Many people believe that gaming is all fun and, well, games. And while it is true that time spent playing video games on your computer definitely should be an enjoyable escape, it also has the potential to lead to some injuries and/or ailments if proper ergonomics is not involved.
So what do we mean by “proper ergonomics”? Here is an in-depth article on the topic, but in short, we’re looking at the way humans interact with a system (in this case, their gaming set-up), and finding ways to change it to be safer, healthier and allow users to be more productive. With gamers spending hours at a time playing and mastering games, it’s more important than ever to be aware how they are interacting with the system to minimize any short- and long-term health issues that may arise.
What are some of the elements to keep in mind when setting up your gaming station?
Where and how to sit. When it’s gaming time, many times we think of laying down on the couch or floor, making our selves comfortable (maybe sitting cross-legged or on your belly), and turning the game on. It’s an opportunity to relax and just have some fun. Unfortunately, this can lead to issues such as neck and back pain. You should think of sitting for a gaming session just like you would for a day at the office or a day of school. You need a chair that will provide support to your back, and allows you to sit in a straight position with your feet touching the ground. If you want, particularly for shorter sessions, try standing. This can help improve posture and overall health.
As far as how far from the screen (or screens) you should sit (assuming you are not using a virtual reality set), an arm’s length away is a good starting point. If you find you can sit further away from your screen, great. If you find yourself leaning in to see what’s on the screen, try changing some of the settings of the screen to make it easier on your eyes.
Immersing yourself in the sound of the game is just as thrilling as using surround sound while watching your favorite action movie. But just like with the movie, the sound level should not be too loud. If you are using speakers, test to see if you can hear the sound in the next room. If so, lower the volume. If there are external noises that keep causing you to up the volume, see if those can be mitigated (i.e., close a window to tune out cars going by). If that’s not possible, look to see if there is a better room to set up your gaming station. If you are using a headset, keep the volume to a level that won’t hurt your ears. Listening to loud sounds for any period a time can lead to tinnitus, or a ringing of the ear.
Keyboard and mouse. Most of today’s hardcore gamers don’t use a black joystick with a red button. The keyboard (and sometime mouse) is the device of choice to conquer levels and win tournaments. A flat keyboard can work, but you’ll want to make sure it fits your gaming keyboarding style. For most it doesn’t. That’s where an ergonomic keyboard comes in. These keyboards can adjust to the user (rather than the user adjusting to the keyboard) so that typing away is more comfortable and less stressful. Similarly, an ergonomic mouse will fit the users hand better when scrolling and clicking. The best part, once you become efficient with an ergonomic keyboard for gaming, it should make you better at the games you are playing.
Playing games in the dark can be fun. But doing so for an extended period of time can put stress on your eyes. Aim to have at least enough light in the room so that you can see all the objects in it without straining your eyes. You’ll also want to make sure that any lights in the room are not causing a glare on the screens you are looking at.
Whether at the office, driving across country or gaming, the advice is always the same: Remember to take breaks. The human body was not meant to be sitting idle for hours at a time. It needs movement and nourishment to perform at its best (not to mention the brain needs a rest every now and then). As you play, take a 5 minute break every hour (or 30 minutes if possible) to walk around the block, take a drink of water and possibly eat a snack. If it is tough for you to remember to pause the game, set a timer to remind you.
Whether you play video games for 30 minutes a week or a few hours a day, it’s important to take the time to build an ergonomic environment for your gaming experience. Just investing a few minutes in setting up your gaming area can save you from countless hours of pain in the future (along with possible medical bills).