Cheltenham
The Cheltonian > Articles

Nintendo Wii

It Seem Like The Perfect Christmas Gift But Could A Nintendo Wii Cause Health Problems crack

Thinking of investing in a Nintendo Wii this Christmas? It might seem like the perfect gift, but the video game console could leave you with more than just a £199 dent in your finances.

Experts warn that inflammation of the wrist, knees and shoulders - as well as torn ligaments - can be the result of hours spent playing Wii games. They’ve coined ‘Wii-knee’ and ‘Wii-itis’ (pronounced ‘Wee-eye-tis’) to describe the phenomenon.

Wii-related injuries were found to have hospitalised up to 10 people a week in the UK last year.

And with Wii consoles sales set to increase in the run-up to Christmas, doctors could see more patients with Wii-related problems this year, too.

A Painful History

Video games have long been touted for their allegedly detrimental effect on the mind, with anti-social behaviour and social alienation often cited as the result of too much time spent ‘gaming’.

But medical reports over the years have also highlighted concerns over the physical ailments caused by ‘total gaming immersion’ - or long hours spent in front of video game screens - such as deep vein thrombosis, poor memory function, loss of sleep, faecal incontinence, an inability to control urination, and epilepsy.

Injuries specific to the games themselves began appearing not long after the first video game, the Magnavox Odyssey, launched in 1972. Within a decade, ‘Space Invaders wrist’ became the symbol of over-enthusiastic gaming. It was followed by ‘Nintendinitis’, coined in 1990 to describe a repetitive strain-type injury on the wrist and elbow, and ‘Nintendonitis’, the result of pressure injuries induced by repeatedly pressing the same buttons.

‘PS2 Thumb’, a flaky and blistered thumb resulting in over-punching of Playstation buttons, was a popular complaint until the advent of the Wii in 2006.

And then Wii-itis was born.

A Wii Bit Of Fun?

Unlike its predecessors, the Nintendo Wii boasts accelerators and infrared, 3D motion detectors on its wireless computer console, which renders the game more physically challenging than its standard counterparts.

Users can play simulated games like tennis, bowling, boxing, golf and baseball, or be taught how to hula hoop or do a ‘downward dog’ in yoga.

But all this fun hasn’t been without its drawbacks.

While the games have been praised for encouraging people to be more active, playing them incorrectly, or for sustained periods, can lead to injury - especially for those unused to exercise.

One such injury, Wii-itis, is characterised by pain in the shoulder or wrist and is usually the result of sudden movements incurred during tennis or running games, which can then stretch or tear tendons.

Some doctors, such as Dr Dev Mukerjee of Broomfield Hospital in Essex, have warned that gaming in such a way could also cause damage further down the line.

“It’s possible Wii-itis may lead to rheumatism or arthritis later in life,” he says. “Patients often have inflammation of the shoulder or wrist.”

But it’s not just Wii-itis that gamers need to look out for. ‘Wii-knee’ - the inflammation or tearing of ligaments (or, in extreme cases, the dislocation of the kneecap) - is another potential health hazard.

Coined after a 16-year-old boy tore several knee ligaments, Wii-knee is thought to be the result of the Wii Fit game, which requires standing and bending on a special platform to perform yoga and strength-training moves.

Then there’s a round-up of more mundane, but equally painful, accidents, says Dr Thomas Fysh of the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, who has seen first-hand the effects of Wii gaming.

“Many of the injuries [we see] can be attributed to gamers sometimes falling over furniture or flinging their hands upwards into light fixtures,” he says, having recently written a report ‘A Wii Problem’, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, on the matter.

Even the controls themselves can be dangerous. The British Society for Surgery of the Hand (BSSH) has seen patients with fractured bones due to controls being flung around incorrectly, while one eight-year-old girl suffered deep scalp lacerations because of a flying remote, according to Dr Fysh.

Indeed, Wii injuries are so common that several websites and blogs have been set up to account for them, such as Wii Injury [www.wiiinjury.com] and Wii Have A Problem [www.wiihaveaproblem.com].

On the sites, users are encouraged to send in their photographs and tales of their latest Wii injuries - one recent post describes how a drunken game of Wii tennis led to a black eye.

In Fitness And In Health

Because Wii sports are simulated and not real, say doctors, users tend not to stretch before playing.

And because the games encourage players to mimic real sport actions, people can often become “engrossed” and sustain resulting sprains and fractures when they should have stopped playing hours earlier, says Dr Julio Bonis, a Spanish physician who unwittingly became the victim of Wii-itis himself.

“If a player gets too engrossed, he may ‘play tennis’ on the video screen for many hours,” he wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“Unlike in the real sport, physical strength and endurance are not limiting factors.” US talk show host and fitness guru Michael Torchia claims Nintendo is concealing the dangers of its product.

He also argues that Wii could actually be contributing to the obesity epidemic in America by brainwashing people into thinking they’re exercising when, by any proper definition of ‘exercise’, they’re not.

“It is unwise to encourage end-users of video games to give in to the coach-potato lifestyle and not expect their health to suffer,” explains Torchia.

“Neither is it wise for Nintendo to release a video game without proper warnings that require Wii users to suddenly get up from their couches and begin stomping around without proper warm-up.”

But Dr Fysh says that as long as you read the instructions, you should be quite safe.

“To be fair to Nintendo, they do provide good safety advice in the product itself and if you follow it you shouldn’t get into trouble,” he says.

“The bottom line is that if Grandpa gets excited over a couple of sherries, he might fall over because of the Wii, yes. But in the olden days, that might have been due to a football in the garden. Now it’s trying to serve a Boris Becker in the living room.”