Whatever your age and whatever the context, taking decent care of yourself and recognising potential health issues before they become serious problems is always good advice. Anybody who plays video games will likely have experienced related physical discomfort of one form or another, be it a cricked neck from hunching over a handheld, tired arms from playing while lying in bed, or sensitive wrists and finger joints after mashing the same button repeatedly for hours. Woe! How we suffer at the coalface of interactive entertainment!
In this guide we present advice on how to stay as comfortable and healthy as possible while playing your Switch or Switch Lite. We’ll look at some common issues that tend to crop up when playing video games for extended periods, and we’ll highlight some accessories that over the years we’ve found invaluable for preventing our hands and wrists disintegrating.
We hope to offer advice for optimum comfort and accessibility while playing Switch (or any other video game platform, really. Not just for the more, ahem, seasoned gamer but for anybody who needs to take better care of themselves.
If you’re going to avoid little aches and pains while gaming, you’ve got to think carefully about your habits and the equipment you use. Below you’ll find general tips, things to consider and a few handy accessories that have helped us avoid problems, or manage existing conditions.
At the top, we’ll start with your bottom…
Think about your posture
First up, we should remember that how we’re sitting can have serious repercussions for our long term comfort, and this is as true for gaming as for any other screen-based activity we undertake for work or pleasure.
Whether you’re sitting on a sofa or super duper gaming chair with neon down the side, the basic principles are the same:
- Avoid slouching or leaning
- Support your back with cushions or whatever you have
- Avoid craning your neck; have the screen at a comfortable, natural angle
- Avoid crossing your legs
- Try to keep your feet flat on the floor, with your knees bent at an angle no less than 90°
- Stand up every so often (if you’ve got a smart watch that reminds you, use it!)
- Use compression socks if necessary to help improve circulation
A good chair is an absolute must. There are a multitude of gaming chairs on the market, although we can’t really vouch for their comfort, despite their snazzy looks. Is a gamer chair essential? Of course not, and quality is hugely variable, but it may well be worth investigating the options if you spend multiple hours with a pad in your hand. Speaking of which…
Go Pro (Controller)
The controller is a vital part of your gaming experience, and it’s worth considering the hundreds of hours you’ll be interacting with this piece of plastic. The Switch is a lovely little device — cute and convenient — but the removeable Joy-Con controllers aren’t the most ergonomic of input devices, especially for anybody with average-to-large hands. If you’ve got old hand injuries or another existing condition, you may start to experience joint pain or cramps after prolonged use.
There are plenty of Switch controllers to choose from, but we strongly advise that you invest in a Pro Controller if you play in docked mode a lot. The Switch Pro Controller might seem like an unnecessary extravagance (gamepads are expensive accessories these days, and you’d probably rather spend that cash on a game, right?), but we promise you’ll never go back. Using a Pro Controller for the first time highlighted for us just how much we’d been adjusting our natural grip to accommodate the Joy-Con’s straight edges and reduced size.
If the official Pro Controller is a little too rich for your blood, third-party alternatives are priced more reasonably, although they are often missing one or more features — gyro compatibility, rumble feedback or NFC chip readers for amiibo, for example. Wired pads are even cheaper:
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Get a grip
We’d also advise that you use a grip for your Switch when playing in handheld mode. There are many options available — the Satisfye Pro Gaming Grip, for example — and they’ll make portable play much more comfortable in the long run, even if they look a tad ungainly and add bulk to your satchel, napsack, briefcase, bag-for-life or whatever else you carry your Switch in when you’re out and about.
There are dozens available and they all do more-or-less the same thing. Some even double as a protective shell or portable charger for your Switch or Switch Lite:
There’s also grip options when it comes to your Joy-Con — specifically when used in the sideways configurations for some local co-op multiplayer. Again, the Joy-Con are clever little devices (when they’re not drifting, that is), but they can become cripplingly uncomfortable to use if your hands aren’t the right size for them. The grips below (or similar ones — you’ll be spoiled for choice if you google ‘Joy-Con grips’) will help avoid aggravating existing ailments, or causing new ones:
Bigger is better
More ergonomic alternatives to Joy-Con controllers are also available for handheld play. They might not be as small or attractive, but options such as the Hori Split Pad Pro are significantly more comfortable to use in handheld mode than the regular Joy-Con if you’ve got big flappy hands. Here’s a few oversized Switch controller options that we like:
In general it’s natural to rest your hands on your lap when playing on a television — few gamers would play for hours on end with the pad held out in the air in front of them — but it can be a good idea to rest your arms on a cushion or other such support, especially while playing in handheld mode (Nintendo-branded cushions are available, of course, but any old normal cushion, rolled-up towel or family pet will do).
You want to avoid supporting the entire weight of the console while playing and Switch is heavier than a Game Boy or a 3DS. Gripping anything for extended periods creates tension that runs through the wrists and up your forearms and will become uncomfortable after a few minutes (if you’ve played Switch in handheld mode in bed, for example, you’ll have likely experienced this).
Also, stretch! Your hands and arms are your primary input tools so make sure you limber up before settling down and remember to stretch out every now and then while you’re playing. It’ll do you good, honest.
Look after your fingers
It’s easy to forget just what a beating our fingers and hands take in even the mildest gaming session, so we’re breaking them out into their own mini-section. Button presses might be tiny actions in isolation, but their repetitive nature and the fact that it’s very easy to get caught up in the moment and hammer an input far harder than necessary means playing games can be very hard on your digits.
Again, give them a shake and a stretch. Don’t go mad — you don’t need to crack each knuckle like you’re Bruce Lee preparing for an epic showdown — but it’s important to get the blood flowing.
This applies to games across all platforms and it’s also important to simply be aware of repetitive nature of your inputs. The cause of an ongoing thumb injury for this writer can be traced back to the long summer of 2016 and catching Pocket Monsters in Pokémon GO. Repeatedly catching thousands of monsters in those months — using a single hand to hold the phone and flick Poké Balls with a thumb — resulted in a Repetitive Strain Injury that still flares up to this day.
The moral of this story? Switch hands, if possible, give your overworked digits a rest, and try to remember that the tiniest of repeated actions and inputs while gaming will take their toll eventually.
It’s also worth remembering that you can change any button input on the controller for another at a system level. To change your Nintendo Switch button mappings, head to System Settings > Controllers and Sensors > Change Button Mapping.
Some games are harder (on you) than others
Different games place different demands on you, so be aware of how playing high frequency input games impacts your body over time. Battling through a hack-and-slash action game, for example, may take forty, fifty, sixty hours or more of hitting the same buttons over and over and over again.
It’s easy to forget this when you’re distracted by the game. For an illustration of the unthinking labour we put our poor old hands through on a regular basis, take sixty seconds to hammer the ‘Y’ button repeatedly on a Joy-Con while your Switch is turned off.
It’s a good idea to anticipate and avoid overly-repetitive inputs and vary the types of games you play. Avoid going from one button-masher to the next without any respite. Why not throw in a puzzle game between your hack-and-slash adventure and frantically tapping a clicker on your phone screen? Take a break between delivering beats in Smash Bros. and smashing buttons in Mario Party.
No, this doesn’t mean you have to break out Ring Fit Adventure or one of the other fitness and exercise games on Switch before diving from one Musou game to the next, but it’s worth remembering that different games demand different skills and it can be good to break your routine and vary the demands you place on your body.
Keep things in focus
Endless hours in front of a screen can be tough on your eyes. It’s important to consider your distance from screen and whether it’s brightness is sufficient for comfortable viewing. In handheld mode, it’s easy to adjust your Switch’s screen brightness (hold down the ‘Home’ button at any time for quick access to the brightness slider).
Small text can also be a cause of eye strain on Switch. We’ve highlighted some of the games where this is an issue in the guide below, and it’s worth considering how this will affect your experience depending on the way you’re playing (on a regular Switch or a Switch Lite, for example).
Final tips to keep match fit
In addition to all of the above, here are a few more common sense tips if you’re planning a marathon gaming session:
- Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water (dry brain does not make good game)
- Wear comfortable clothes (no, you don’t need a gaming uniform or anything, but think about how tight clothing might affect posture or circulation if you’re sitting for extended periods)
- And finally — not to get all Nintendo on you — remember to take a break once in a while! Go for a walk, grab a coffee, eat something nutritious, interact with a human being (digitally or otherwise), that sort of thing
Hopefully, most of this information is old hat, but it’s always handy to remind ourselves of the importance of healthy body and mind, and to head off bad habits at the pass. It’s so easy to slouch on the couch and think ‘oh, just five minutes’… and four hours later you’re wondering why your back aches. Eventually, you’ll find it’s a challenge to stand up without vocalising the effort and before you know it you’ll be complaining about cold feet, numb wrists, lumber twinges and how all music these days sounds the same. It’ll happen!
Let us know if you’ve got any of your own tips or tricks to avoid gaming-related aches, pains and health issues.