As we speak, there’s a huge debate going on in the media and amongst members of our government about the nature of gaming, and its impact on our ongoing mental health. While we have pretty sharp views that there’s really no such impact, there is one part of gaming that we do agree can cause you serious lasting damage.
But only of the physical kind. We’re talking about the physical setup of your gaming and computing space, from how you sit at your PC to the tools you use when you game – keyboard, mouse and so on. Making the wrong choices while you’re gaming or setting up your gaming space can lead to short-term discomfort and even long-term damage if you persist after your body starts warning you. A sore wrist, a tender lower back, even headaches can all presage that something’s not right with the state of your gaming command centre.
Bear in mind that, while we’re looking at gaming specifically, all of the advice here can be applied to any activity spent at a PC. Be it spreadsheets, Photoshop, watching movies or much more, it’s important to make sure that your PC space is a healthy one.
Getting the right gear
It would be wonderful if gaming peripherals like keyboards and mice could be benchmarked like a CPU or complete PC system – but, sadly, that’s impossible. As everyone’s posture, handsize and usage patterns are different, the choice of these products is more a matter of subjective experience rather than hard science.
In other words, only you can work out what the best mouse for you is going to be. You can read reviews and do your research, but it’s going to come down to a degree of trial and error. That said, we can share our own preferences – they may not match every user, but it’s a useful starting point for you to start thinking about your own gaming needs.
The SideWinder X6 keyboard
Having an uncluttered gaming area is important – you want a nice clean space that isn’t going to trap dust (which can be a hazard in its own right), and that’s going to be a pleasure to use. And since the space itself is often at a premium, we think Microsoft’s X-series is the way to go. The X-8 mouse is a superb choice because it not only is it well featured, with an array of extra buttons and a comfortable design, but also because it’s wireless. Even better, it features a magnetic coupling system that allows you easily to attach the included cord and keep on playing (and re-charging) when the mouse battery runs down.
The X-6 keyboard we love because it’s modular – the number pad can be attached to either the left or right of the main board, or detached entirely to save space. It has a good sized wrist-rest, too, though not so large that it dominates the desk.
Finally, you’ll really want to invest in a good mouse pad. Again, this comes down to personal choice more than anything else, but we use in our own gaming setup a Cooler Master mat with a hard plastic textured surface. A good mouse and mat combo makes for much less effort in mouse movement, and therefore much less strain on your mouse arm. And it just might help with your accuracy, too.
Setting it up
Oddly enough, if you’ve ever been forced to sit through a work seminar on healthy office ergonomics, you’re already pretty much on track to know how a gaming setup should be rigged – after all, the physical experience of hours of gaming is little different from hours of spreadsheeting.
In short, however, you want a chair with good lower back support, which can be fully adjusted to match your height and posture. It doesn’t need to be expensive - the Deluxe Mesh chair pictured costs only $185 from www.milandirect.com.au. You’ll want to be able to sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor, your back straight, and your forearms parallel to your desk. Ideally, your monitor should be raised so you can look directly at it with a straight neck – otherwise, you might be tempted to slouch in your chair.
Microsoft's Sidewinder X8
Resting your eyes is also important – arguably more so when you’re playing an explosion-lit game with a lot of fast action and movement. During map reloads and pauses, look away from the screen and focus on different objects, just to exercise your eyes. If you can, get up and walk around a bit – ten minutes every hour is ideal, but any movement is better than none at all. Keep an eye on the ambient light in your gaming area, too – if your screen is picking up glare and forcing you to squint you might want to think about moving your desk, or trying to alter the way it’s lit.
Finally, while it might be hard to do... don’t game angry. Sure, you might be playing a tense game of cat and mouse, but try to stay relaxed. Sitting tensely at your computer for hours on end is a short path to muscle-cramps, headaches and general unhappiness.
Plus, it’ll really sting when you do eventually get up, and shake out all those knots and sore spots.
Ultimately, only you can really gauge what the right gaming setup is for you. Your hands might be larger, or you might be shorter, or have any number of other points of difference that mean your best setup is radically different from another gamer’s. To that end, the best advice we can give is that you should try as many different items – mice, chairs, keyboards – in as many combinations. Even once you’ve got what you think is a perfect setup, don’t forget to keep trying new gear as you find it. If a friend has a new mouse they rave about, ask to borrow it; if you visit a store with a range of desks and chairs, have a sit at a few.
Like your PC, your gaming space is something that will be undergoing constant upgrade in the search for perfection. And too, as you age you’ll have different ergonomic requirements – your eyesight and body shape will change over time, so make sure you stay on top of those changes.
With just a bit of thought, you can make sure you can comfortably game for hours on end.