The Things You Learn Gaming One Handed

By Gizmodo Australia on at

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 - HellbladeCuphead 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 old-school 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.

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 English team has 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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