My brother, a keen gamer, pointed out this article – E-Thrombosis: why and how extended gaming can be dangerous as a sensible and interesting take on the issue of gaming, and whether or not
Research is starting to show that as gamers we are all increasingly at risk from a very real, deadly and yet easily-preventable medical condition, one that is likely to seriously impact our generation. Our goal in writing about this isn’t to sensationalise. We just want to talk about it, raise awareness, and hopefully, help you to stay healthy.
Although reports of sudden death of gamers stretch back almost a decade, most originate in Asia and have been given little in the way of analysis or even visibility in the English-speaking media. That’s allowed gamers to ignore stories that aren’t much more than footnotes. A rare exception occurred in February of this year, with the death of 23-year-old Taiwanese gamer Chen Rong-yu providing concrete (and disturbing) proof that people really were dying while playing video games.
Chen died after playing for more than twenty hours. Not long after, low-quality photos of his body (which we won’t reproduce here), which had sat undisturbed for so long that his limbs had locked in rigor mortis, were circulated in some of the seedier corners of the internet. Like many others, Chen’s cause of death was attributed to cardiac arrest; i.e. the failure of the heart to effectively circulate the blood, and Chen’s autopsy showed that this was due to blood clots seriously impeding his circulation.
It’s understandable if many Western gamers took these stories with a pinch of salt. They don’t feel quite real.
In July 2011 the first such sudden death directly attributed to video games was reported in the UK. 20-year-old gamer Chris Staniforth died the morning after an all-night gaming session. He’d been playing Halo Reach online. After telling a friend he had experienced chest pains and shortness of breath the night before, Chris collapsed in the street. Attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.
An autopsy revealed that Chris had died from a pulmonary embolism as a result of deep vein thrombosis. A blood clot (known as a thrombosis), formed in a vein in his leg, travelled through his body and blocked the pulmonary artery between his heart and his lungs, causing cardiac arrest. Such cases are not unknown and can affect almost anyone (tennis champion Serena Williams famously suffered one in 2011), but they have traditionally been associated with people who are largely immobile. More typical sufferers are elderly patients immobile in hospital beds or passengers crammed on long haul flights, but as David [Chris’ dad] says, “In effect, Chris was flying long haul most nights,” his gaming habits making it much more likely that clots might form.
The media was quick to make the connection between Chris’ gaming and his death, and the story spread far. It was given extensive coverage by the BBC. There has been an effort to raise awareness of what is increasingly being called e-thrombosis, the development of these life-threatening blood clots as a result of lengthy use of computers and consoles. E-thrombosis is still not widely acknowledged, and despite making several calls to different departments in the NHS (who would often refer me to other departments or institutions), I was unable to find anyone able to provide comment on the condition. This is in spite of being examined as far back as 2003 when a clinical research team in New Zealand suggested that, for people of all ages, sitting in front of a computer for extended periods was very likely to increase the risk of pulmonary embolisms exactly like the one that affected Chris.
Professor Beverley Hunt, the medical director of the charity Lifeblood, which is working to raise awareness of the causes of thrombosis, says “If you sit for prolonged periods, then the blood flow through your legs falls off. If you just sit for just ninety minutes, you cut off the blood flow in the vein behind your knee by up to forty or fifty per cent. When you get short of oxygen in your veins, it stimulates clot formation.”
Gamers playing for extended periods are among those most vulnerable to blood clot formation, and the longer a gamer remains sedentary, the greater the risk becomes. Lifeblood’s own research suggests that many gamers are playing for periods of up to five hours, while young professionals are increasingly likely to be sitting at a desk for, on average, three hours before taking a break of some sort. Professor Hunt describes those who are spending longer and longer periods like this as, quite simply, “pushing their luck.” Most alarming is evidence of an increase in related deaths among younger people, including teenagers and children.
Take a break is the message behind David’s website Take Time Out, a gamer-friendly resource set up to tell Chris’ story, explain the dangers of e-thrombosis and give gamers practical, simple advice on preventing blood clots. “For a long time, gamers have come under criticism from a lot of different areas,” says David, who doesn’t want gamers to stop enjoying games the way that his son did, but does want them to be informed both by the advice on his site and, he hopes, health warnings provided by the UKIE, the association for UK Interactive Entertainment.
To mitigate the formation of these clots, Take Time Out advises gamers not to cross their legs for long periods and to take brief breaks every 90 minutes, perhaps to grab a drink of water or make a sandwich, before carrying on right where they left off. And that’s it, that’s enough to improve a gamer’s circulation. The advice is surprisingly clear and simple, not least because it’s such a quick and easy solution to a serious, growing problem.
It’s certainly an interesting article to chat through with some of your gaming young people.