Death to Gaming Mice

Dear [Insert name of gaming mouse producer here]: You suck. I can say this with some authority after testing your crummy products for over 20 years. Not only have you managed to create a mountain of useless plastic scrap and punched a hole in the ozone layer the size of New Jersey, but you've also crippled me.

The original idea a few weeks back seemed simple enough: Do straight-up, side-by-side reviews of the Microsoft SideWinder X8 and Razer Mamba wireless gaming mice--both hot-looking products. But plans change. We're taking a slight detour to the doctor's office first.

You know how people always refer to carpal tunnel syndrome and RSI when warning about working at the computer too long? Well, thanks to a lifelong love of games, I'm now a casualty. Man down. Death by WASD--and by slickly designed peripherals that had promised me a millisecond-faster advantage over the competition. The results: two wrist guards and a one-way ticket to physical therapy. Suh-weet! Fortunately for you, I've learned a few things about ergonomics and maintenance as a result. My misery is your chance to learn--and, I hope, your chance to catch any problems you might have early on.

Take a Break

Whether you're playing a game or working, you need to stop. Get up. Go soak up some of that sunlight you keep reading about. The problem is, it's so easy to get lost in blowing things up, or conquering the universe. Whatever. I'm using time-management software to snap myself back to reality. Break Reminder, a free download, is a countdown timer. I have it configured to go off every 30 minutes and force me to take a 3-minute break by locking the keyboard. If you're into single-player games, the lockout is a little (okay, a lot) abrupt; it kicked me to the desktop while I was playing Fallout 3. Start trying to run this program during a heated Team Fortress 2 match or World of Warcraft dungeon raid, and you're only going to cheese off your buddies; nobody needs a teammate who goes MIA every 30 minutes, so just keep that bit of gaming etiquette in mind. (You can adjust the program however you see fit, but my physical therapist advises me that people shouldn't use a computer in the same position for more than an hour at a time without a break--even if you feel fine.)

Do Some Stretches

Stretching exercises
Plenty of places provide basic exercise advice--so long as you know where to look. At work, ask HR. They have reams of booklets, and are more than willing to help you out. I have 'em taped up all over my office these days. Online, you'll find plenty of experts ready to provide their input. Now it's my turn. But first, a bit of advice: If you're doing any exercises on your own and it starts to hurt, stop. See an expert to make sure 1) you're doing it right and 2) you don't have a more serious problem.

Stretch one: Pray. Extending your fingers and placing your palms together in front of you, put your elbows out and gently press your hands together. For the proper form, think somewhere between "Zen prayer" and "evil genius."

Stretch two: Hands down. First, extend your left arm and hold your left hand parallel to the floor, palm down. Take your right hand and place it across your left one. The four fingers of your right hand should be on the back of your left hand, with your right thumb pressed against your left palm's base. Gently push your left hand downward. Now, switch hands.

Stretch three: The double chin. The proper sitting posture at your desk is an "L" shape. Your ears should be over your shoulders. If you're leaning into your computer at all, you're straining your neck. To ease that, start with your head craned slightly up and forward. Now, slowly bring your head back and tuck a little to make a double chin.

Those are just a few basics--but if you want to send me that $25 co-pay, I won't fight it. As I said earlier, though, consult a real expert to learn the right exercises for you.

Know Your Mouse--And Your Limits

Proper mouse handling
The one thing that kind of surprised me when I first went to physical therapy: I've been holding my mouse wrong. All these years, I'd fully rest my hand flat down on whatever mouse I was testing and press the buttons--many times near the first knuckle of my index finger, since I have a chronic case of "goon hands." Bad idea! You're supposed to hit the buttons with your fingertips. If doing that doesn't feel comfortable or your hand simply doesn't fit properly, don't buy the mouse!

With all that in mind, let's see about those mouse reviews....

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