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One man's Candy Crush obsession led to a torn tendon because it suppressed pain

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

A 29-year-old man suffered a torn tendon in his left hand from playing Candy Crush Saga for nearly two months straight, according to a group of San Diego doctors writing in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

The physicians explained that the man complained of "chronic left thumb pain and loss of active motion," and told them the symptoms surfaced after he had been playing Candy Crush "all day for 6 to 8 weeks." The patient, who is right-handed, told doctors that he played mostly with his left hand while using his right hand for other activities — "playing was a kind of secondary thing, but it was constantly on," he said.

Doctors diagnosed the patient with a tear of one of the two tendons that extends the thumb, and fixed the injury during surgery. The operation confirmed that the individual suffered a rupture of that tendon between the wrist and the first thumb knuckle, according to the report, which is titled, "Tendon Rupture Associated With Excessive Smartphone Gaming."

"playing was a kind of secondary thing, but it was constantly on"

The patient did not report any pain until after he suffered the actual tear, according to the report, which was authored by a group of doctors led by Dr. Andrew Doan of the Naval Medical Center San Diego. The authors went on to suggest that the "visual distraction" and "highly pleasurable" nature of playing Candy Crush "provide a plausible explanation for why the patient did not feel pain from his injury." The doctors' report cited previous research that found video games could suppress the perception of pain in pediatric patients and in burn victims.

In other words, continuing to play Candy Crush for as long as the patient did may have prevented him from feeling pain in his thumb — pain that might have led him to stop playing before he suffered an injury as serious as a torn tendon.

The report's authors didn't draw any conclusions based on this single case; instead, they suggested further study. Previous research has suggested that playing certain video games can reduce stress, make players more morally sensitive, cause lingering effects with behavior and visual perception, and increase brain size.

"Research might consider whether video games have a role in clinical pain management and as nonpharmacologic alternatives during uncomfortable or painful medical procedures," the authors wrote. "They may also have a role in reducing stress. It may be interesting to ascertain whether various games differ in their ability to reduce the perception of pain."

At the same time, the report noted, "The potential for video games to reduce pain perception raises clinical and social considerations about excessive use, abuse, and addiction."

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