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Original Issue

THE JOY OF STICKS

VIDEO GAMES HAVE LONG BEEN DELIGHTFUL DISTRACTIONS, AT LEAST FOR THOSE WHO PLAY

LAST THURSDAY, one day after it was announced he had carpal tunnel syndrome in his pitching hand, Red Sox starter David Price found himself denying that the injury had been caused by his Fortnite habit. His past admission that he plays the third-person-shooter game three hours a day left most folks—particularly Sox fans, as well as scribes of a certain age—having none of it.

In Price's defense, well, everyone is playing Fortnite, and they're not exactly hiding it. A short time before Price met the press, several Brewers were partaking in a game on the Miller Field jumbotron. And it's not as if Price (right) is the first athlete to test the body's limits when it comes to remote controllers. In 2005, Italian soccer great Alessandro Nesta had to refute accusations that the tendon injury in his thumb that required surgery had been caused by, as one paper put it, "a particularly energetic session on his PlayStation." The following year, pitcher Joel Zumaya of the Tigers missed three games in the ALCS because of inflammation in his pitching arm caused by shredding too hard on Guitar Hero.

Alarmism about video games is almost as old as the games themselves. "His fingers were cramping up and cold. His eyeballs were raw," declared a story in the Jan. 18, 1982, issue of TIME relating the exploits of Steve Juraszek, a 15-year-old who played a single 16-hour game of Defender in a suburban Chicago arcade. (GRONK! FLASH! ZAP! VIDEO GAMES ARE BLITZING THE WORLD proclaimed the cover of the issue.)

Nine months later, SI waded into the issue of video games and their effect, with no less a luminary than Frank Deford weighing in. ARE ELECTRONIC VIDEO GAMES BAD FOR KIDS? the headline asked. Deford concluded, perhaps a touch hyperbolically, that "they are an instrument of the devil"—not because they were addictive or dangerous, but because they just weren't that much fun. "It's all rote. That's why you read about these video idiot savants playing one machine for 40 or 50 hours in a row." [Sorry, Steve.—Ed.]

Oh, but in the 36 years since Juraszek parked himself in front of that Defender machine, video games have evolved to the point where they occasionally serve a purpose beyond "But it will improve my hand-eye coordination!" Plenty of NFL players have claimed that Madden is a valuable teaching tool. And several NASCAR drivers have said that the easiest way to learn the line at a new track is to play it on a game.

Of course, Fortnite: Battle Royale—whose object is, more or less, to kill everyone else—doesn't offer much in the way of useful baseball skills. But, hey, it fosters teamwork. Just look at those Brewers!

Even if it didn't, though, who cares? Players are going to get hurt no matter what they do with their spare time. A year after his Guitar Hero injury, Zumaya tore up his shoulder moving boxes in his dad's attic.

Deford didn't come down squarely against video games. He rejected the argument that without them, kids would spend their time doing something useful. "[I]t is my experience that children, no less than adults, never make choices that way," he wrote. "We never say, well, this afternoon I was planning to read Plato for a while, visit some local shut-ins, then give blood.... No, it's the human condition to decide in advance to do something worthless, and then to zero in on the specifics."