The Things You Learn Gaming One Handed

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When I first broke my wrist a few weeks ago, I was cautiously optimistic. There was the prospect of not regaining full movement in my wrists, a 1/20000 chance of "nerve annoyance", and wearing a giant plaster sock on my arm for a few weeks, but hey: I got some time off to recover. Maybe I'd be able to play some video games.

Then I tried to pick up a controller.

Gaming is a pretty common post-injury exercise, but things change somewhat when one of your hands is the damaged part. All in all, I've spent about three weeks, shall we say, encumbered. The first week was mostly living with some displacement and multiple fractures, while the following fortnight was getting used to the post-op plaster life.

Plaster interfered with my basic movement more than I expected. I wasn't able to pinch my thumb and index finger together for a while, and moving my thumb at all for the first fortnight felt like tweaking a rod all the way down my forearm. That meant a lot of games I'd been saving up for the holidays - Hellblade, Cuphead and Shadow of War - remained untouched, much to my disappointment.

Fortunately, codeine works just as well for blunting disappointment as it does pain. More importantly, not all games require twitch reactions. Some don't even require two hands.

One game I was saving until the holidays was Larian's excellent crowdfunded RPG epic, Divinity: Original Sin 2. If you're an oldschool RPG fan, or just someone who prefers games that are happy to let players break things in unexpected ways, chances are DOS2 is one of your favourite games of the year already.

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Being a cRPG means DOS2 was always going to be mouse driven. But you can progress just fine with just the mouse, which turned out to be a great way to spend 40 hours so far. You're not at any rush: playing on the standard mode can require a good deal of planning, particularly when you accidentally wander into a higher level fight.

Or you're like me, and you're running one rogue/three spellcasters who have a bit of a problem with getting backstabbed. (And don't start me on that bloody fight where you're all permanently blinded.)

But, like any gamer, sometimes you want a bit of variety. I wanted to slowly push the boundaries of what my wrist could tolerate too, since the nurses and doctors warned that recovery was very much dependent on me. "Use it or lose it," one quipped.

So that meant slowly increasing the workload on my hand, and wrist. So after the first couple of days, I grabbed a controller and tested the limits of my movement.

As I quickly discovered, some controllers were better than others. I couldn't hold a controller as normal. Turning the controller 45 degrees to the right made life infinitely more comfortable, though. It also meant I could use the Xbox to some degree, since the placement of the left analog stick meant I could hit the left bumper and trigger while still moving the thumbstick to some degree.

That said, I couldn't completely move the thumbstick.

For most of the last three weeks, my thumb was suffering from what could be best described as almost-but-not-quite-pins-and-needles. It made regular use of a controller really awkward, so I had to find games where left stick movement was kept to a minimum.

Fortunately, there was one game that worked surprisingly well for my limited state: virtual cricket.

I've played every iteration of Don Bradman Cricket so far. Ashes Cricket is really just Don Bradman with more licensing, although there's been a stack of UI and graphical improvements.

But the main thing, not present in DBC14 or the launch of DBC17, was a new control system. Traditionally bowling or batting involves a series of movements of the left and right sticks. That's still in Ashes Cricket, although you can also choose an alternate control scheme that's simpler, and takes less of a toll on your hands.

It's a bit reminiscent of the cricket games of old. And while it's not the best way to play the game - you lose some of the finer control when bowling, and back foot shots are a tad annoying - it was comfortable.

Plus, the AI offered stiffer resistance than the Poms have mustered so far.

The largest lesson, though, is one I should have learned better many years ago. Not long after I started university, my mother - after delaying for many, many years - opted to have dual carpal tunnel surgery. She'd worked as a typist in the '60s and '70s, on machines that do substantially more damage to your wrists and joints than the ergonomic offerings we have today.

But having kids makes surgery difficult, especially when you're a single parent most of the time. (My dad worked as a chief engineer for BHP and other shipping companies, meaning he spent roughly half of every year away at sea.) You need your hands to do everything, so she just put up with the pain.

To help her through the process, I took about six months off uni. Not having the use of your hands is incredibly undignified: simple actions, day to day motions you never knew you relied on, are suddenly impossible.

It's humiliating, really.

I'm still struggling with some simple things, like twisting a pepper grinder or splitting the load across both hands. I'll regain my strength, thank God, and in weeks I'm sure I'll be back to gaming as per normal.

But it's a useful, seasonal even, reminder to be grateful. You never truly appreciate the simplicity of the things you have, until you can't have them anymore.

Like holding a controller, or pressing WASD for hours on a keyboard.


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    I've been fortunate in never having an injury that affects my gaming. The closest I have come is playing games with young children. Amazing how some games that you think would be perfect like grow home are just super complex to control.

    Isn't it fuckin lovely to realise that you're effectively disabled?

    I've got severe arthritis in the base of both thumbs and am on the "some time in the next 360 days" waiting list to have a tendon pulled out of my arm, coiled up into a spring and shoved into the hole in my thumb where cartilage used to be in the hopes that it'll allow me to move my hands without significant pain. They may also have to file off a bone spur I've developed on my thumb bone. The best part is that I can only get one hand done at a time so I'm stuck with this shit for another 2 years or so. Fuck all chance of my using a controller for a good long while (10-15 minute spurts are possible but I need 2+ days to recover) and even keyboard & mouse is getting painful to use.

    If there's one positive to it, it's that stuff like Horizon Zero Dawn that I really, REALLY want to play will be cheap as hell by the time I can do it...

      It's a bit frightening, especially when the gravity of it hits you and you realise a) how much damage you did but also b) how much worse it could have been too. I'm lucky, and it's also a good reminder of how much worse other people have it.

      Have you tried different controllers? To see if they may help at times. I'm double jointed in my thumbs and a few minutes on an Xbox controller and I'm In pain because of the (for me) awkward grip, although I can use a play station controller for hours.

        Yeah, the controller doesn't really matter, I can't even write for more than 5 minutes without pain so there's no real alternative.

        I've been toying with the idea of 3d printing something like an arcade fight stick with all the controls laid out flat & using 2 large spherical stick tops that can be held with the palm of the hand but there's a shitload of soldering involved that I've never been good at (also my PC is currently dead so I can't even print stuff)

          Electronic engineer here, hit me up if you ever need advice.
          Arcade sticks do take their toll Though, more the button mashing. Having a night if king of fighters with mates on my arcade machine your wrists feel it the next day.
          Ball sticks and alike can be bought, as well as break out boards to go to USB. Full stock setups are available for pc play station and Xbox as well.

    Hahahaha you scrub you realize your supposed damage your legs, to make sure gaming is possible whilst your recovering.

    Thanks Alex, as somebody who works in the medical field I found this really interesting. It's interesting how many more things have to be considered in game development these days. Accessibility options are a bit overlooked because they are not required by the majority, but it sure makes a huge difference for those that need them.

    I fractured an elbow a few years back during the heigh of my enthusiasm for FFXIV. had my left arm in a sling so I could still use my fingers but moving them from WASD to hit 1-9 for skills just wasn't happening. Turns out FFXIV is very well designed in terms of accessibility for the physically disabled so I got VERY good at doing everything my my mouse which had a total of about 7 macro keys I could all hit with my thumb.

    When I got out of the sling I came out of it a much better healer because I learned to make use of a slew of systems I'd previously ignored.

    My girlfriend developed an 'arterio-veinous malformation' in her hand about three years ago. It's basically a short-circuit in the blood supply where a vein and an artery intersect with each other directly. The result was painful swelling at the base of her thumb and a slow but sure loss of movement and feeling in that part of her hand.

    As the condition worsened, gaming became impossible, as did her work as a seamstress. Finally, she had the malformation removed about three months ago, which essentially involved taking all the muscle out of the base of her thumb and then covering it with a skin graft from her upper arm. The result is a gnarly scar on her arm and around the graft.

    The good news is that, despite losing a huge chunk of muscle, she's regained much of the movement she lost prior to the operation, and can even oppose her thumb (there was a risk she'd need a second operation to move a tendon so she could do this, but thankfully she won't). Holding a controller is stil a stretch, although she's had some success with a joycon (not sure why, maybe the lower weight makes it easier), and she can sew for short periods while she recovers.

    Seeing her lose so much function in her hand was heartbreaking at times, especially as it destroyed her ability to do something she loves (sewing) as well as even basic tasks. For a time after the operation, while her hand was still in a splint, she couldn't even dress herself or wash her hair.

    The whole experience has made me appreciate just how important two working hands tend to be, and very glad that the surgeon's worst-case scenario (amputation of the thumb) didn't come to pass.

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