The physical health impacts of virtual environments

razer-naga Over the past few days a product announcement and some interesting research have come together for me in illustrating some of the downsides of heavy regular use of virtual environments. I’m talking specifically about the physical impacts here: we’ve covered the psychological positives and negatives repeatedly (e.g. here and here). In regard to the psychological side, I’ve always believed the benefits and opportunities well outweigh the downsides, which is being recognised by professionals working in the area.

The research that caught my eye comes from the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, as reported by MSNBC. The researchers tested the hypothesis that gamers tended to be more overweight and had poorer mental health than non-players. The results, after surveying 552 people in the Seattle area of the US, showed that the hypothesis was essentially correct. Looking at the overweight issue, most people may say “well gee there’s no surprise there”. The gamer stereotype is certainly one of the overweight male staying up at all hours whilst eating endless bags of potato chips. Like any stereotype there can be distorted echoes of reality and this research is doing just that. I doubt there’s anyone claiming that heavy gaming or virtual environment use is good for one’s physical health in respect to exercise and nutrition. Sure, consoles like the Wii are increasing the level of physical activity but the jury is well and truly out on whether it equates to other forms of desirable physical activity. This research was conducted in 2006 but only published now, with an admission it’s just a taste for further research needing to be done – its findings however do point to the challenges for gaming, and by association, virtual environments.

The product announcement that I saw not long after the research above was for an MMO-gaming mouse produced by Razer, called the Naga. Here’s Razer’s PR pitch for it:

It’s not unique in that there’s no shortage of multi-button gaming mouses. What struck me though was the twelve buttons on the left-hand side that are designed purely for thumb use. Knowing the pace of MMO gaming at times, it seems astounding to me that you’d put one thumb through the trauma of operating twelve buttons continuously. In the five minutes-plus of sales pitch above, you’ll hear the word ‘comfort’ a few times, but that’s it. You’ll also hear a couple of mentions of statements like “playing all day” as qualifications for the level of effort that went into producing the design.

Am I alone in thinking that no matter how good the device’s ergonomics are, relying on one digit to control twelve buttons is a recipe for disaster? Sure, the heavy use of a keyboard for the same activity isn’t ideal either, but usually the repetition is spread around a few more digits if keyboard shortcuts are being used. Of course, gaming is different to broader virtual world use, but in proportion the same issues remain.

My point overall? Virtual environments are really no different to the real world in respects of the need to engage in physical activity. The ever improving development of new interface options may assist, but the reality in the short to medium term is that plenty of real world concentration on nutrition and exercise is needed. The three people I know best who are involved in virtual environments 8-16 hours a day all own pets and tend to have an exercise schedule. Do you?

Comments

  1. socialmaker says:

    I think people need a more personal approach when it comes to doctors. I know i have a doctor which takes care of my problems(prosolution) and he is so nice. He always knows me by name, he's friendly and i gladly attent every meeting.

  2. socialmaker says:

    I think people need a more personal approach when it comes to doctors. I know i have a doctor which takes care of my problems(prosolution) and he is so nice. He always knows me by name, he's friendly and i gladly attent every meeting.

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