Ergonomics Will Keep You Gaming into the Future
by Curtis Silver
Ergonomics. Over the years the term hasn’t changed meaning, it means the same today that it did in the 1950′s when it was fully accepted as a term and practice. However it was not until the 2000′s that colleges began to offer it as a course of study towards a masters degree, though its history dates back to ancient Greece. Ergonomics of course is the study of designing equipment that fits the human body in physical and cognitive connotations. Where once ergonomics was simply thought to be just keyboard trays and wrist rests, like everything else in the past few decades, it has evolved significantly.
Now ergonomics has become a course study in not only psychology but physiology & behavioral sciences as well. It has become an area of medical concern, a workers compensation standard and something most employers take seriously and are generally willing to pay for if you can demonstrate a need (yes, you can convince your boss to buy you a pair of Gunnars for work.) Ergonomics has become more than just physical comfort in the office, but has branched out into many other industries. Though it is in the office environment that we think of ergonomics the most, and while innovations are being made there, they are also being made in gaming ergonomics as well, with a bit of crossover.
Take for instance the concept of the mouse glove. For years this has been an idea of the scientific & engineering community. Probably after seeing Tom Cruise move screens around in Minority Report. Actually, that was the motivation for students at MIT back in 2010 who developed a wireless mouse glove that cost under $100 to produce. There is even earlier research at North Carolina State University’s college of engineering in which students devised a glove that controlled computer operations with sensors in the finger tips. Now there is a company called Bellco that is marketing a wireless air mouse glove (called the Ion Wireless Air Mouse Glove) to the community at large.
So would a wireless mouse glove actually alleviate wrist pain? Common wrist and hand problems range from carpal tunnel to tendonitis due to keeping the hand and wrist at odd angles during the day. A mouse glove would not require you to keep your hand on the desk, you could basically be in a relaxed position all day long. So why isn’t something like this catching on? I’m guessing that it has to do with control. Our movements are human, and when there is exact work to be done on computers (such as graphic design) more precise movements are needed, which when the hand is steadied on a desk or wrist rest is possible. A floating hand relies on too many other active muscles to keep steady. Think about the difference between using a tripod for a camera and not using one.
Keeping with hand ergonomics but moving over to gaming there is the Avenger Xbox 360 Adapter by N-Control. Not billed as an ergonomic device, rather a fully customizable one, the Avenger is about as ergonomic as you can get with a console gaming controller. It snaps on to the Xbox 360 controller and you can move the buttons & triggers around to fit not only your hand, but your gaming style as well. Something to think about for those with itchy trigger fingers, you can also adjust the response time. For someone like me who has broken every finger at some point in life and some don’t work like they should, this is a fantastic device. Often I get hand cramps when gaming (as many gamers do) and being able to adjust the controller to an ergonomically sound position based on the layout & comfort of my hand is pretty sweet.
The thing is, gamers are one group that might not think about ergonomics mostly because of their age range. A lot of gamers are young, in their teens or college aged and haven’t yet experienced the ongoing pain associated with mistreated joints & tendons. Gamers put themselves in position to get anything from back & shoulder pain to neck pain to eye strain. Though here at Gunnars, the solution to eye strain is pretty clear. If there is one ergonomic item that has changed my life for the better, it’s my MLG Phantoms. But even solving eye strain with a sweet pair of Gunnars isn’t going to clear up severe neck issues from sitting at a bad angle and not having proper back support.
Thankfully, there are plenty of awesome gaming chairs on the market. My favorite has to be this one, the PCE Ultimate Gaming Station & Work Space. All you would need to do is install a Mountain Dew fountain and you’d be good to go. The point is, like many gaming chairs, it sets the body at an angle that doesn’t put undo pressure on the joints and tendons. So basically, you can game longer. Also, for those gamers that prefer some more “human” games every once in a while, there is this.
Of course, what would any market segment be without the totally off the wall stuff? Take for instance the Adapta Mouse. Designer Ryo Yoshimi has created a functional and ergonomically sound (I suppose) mouse that looks like a centerpiece at a very neo-classical wine bar. Then there is the DataHand, a throwback from 1990 that use a radial menu to select letters, basically replacing your movement across the keyboard with a finger twitch. Obviously, while very smart ergonomics, it didn’t catch on. Another great design that was flawed as far as marketing is the Combimouse. Come to think of it, the name might have been a bit flawed as well. The keyboard split in two to adapt to a more natural hand resting position, and the mouse was also incorporated into the keyboard and split in two. Probably would take a bit of getting used to.
When we sit down at our desks, or in front of our gaming console we don’t always consider the damage we could be doing to our bodies by not simply sitting in an ergonomically sound position. As you can see, there are plenty of great products on the market to assist with that so that we can keep gaming for years to come without having to take a baggie full of meds every morning. Ergonomics has become more than just a gel thing on your desk you end up destroying with paper-clips, it has become something we all need to think about as we go through our day to day lives. The long term effects of things such as tendon damage and eye strain are something we need to take seriously now.
Image credits: Ion Mouse (Bellco), Header image (Bryant Figueroa)