Engineer Mike Tomich is warning parents not to let their young children play videogames because the soft, uncalcified bones in their hands can be bent and twisted, leading to dysfunction, arthritis and other serious problems in the future.
Tomich, a former “quality engineer in the automotive, agriculture, U.S. Department of Defense and the robotics industry,” has spent the past 5.5 years researching the damaging effects of videogaming on children under eight years of age in order to determine “why his grandson and other young children developed bent/twisted arthritic fingers,” he says on his website. He has also published a book on the topic, Our Silent Epidemic, and has testimonials from two medical doctors and former Michigan Representative Tom Meyer.
“Children develop the injuries because their bones are too soft (not calcified hard) and readily yield to the strong repeating forces,” Tomich wrote. “The permanent and accumulative damage from these forces is silently inflicted without pain because of the numbing effects they deliver to the soft bones.”
Early-life button mashing permanently bends fingers and twists knuckles, according to Tomich, resulting in a variety of ailments including “hand/finger functionality losses… crippling arthritis, reduced gripping strength, and loss of meaningful thumb use.” The process is fast and painless because of the softness of young bones and Tomich warns that simply reducing the amount of game time isn’t adequate, as permanent damage can be seen in children’s hands after only six months of casual gaming. Videogames are his primary target but Tomich also has worries about Crayons, saying that parents shouldn’t let kids play with them until they are least five years old, not because they’ll eat them or cram them up their noses but because the pressures caused by holding and coloring with them can also can deformities.
It all sounds awfully dodgy to me and some of his “supporting evidence” doesn’t do much to smooth those waters. He alleges that the videogame industry is using its political muscle to prevent studies on this problem from being undertaken, noting specifically that Microsoft representatives visited the offices of Senator Joe Lieberman in late 2007, presumably to do some arm-twisting by explaining “how the new Wii was supposed to be their salvation, solving the children’s problems.” Notwithstanding the fact that Microsoft providing political boosterism to the Nintendo Wii makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, it’s hard to imagine Senator Lieberman, a longtime critic of videogames, not using this against the industry if he felt there was merit to it.
Tomich also criticizes the “One Laptop Per Child” program, Oprah Winfrey’s school in Africa (which allows young children to color) and an apparent conspiracy in the videogame industry to mask the fact that it’s hiring engineers from other countries not because of lower labor costs and a deeper talent pool but because American engineering graduates have deformed fingers from playing videogames and are thus less productive than they need to be. Even if Tomich does have a valid point about repetitive stress damage to young hands, his conspiracy theory intensity makes it very difficult to take it – or him – seriously.