Like most vices and addictions, obsessive video gaming has proven time and time again that it's bad for you. Obviously, any activity that requires you to sit for long bouts of time is likely going to have adverse effects on your body (and probably your social life too)—but it's not just the sedentary nature of gaming that's harmful. Staring at a screen for long periods of time, overuse of certain muscles (and underuse of others), and social isolation are all aspects of obsessive video game culture that can take a toll on your physical and mental well-being.
Seizures and Heart Attacks
Last year, a teenager died in a Taiwanese Internet cafe after 40 straight hours of playing Diablo 3, an action role-playing videogame. In 2011, a 20-year old gamer who made a habit of using his XBox for 12+ hours a day died of deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot condition that can develop during long bouts of sitting. In Louisiana, a 30-year-old man who played his Nintendo for eight-hour stretches, six days a week, suffered seizures because of his obsessive gaming and died after hitting his head on a table during a seizure.
These cases all involve relatively young video gamers dying of diseases more often associated with old age. But heart attacks, heart disease, blood clotting and seizures are all conditions that can be caused by an excessively sedentary lifestyle. In 2011, researchers found that people who sit for longer than four hours a day—at a computer, TV or desk—are 125% more at risk of developing a heart problem.
How to avoid it:
The common denominator linking all these cases? Long, multi-hour sessions of gaming. Look up at the clock every once in a while and keep track of the time you spend sitting. Take a walk every hour or so. Engage in a physical activity, even if it's just walking to your nearest coffee shop or playing with a pet. Get up and dance even! Nobody's watching.
The health risks of obsessive gaming are so prevalent they've inspired their own lexicon, like "Nintendonitis" and "PlayStation Thumb." Both these conditions are "repetitive strain injuries" or RSIs, injuries characterized by wear and tear to the muscle. Nintendonitis refers to a painful muscle injury caused by strain on the tendons most frequently utilized to play video games—specifically the muscle between your thumb and forefinger. Swollen muscles are a huge warning sign you're on your way to developing this condition.
PlayStation Thumb is a similar injury characterized by blistering, numbness, and tingling in the thumbs; it often results from excessive use of thumb-operated video game controllers most commonly associated with Nintendo and PlayStation gaming systems. This condition also begins with swollen muscles and ends with painful blistering.
How to avoid it:
Take a break and let your finger muscles rest for a bit. Overworking or stressing any muscle is bad for you and your probably going to need those muscles in the future (unless you plan on living your adult life without the use of your hand's fine motor skills). Put the controllers down and do something that doesn't require the tireless movement of your thumbs. Perhaps cycling, skateboarding, or even watching a movie (if you're so intent on not getting up from the couch).
You can also avoid Nintendonitis with a few simple finger stretches before and during your gaming sessions.
If you've stared at any kind of digital screen—TV, computer, or even your phone—for a long, sustained period of time, you've probably experienced something like X-Box Vision, a condition characterized by blurred vision, dry eyes, or sensitivity to light. You might find yourself rubbing your eyes frequently or blinking excessively.
How to avoid it:
You're not going to like this, but you're going to have to turn away from the screen. It's a tough call and it will take willpower, especially if you're at a critical part of the game. But believe me, you're going to need those eyeballs when you get older (imagine me saying this in your mom's voice).
There are obviously other tricks to mitigate the effects of excessive screen time, like anti-glare screen protectors and goggle devices. But it's probably less expensive to just get off the couch and do something that requires less strain on your seeing organs.
The Good News
Gaming isn't all that bad. Many video games help develop cognitive and motor skills like memory function, attention span, and muscle reflexes. Global online role playing gaming communities can foster social development and create a sense of companionship across borders, cultures, and even languages. Video games can help relieve stress after a long day at work or distract you from emotional or physical pain.
So here's the magic word: moderation. Give yourself a break. As fascinating as the video game world is, there's a whole physical world out there that is exciting and consistently providing humans with new and interesting things to see and experience. The bottom line is about moderating your video game time so it doesn't overwhelm other parts of your life, especially not your health.