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Research examines toys' pain and (mental) gain

By Kevin Voigt
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(CNN) -- All the Christmas presents are unwrapped, the iPods and new game consoles have been played, replayed and recharged. Now here come the aches and pains.

Doctors report more incidents of children and teenagers coming for treatment for repetitive stress injuries typically seen by adults from prolonged computer use.

Yet even as youngsters bemoan sore thumbs and strained wrists from relentless game play, there's evidence now that when the grandchildren give their new toys a rest, Grandma and Grandpa may want to give the new computer games a spin.

Inflamed elbows, stiff shoulders and thumbs are now more linked to popular electronic games and devices.

"This is a pretty big issue, especially as more and more people are using gadgets a lot more," William Lenihan from Singapore's Osteopathic Pain Relief Centre told Reuters. "These repetitive stress injuries (RSI) are in the long term very detrimental to the whole body and once RSI comes on, it's very difficult to get rid of ... the secret is knowing when to stop."

The most popular electronic toy of this Christmas season has been Nintendo's Wii (pronounced "we") game system. Long No. 3 in the game console war against Sony's PlayStation dynasty and Microsoft's X-Box 360, the Nintendo game system shot past the competition with its innovative motion sensitive controller.

With the WiiRemote, gamers directly control the dance moves, boxing and hand-to-hand combat action of on-screen characters with their own hand movements -- breaking the image of computer gaming as a sedentary pursuit

Nearly half a million units of the $250 game system was sold in the United States alone last November, according to market research company the NDP Group. Yet even as the game system is flying off the shelves, Nintendo is getting into hot water because of incidents of the game controllers flying out of the hands of excited players.

Videos on YouTube show purported damage caused by game players -- broken windows, lamps and even controllers impaled in television sets (if players show such forearm strength playing a digital tennis match, perhaps its time to move the action from the living room to the clay court).

U.S. law firm Green Welling LLP filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Wii owners against Nintendo of America Inc., claiming that the wrist straps on the remote controls were defective.

Nintendo says the lawsuit "is completely without merit" but has made available a free, thicker replacement strap to customers. The company includes detailed safety instructions with the unit on how to use the controller, such as advice to keep arm space clear and take breaks every 10-15 minutes to avoid injury.

Even as players rub sore wrists or dodge errant game controllers, there may be some good news for avid game players -- and reasons why parents and grandparents may want pick up the joystick themselves.

Much research on the psychological impact of electronic gaming has focused on potential negative effects, such as: Does it make children anti- social? Do violent games result in violent behavior?

A growing of number of researchers -- such as James Karle at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada -- are looking into potential mental benefits from playing electronic games. Mounting evidence suggests time spent slaying cyber foes may improve split-second decision skills in real life, such as navigating on a busy highway.

Recent research at McMaster revealed that players who spent four hours a week on "first-person shooter" games such as "Quake" and "Halo" showed an 8 percent improvement in spatial reasoning and short-term memory -- which could have tantalizing possibilities for producing games targeted at senior citizens, he says.


Gamers play Nintendo's Wii home console. Researchers are looking into the harm and benefits games may have on users.


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