While in line at EB Games recently, a new product adjacent to the till caught my eye: MuscleCare. The box boasts "Gamer’s Pain Relief."
Almost fortuitously, as I stood in line, a commercial came on their TV for the same product – this commercial was to be repeated three times before I got to the front of the line. I felt the sharp pinch of consumerist bombardment. My initial reaction was one of sadness: a product being marketed to gamers to perpetuate an unbalanced, unhealthy gamer lifestyle. But the advertising did prompt me to find out more about MuscleCare.
Developed by Toronto-based chiropractor Dr. Chris Oswald, MuscleCare topical ointments and roll-on balm contains a naturally occurring type of magnesium that penetrates muscles and allows them to relax. This relaxation, according to musclecare.net, permits greater blood flow through the affected area, subsequent removal of inflammatory agents, and ultimately results in a reduction of spasm and pain.
To be honest, I’m intrigued. I’ll likely give MuscleCare a try. But not for the reasons reinforced at EB Games.
Though I’m always leery of cure-all boasts in "scientifically proven" medical products, the problem I have is not with the MuscleCare product. The problem I have is it being marketed specifically as "gamer’s pain relief."
On YouTube, you’ll find a video of Dr. Oswald demonstrating the product with gamers at a Halo 4 launch. Yes, the results are once again impressive, with clear evidence of relaxation occurring in the interosseus muscle between the thumb and index finger.
Again, my question revolves not around whether it works, but the social symptom underlying the need for this product in the gaming community.
I try to follow a rather simple rule: if something makes my body hurt, that’s my body’s way of telling me to stop doing the thing that caused the hurt.
I know this is an oversimplification and may not be as easily applicable for conditions such as arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome and chronic muscle pain. It also doesn’t take into account professional gamers, those few, top-of-the-gaming-world players whose career may depend on longer gaming sessions.
Yet the product isn’t being marketed towards relief of chronic conditions or only the elite, but as a way for everyday gamers to play longer with fewer spasms in thumb muscles. The Halo 4 promo video states "We’re here to get people playing better and playing longer."
And there’s the problem. Instead of reinforcing a balanced lifestyle, one made up of stints of gaming with breaks for fancy things like reading and physical activity, MuscleCare not only perpetuates an unbalanced gaming lifestyle, but offers relief when the body screams that it needs a break.
With games getting longer and more intensely immersive, with gaming becoming more and more a source of personal identity, the insidious pressure on gamers to play longer is already present. It is becoming harder and harder to resist the urge to play for extended periods.
MuscleCare isn’t the only product out there either. There’s the IMAK Smartglove which provides wrist support to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as the BedLounge Video Game Chair so lumbar support and proper posture can be yours. Perhaps a more effective and overt product to let players play longer and unhindered would be a home catheter kit for gamers so they can avoid those pesky bathroom breaks.
Instead of such a subliminal message being perpetuated, one that is reflective more of the symptoms of the industry than a cure, EB Games could actively advertise a balanced lifestyle, one that fosters the development of other passions in combination with gaming: reading, music, sport, art, spirituality.
But where’s the fun – or money – in that?
When he’s not teaching high school, St. Albert Catholic High School alumnus Derek Mitchell can be found attached to a video game console.