Game controller blamed for hand-arm vibrating syndrome

Doctors believe that a 15-year-old boy may have developed hand-arm vibrating syndrome after using his PlayStation for up to seven hours a day. Sony says it isn't aware of other cases
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

Scientists have warned that children who excessively use vibrating video game controllers could develop a painful injury.

The condition -- called hand-arm vibration syndrome and previously known as vibration white finger -- is an industrial injury commonly associated with the prolonged use of vibratory tools such as pneumatic drills.

According to a letter published in the latest edition of the British Medical Journal, a 15-year-old boy developed hand-arm vibration syndrome after playing his Sony PlayStation games console for up to seven hours per day. The boy particularly enjoyed playing driving games that made use of the rumble board on his PlayStation controller.

For the past two years, the boy is thought to have suffered from painful hands -- which have become white and swollen when exposed to cold, and red and painful when warmed. Doctors who have examined him have diagnosed that he suffers from hand-arm vibration syndrome, which they suspect is linked to the large amount of time he has spend using a vibrating controller.

This is thought to be the first published case of hand-arm vibration syndrome in a child. Drs Gavin Cleary, H. McKendrick and J. A. Sills believe that consideration should be given to publishing statutory health warnings on game controllers that offer the vibration feature. "The seven hours a day that our patient reported is excessive and exceeds the manufacturer's recommendation, but we must assume that this is not an uncommon occurrence," they wrote.

Speaking to ZDNet UK on Friday, Sony insisted that it already supplies health warnings with its products. "We recommend that users take a 15-minute break every hour, and stop playing immediately if they suffer discomfort. Playing a PlayStation for seven hours a day is against all the guidance we offer," a Sony spokesman said. "We're not belittling this report, though, as it comes from a reputable source."

He added that Sony was unaware of any previous cases of this type, even though the PlayStation has a worldwide user base of at least 100 million. "We employ people who thoroughly test all our products and we've never seen this kind of effect," the Sony spokesman said.

The PlayStation2, the Nintendo 64 and Microsoft's Xbox and some PC joypads also support the vibration function, which is widely used in today's computer games. In driving games, for example, it is used to simulate the effect of a car being driven "off road". As Sony points out, though, it is an optional feature that can be turned off by the user.

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