. RSI refers to injury of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems that may be induced by repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compression or sustained awkward position. (Wiki, 2011). Among the many types of injuries categorised under RSI, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is the most prevalent among computer game enthusiasts. It is the “swelling inside a narrow tunnel formed by bone and ligament in the wrist and nerves that conduct sensory and motor impulses to and from the hand, leading to pain, tingling and numbness.”(Dowshen, 2008). People who suffer from CTS will most likely experience pain, aching, swelling, and diminished coordination and agility, weakness in the fingers or hands, and paresthesia (pins &needles) affecting some parts of the fingers.(Anliker, 2010) Another RSI to be mentioned is tendonitis, which refers to the inflammation of the tendon of the wrist, caused by incorrect positioning of the hands. Tendonitis in the wrist of hand is quite ubiquitous among computer users. Severe tendonitis may aggravate into CTS. Now, the question is how would playing online games invite the risk of Repetitive Strain Injuries such as CTS and tendonitis?

While playing computer games, users will be repetitively clicking the mouse or pressing the same few control keys for extended hours. They would usually do the actions using more-than-necessary force due to intense challenge and aggressive desire to win the game. It is normal that one will not be conscious of how much force he or she is using, eventually the fingers and wrist flexors will be stronger than the opposing extensor muscles from the constant “exercise”. This will cause joint or muscle imbalance and mark the onset of RSI. People who spend longer hours on the keyboard or the computer mouse are more prone to RSI. As online games are generally team-oriented, the members cannot simply withdraw from the game even if his hands and fingers are overly exhausted from long hours of non-stop playing. In this case, a proper ergonomic set up can reduce the amount of stress being applied to the hands and wrist but is insufficient to prevent RSI if the same action is done without adequate breaks. Another prominent cause is maintaining a poor posture for lengthy durations which is common when one is too deeply absorbed in the games to be aware about his strained posture.

Other than RSI's, another price that gamers have to pay is potential risk of getting insomnia. Although there had been researches showing that games can enhance certain areas of visual functioning, the downside of playing too much computer games is that it contributes to the ever increasing cases of insomnia. Insomnia can affect one regardless of his/her age. It is a kind of sleep disorder where one experiences difficulties falling or staying asleep. Patients of insomnia usually have several general symptoms such as having trouble going back to sleep after waking up repeatedly during the night, waking up unusually early in the morning and feeling weary upon waking and during the day, problem with concentration or memory and irritability. Insomnia caused by internet games is more specifically known as primary insomnia. According to Dr. Nakamori Suganuma of Osaka University, Japan in the article “Internet use can trigger insomnia”, internet use affects self-perceived insufficient sleep more than TV watching not only in younger users but also middle-aged or aged users. (Hendry, 2007)

The reason why engaging in internet games before sleeping can trigger insomnia is because the audio and visual aspects of games including the light, sound and movement of computer screens is vastly stimulating and therefore, keeps the brain cognitively awake throughout the night. Ideally there should be a gap of at least one hour or more before hitting the pillow. (McFarlane, 2008) Besides, these games may take an emotional toll on internet game players and create anxiety which bring about insomnia. Many online games allow players to communicate with each other and this also make way for verbal and emotional assault. For example, the opponents may try to influence you by viciously attacking you via mocking comments. It is normal that you will feel angry or upset especially if you lose the battle. Consequently, the emotional distress will take away a good night's sleep. Moreover, an exhilarating internet game with bright display will inhibit the nocturnal changes in melatonin, which too, affect one's sleep. This is due to the fact that playing computer games increases one's mental activity and impinges on the physiological indicators of one's biological clock including the nocturnal melatonin concentration. (Melville, 2003). Insomnia must not be taken lightly as it can be the root of other problems such as poor academic performance, traffic accidents, disciplinary issues and health problems.

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