KANSAS CITY, Mo. — They’re as common in American households as microwave ovens.
A recent study showed 150 million homes in the United States have video game consoles, many of which are used by minors.
A new pediatric trend shows injuries while gaming are becoming more common.
A series of worst case scenarios were detailed by an online esports blog called Kotaku, where at least six gamers suffered collapsed lungs during video game sessions that lasted more than 12 hours apiece. The majority of casual gamers keep their playtime to shorter spurts of time.
At E-Sports Bar KC in Shawnee, it’s not uncommon to see games of Madden NFL or NBA 2K go for more than an hour.
Brandon Williams has owned that gaming showplace for two years, and his tournaments gather gamers from all across the metro. Williams said gaming is no longer a couch potato pastime, and demanding games call for physical fitness.
“When you sit in a place too long playing a game, you see neck problems. You see lower back problems. You see a little bit of everything,” Williams said. “You have to have a good core to be able to sit up straight for long times. When you get to the elite players, they have physical training who helped them along with it.”
At Park University, the esports program takes the games seriously, and there’s a focus on preventing injury.
“We’re more like traditional sports than people realize,” said Ashley Jones, Park U’s esports coach.
Jones, a native of Florida, said she routinely leads 22 serious gamers into competition, facing off with other colleges in skill-based video games such as Overwatch and Rocket League.
Jones and her gamers stretch before and during gameplay, and the ergonomically correct gaming chairs they use help them maintain strong posture.
“There are periods of time where I just need to stop and flex my arms and wrists and fingers just to make sure I’m in tip-top shape for the gaming,” said Caleb Kramer, a Park University e-athlete from Liberty.
“We’re definitely making sure they take that mental break and that physical break as well. For that entire hour, they’re really honed in. Making sure to give them that space,” Jones added.
Periodic stretching and positive posture line up perfectly with what doctors are saying.
A huge number of gamers still fall below age 18, and although most injuries aren’t serious, doctors say they resemble ones that occur from overuse of a muscle or joint.
Dr. Randall Goldstein, a pediatrician specializing in sports medicine with St. Luke’s Health System, said gamers who take care of their bodies are more likely to play their games without pain.
“Your posture is important. If you have bad posture, or a slumped-over posture, like using your cell phone or the computer or gaming for hours and hours, certainly, you’ll see injuries come up with bad posture and neck pain and back pain,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein also expressed concerns about eye strain and the effects that staring at a screen for long periods of time could have on young gamers. He also said e-athletes who aren’t taking breaks for meals and bathroom breaks aren’t keeping their health first.
Another pediatrician, Dr. James Roberson, also practices with an emphasis on sports medicine. Roberson, who’s employed by Children’s Mercy Hospital, stresses to esports enthusiasts, young and old, to follow practices recommended by doctors.
Although there’s currently no epidemic of video game injuries, their rising popularity could change that status.
“We know for a fact that video games aren’t going anywhere. Kids are going to be playing video games. It’s a good way to interact with your family and friends. It’s not something we should completely discourage, but we need to do the moderation,” Roberson said.
Another question FOX4 posed during these interviews: How much gaming is too much?
Pediatricians recommend no more than one to two hours per day. The gamers we spoke with seemed good with that, too, saying if it’s hurting a game player physically, mentally or within their family or social circles, to be smart and take a break.
There’s also a mental health concern, according to Goldstein.
The American Academy of Pediatrics said 10% of all kids aged 8-18 are addicted to playing video games. Doctors and gamers FOX4 spoke with encourage positive conversation between e-athletes and their parents to avoid dependencies and feelings of depression and isolation.