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Cybernaut

‘Nin-tendonitis’ strikes gamers

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Of all the people I’ve played video games with and against over the years, none have surpassed my friend Brian. He was always first in line when a new console came out, and always had a full range of sports games on hand in which to crush his friends. He’d take the worst team, give you the best team and a five-goal head start, and still win by a comfortable margin.

His secret? A small piece of tissue he called his "Sega Muscle".

I don’t know the medical name for this muscle, but if you squeeze the knuckle of your thumb against the side of your forefinger, the muscle between the two bulges prominently. Well Brian’s Sega Muscles were at least twice as big as the next guy’s, thanks to his rigorous training regimen.

I bring this up because last week the CBC reported that children who spend a lot of time playing video games are showing early indications of carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as other ailments like headaches, sore wrists, and sore backs and necks from poor posture.

Usually it takes decades of repetitive motion to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, also known as repetitive strain injury. An entire industry of office ergonomics is built around these strains, as are a good portion of new workplace safety regulations.

Once scoffed at by some health professionals and workplaces, carpal tunnel syndrome is now widely recognized as a legitimate medical condition. There’s no cure, but the effects can be diminished by various stretches and exercises, and by using ergonomic designs.

Some of the kids the CBC interviewed have limited their video gaming to around half an hour a day, and the problems have cleared up. Physiotherapists also recommend taking frequent rests from playing video games to stretch and move around.

Eyes are also a problem. People who spend a lot of time staring at a television or computer screen at a fixed distance do suffer from headaches, blurred vision, and eye strain. Blinking occasionally helps, as do regular breaks and eye exercises. One exercise involves focusing on a finger while you move it back and forth, keeping your head still.

Because the video game industry relies on kids and gamers who thing nothing of spending hours a day in gameland, we can probably expect the game makers to start making controllers more ergonomic in the future – that or risk the fury of parents that are already looking for a reason to curb their children’s video game habits.

Unless you have a Sega Muscle to rival Brian’s, you might want to think about changing or otherwise limiting your gaming habits. After all, nobody wants to get injured in real life.

Xbox 360, Playstation 3 debut

Speaking of carpal tunnel syndrome, Microsoft and Sony showed off their next generation game consoles last week. Microsoft booked a half hour commercial on MTV to introduce the Xbox 360, and Sony called a press conference about half an hour before to introduce the PS3.

The Xbox 360 is expected to beat the PS3 to the market by about six months with a release in November, but an early start is not enough to ensure market supremacy any longer. Customers care about price, the number of games, backwards compatibility, online compatibility, console features, and technical specifications.

Both systems have extremely advanced processors and graphics engines, both will be compatible with next generation high-capacity disks, both are Internet ready, both offer optional hard drives, both have wireless controllers, both have headset and video capture features, both are compatible with high definition televisions and surround sound systems, and both offer the ability to surf the ‘Net, chat online, send email, etc.

A full performance comparison of the two systems has not been completed as yet, which makes comparing CPU and GPU capabilities like talking apples and oranges. Refresh rates, polygon generation, moving point analyses, shading and lighting capabilities, and artificial intelligence capabilities, and other yardsticks for performance will determine which machine offers a superior look and feel.

In the looks category, I’d have to give the edge to the Xbox 360 this time. It’s sleek, elegant, and looks good vertically or horizontally.

The PS3 looks like something from about 1986, with a curved top that’s completely useless for people who stack components horizontally.

No word on games yet. But with four times as many PS2 consoles as Xbox consoles in the world, it’s a safe bet that Sony will have the lead in that category – at least for a little while.

For more on the two consoles, and what’s known about the next Nintendo entry into the race, try www.gamespot.com and www.gamespy.com. Other sites are www.microsoft.com/xbox/, www.sony.com/playstation and www.nintendo.com.

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