In this third installment to the developmental BOHM System we will be discussing the Health related risks to sitting at a desk. [ Again check out the start of this whole system here. ] As part of the job sitting and staring is the majority of what we do. Sitting in meetings, at your workstation, during your commute, at your home workstation, etc. While sitting we generally stare at computer screens, phones screens [ during the sitting part of meetings ], reference images, snack machines, and occasionally the outdoors. [ The irl outdoors. ] Probably for many developers the starring part is done in dark or poorly lit rooms.
Surprisingly about 68% of desk related injuries go untreated or are simply ignored. Causing the issue to compound and fester to an expensive operation, trip to the ER, Shrink or Chiropractor. The physical health risks of working a comfy desk job include [ but not limited to ] Carpal Tunnel, Tennis Elbow, Lumbar Sprains, Strains, Lower Back pain, Muscle Spasms, Tendonitis, Joint Dysfunction, and Cervicogenic Headaches. That, on-top of the added mental stress caused by managerial pressure, lack of rest, and crunch experienced in some game studios. Your personal health is under constant barrage.
In this post we will go over some common place bad practices and habits that can affect your health and how to improve your habits so you don’t develop chronic back pain at 25. All of this is documented and well-known by now in the game developer community [ some documents and GDC talks date back to 2010 ] so the following will include summarized descriptions and information, along with helpful links to further your own inquisitiveness.
As with everything discussed so far, it’s about finding a balance. The Balance between work and home, diet and exercise, health and stress. It’s not always the same per person so take time to find the right balance for you. What works for others might not work for you.
Odds are most of us don’t know how to sit correctly. Aside from being told to remain in our seats when an adult is talking since pre-k or your parents telling you not to slouch so much. Outside of that there isn’t much being taught. Now before I continue, I’m not a doctor so the health solutions that I mention should be looked into further and as always consult your doctor if needed. [ Or check webMD. If you do, it’s cancer. My condolences ]
This word is thrown around a lot when discussing workstation health. The dictionary definition is “the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment.” Thus, if you are working at your healthiest, you are working efficiently. So what are some free ways to improve your desk etiquette?
[ Photo Link ]
First thing to start doing is to avoid situations that put unneeded stress on your body and joints. This will take some self-correcting and awareness over time but to start off;
- Don’t lean forward.
- Don’t place your monitor above your head.
- Don’t sit in a rigid and fully upright position.
- Don’t work long periods of time without moving or adjusting.
- Don’t use a wrist rest while typing. Try to avoid using any general supports while typing.
- Don’t tilt the keyboard tray. You want your wrist to be in a natural position as best as possible. 30-60 degree curled down, with flat thumbs. [ Why even put the tilt on the device to begin with? ]
- Don’t keep your feet stationary or completely flat, move your feet around under the desk.
- Don’t bend or twist our torso frequently to spin around, utilize the chairs swivel features. [ If needed ask a coworker or friend to spin you on their way by. ]
- Don’t go without water. Ensure you stay hydrated throughout the day.
- Don’t bend over with your back when petting your doggo. Pivot at the hips.
[ As of writing this I’m currently criss-cross applesauce in my chair. Not a good start on my part. ]
“As a rule of thumb the best type of posture is the one you haven’t been in for the last 15 minutes.” – Adam Martin, GDC 2013
Now we know what not to do, what is there left that we can do? Glad I asked!
- When typing, keep your elbows at the same level as your wrists.
- Adjust your chair height so your feet rest flat on the floor. Keeping the back of your knees about 1-3 inches from the edge of your seat.
- Adjust your monitor to a height and distance so you aren’t slouching or straining your neck. Roughly 20 inches from your face.
- Periodic breaks. The “perfect productivity” is taking a break every 52 minutes. Essentially an hour of focused productivity in exchange for a 10 minute mental break.
- Set the refresh rate of your monitor to a minimum of 70 Hz to limit any flicker.
- Ensure your office is moderately bright. Equal to a nice sunny day where you don’t need sunglasses.
- Keep your mouse next to your keyboard. Ideally if your rotate your arm from the elbow the mouse will fall somewhere in that arc.
- Lean back slightly. 100-130 degrees from parallel form the floor. Relieves pressure on the pelvis.
- To reduce stress on the eyes you should look away from the monitor every 10 to 20 minutes or try to focus on something that is 20 ft away.
- Shake out your hands and arms to relive tension periodically.
That’s all the free stuff we can do, now how can we go about pimping out our workstations and flexing our ergonomic health on our coworkers? First thing is to check with you HR rep or boss and inquire what they offer in terms of supplies and support. Check to see if your company is involved with OSHA. [ Pretty sure most companies have to follow OHSA Standards. ] Occupational Safety and Health Administration sets regulations for companies to ensure a safe working environment for their employees. This can help you afford or acquire a healthy work station with little to no out-of-pocket expenses.
- Get a chair that has a high back that supports your shoulder blades if possible.
- This is our current work chairs. Again, best estimate but roughly $300
- Our beta chair, currently being tested by one of our unity devs, $100
- [ Which this one gives you a superiority complex when you sit high above everyone else with a pleasant cushion to it. Safe to say that this chair might be the one. ]
- My personal chair, which isn’t that great but it works, $40
- Utilize a standing desk, but make sure its the best fit for you.
- This was our first workstation test for roughly $190
- And our current workstation desk at roughly $520. Now this isn’t the exact model we use but it has the same functionality and buttons.
- Trackball mouse [ This one you can probably live without. ] This one is best suited for those who make a lot of erratic mouse movements. Again you want to rotate and move your mouse from your elbow and shoulders not your wrist.
- Shiny blue mouse [ although I prefer shiny red ]
- Lastly a footrest. This is best for sitting down and a decent substitute if you can’t get a standing desk. It helps relieve pressure off you feet while you sit. It’s the right…..step…. in sitting healthy.
Bottom line to staying healthy is to stay active throughout the day. Even small movements can go a long way in maintaining a healthy balance. [ If that hasn’t been stressed already. ] The bare minimum that you can do while working from your desk is to at least stand or stretch your legs for about five minutes for every hour you sit. My personal method includes doing an hour of focused work, then adjusting my desk to stand for about 30 minutes. I usually take about 10 minutes of this time to read some articles, Gamasutra, or blog posts for my mental break. Then rinse and repeat. Generally around lunch I exchange my standing for walking a lap or two around the building. [ In which I criticize the bad pixelation. ]
You can also invest in “fun” devices that can turn your work station into an exercise machine for those random urges to peddle that tend to creep up on people. Or you can try some desk yoga manuevers whilst taking your 10 minute mental break. I do a lot of these throughout the day and have yet to spill my coffee over my desk.
This blog has some good examples and illustrations in which I highly recommend following some of these routines. -> [Blog]
Everyone cultivates mass when starting off. It’s the combination of high calorie cheap meals and a stationary position for 9 hours a day. The lost track of time and bottomless snack bar can really sneak up on you.
Obviously the things to avoid are going to generally be the most delicious. Snacks, takeout, sweets, and heavy caffeine usage. [ One cup of coffee is okay. Just don’t go cold brew on me. ] Personally I have done calorie counting by limiting to just shy of 2,000 calories a day. Currently I am doing a Ketogenic diet. Which is a large reduction in Carb intake and like seriously, everything has “just to many carbs” for this diet. [ Neither of these options are fun. But there is no fun in Diet, only death. ]
The easiest way to curve mass cultivation is to start off by drinking more water. This can prevent headaches, fight off fatigue [ cause we are cutting out caffeine ], cut back on your snack urge, and allow you more time to walk to refill your water bottle. Now if you can’t beat your snackage then join them and replace them. Best candidates are Dried Fruits, Nuts, Dry Popcorn, Beef Jerky and Te to name a few. As we are on the topic of snacks, the next best thing from a snack is a meal. In which you should start packing a lunch and in some cases even dinner. Some light lunch meals can include Vegetable Chili, Salads, humus wraps, Tuna sandwiches, and a light burrito bowl [ very light on the rice if you are avoiding carbs. ]
You should take the time to design your diet for your needs but definitely consider cutting back on the junk food and soda. No need to forsake it though, never hurts to treat yourself.
The game industry is a very stressful job to be in. Stress can make you less productive, less coherent, irrational, and even uncreative. If gone untreated for long periods of time individuals can develop depression, anxiety, self doubt, and a growing sense of isolation. Especially for any remote freelancers, this is something to be aware of. However a lot of these mental illnesses develop slowly for most individuals. Sometimes it is very difficult to spot early signs of stress and symptoms of depression.
So the best thing to do when starting a new project or job or even now is to establish an emotional baseline. Taking the time to sit down and self examine your mental state. The way it works is that you think of a time in which you were the happiest or most relaxed. You picture the environment and the actions you were doing at the time. Then you compare those feelings to what you are feeling now. This then serves as your baseline and first check up before starting your next venture. When working in a high stress job it’s always good to periodically check in and course correct as needed or seek help.
Early physical signs can include insomnia or too much sleep, poor appetite, easy fatigue, and frequent muscle tension. If you or someone notices these changes always assess the situation, don’t wait it out. Find the cause and confront it, passive aggressive notes won’t work this time. The longer it goes the worse it gets. As stated before you can always check your Health Insurance Plan or company OSHA as some plans include access to a psychiatrist or psychologist, depending on the needs.
Art Imposter syndrome is something that plagues a lot of junior, student, and professional artists. Basically a heavy dose of self-doubt, creeping feelings of shame, and feelings of not belonging. This manifest and results into constant over exertion. This overworking is internalized compensation for the fear of being exposed as a fraud. Professionals suggest that with a positive attitude and mindset you can reframe those doubts and nagging feelings in order to overcome it. Even just faking a positive attitude when working on projects or personal artwork can help overcome those negative feelings. Adding a new level to “fake it ’till you make it.” Also strive to make what you love, don’t create art based off what is trending or popular. Now some self criticism isn’t all that bad. As a little dissatisfaction can be a great motivator as you continue to correct your artistic imperfections.
It also helps to have a hobby that isn’t associated with your career or passion. The ability to disconnect from your 9-5 can greatly reduce your stress. For the game industry about a quarter of individuals don’t do or have anything outside of video games. Which quickly leads to Burnout and just feeds most of these mental illnesses.
From the light exercise to the intensive weight lifting, any form of exercise or physical activity is good for you if you are stationary for nine hours of the day. It can be anything you truly enjoy. If you love it or like it you have a higher chance to sticking with it. You could even make it your hobby. For remote freelancers having an activity that takes you out of the office / home and puts you with a group of people can greatly reduce those feelings of isolation and loneliness. Jogging and Running are the most recommended activity for those who sit / stand at a desk all day with yoga being a good runner-up. [ Due to all those funny names that make you giggle on the inside. ]
With all of this, it can be dangerous to go alone. So listed below are two support groups that focus on mental health, that may be useful to some.
- International Game Developers Association (IGDA) – A good source to get in touch with other developers as well as providing of resources and links to information relating to Crunch and other Industry topics.
- Take this – An organization dedicated to helping people in the video game world talk about and manage mental illnesses. They provide guides on coping with depression as well as resources for mental health.