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12 thoughts on “Discussion: Thumb School

  1. your description of controller claw reminds me of when i had piano lessons back in my early teens. i would always have problems with tensing up my hands, and that did not just make playing anything worh complicated fingering much harder, it also really stressed my hands (and no doubt if i had been a couple decades older would have also resulted in a lot of pain).

    i had to consciously try to relax my fingers while doing exercises. i made some improvement on keeping my hands relaxed, though never as much as my teacher would have like.

    i suppose there are probably exercises specifically for training that for musicians. maybe they would work for controller claws too?

  2. I’m not much of a controller user but I dabble. It takes a bunch of conscious effort to learn good ergonomic habits. And you likely won’t do that when playing a game actively. I don’t have many tips for controller but maybe thinking about it while not being rushed by anything could be good?
    Anyways, for mouse and keyboard, I’ve developed a lot of good habits. One unusual one being: holding Ctrl, Win and sometimes Alt with a part of my palm instead of a finger. Win+2, my combo for switching to my music player, is practically just my hand and fingers being at complete rest and pushing down with my palm and one finger a little bit.
    You can find a lot more about ergonomics from better sources but I’ll just mention to avoid using the mouse.

  3. it’s nice to see you write again! i’ve filled the void with skateboarding and gary marcus (ai skeptic) newsletters!

    i have a claw grip on the mouse that i cannot change, so i am a vertical mice type of boy. controllers are relaxing to me!

    looking forward to the links.

    unrelated, but i’m currently obsessed with 3D stereoscopic games and movies. i still think it’s cool and i hope glassless 3D tech (like my 3DS!) becomes a thing. gonna ride this wave for a couple years before i even touch VR! (yes it takes little to excite me)

  4. Your grip is unlikely to massively change, but you can at least go through the motions of thinking about how you are pressing buttons and how much force is needed for activation.

    Just play something a slower/easier to practice being aware of how you hold the controller and how you use the controls

  5. As others have said, changing reflexive responses would be hard. Perhaps you could approach the issue from a different angle: which controller punishes the death grip the least?

    The NES controller, for example, might seem like it was desigend to take your fingers right off, but the trend over time has been in a less angular direction. Size is also an issue – big hands will get on better with bigger controllers, but the reverse is also true; a mismatch will produce a feeling of overstreching or cramp respectively.

    I don’t know what you’re using at the moment, but the consensus falls towards the current gen Xbox controller for larger hands and the PS5 controller for smaller ones. Personally I find the WiiU Pro controller has the perfect form factor for me, but it’s probably hard to get hold of and a bit of a faff to connect to a PC (I had to buy a separate third party adaptor).

    8BitDo are a well-regarded third party manufacturer who do many differently-shaped controllers, so their range might also be worth checking out.

    There’s also the PS Access and Xbox Adaptive controllers, more radical alternatives that fundamentally take you away from grip-based posture. But I don’t know whether you’re looking for that much change as there would probably (?) be an acclimatisation overhead.

  6. I was going to say that I couldn’t relate because I don’t own a controller, but ” I was raised on a bit of black plastic with a red trigger,” ah yes, I relate very much. It’s not quite that I can’t deal with more than one button–Celeste has arrow keys plus jump and dash (and the climb button that you just keep jammed down in a most unergonomic way)–but multibutton combat, especially when combined with mouse [that is to say touchpad] aiming, that is tough. In Dead Cells, Hades, nay even back to Lugaru, I just wind up flailing around, let alone the times I have been able to try Dark Souls or some Zelda on a borrowed Switch. (Hollow Knight was sort of here but when I played it I never got past the “arrow keys plus jump and fight button” stage, I just wasn’t clearing the first boss because I needed to g*t g*d. I could probably do it if I buckled down!)

    A challenge was posed to me recently, if I was locked in a room for thirty days with and had to beat a Dark Souls or die, could I do it? I thought I could. For my wife, the challenge was downgraded to GNOG, and after she was shown GNOG for a few minutes the verdict was “ooh, maybe you will die.” Video games are not her thing.

    There was some story about a trumpeter who practiced blowing into a trumpet hanging from a string so he couldn’t mash it into his lips. Maybe something like that?

  7. Though along the lines of what Jono said, you could try a deliberately chill game that encourages you to move smoothly and patiently and roll with the physics system NightSkyNightSkyNightSky

  8. The ‘How to be smart’ post was an interesting read, but so wide-ranging and all-over-the-place that I end up not really certain of my grasp on what it was saying, nor what I’d say in response.

    It aligns fairly nicely with a couple of posts Scott Alexander wrote about the decline ‘New Atheism’, which are worth reading if you’ve further interest in this particular (perhaps I should say unparticular) slice of discourse.

    https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/10/24/how-did-new-atheism-fail-so-miserably/

    https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/10/30/new-atheism-the-godlessness-that-failed/

    You might be wondering what exactly ‘New Atheism’ is, but for Alexander we can broadly say it was the multidisciplinary alliance of progressive, left-liberal thought that rose in popularity during the early mass adoption of the internet, a period (2005-10) that co-aligns with that under discussion in the first half of Cook’s piece.

    It was a wide banner under which intellectualism and social progressivism could rally around something concrete: rejection of theism on political grounds (social harms perpetuated by organised religions) as well as philosophical ones (rational rejection of creationism), perhaps best emblematised by the Flying Spaghetti Monster, by opposition to G.W. Bush and the Iraq war, or by, yes, Richard Dawkins.

    Alexander puts a lot of weight in the cultural significance of the New Atheist moment, perhaps over-egging it due to his personal history with it. But I agree with him that what was once an identifiable coalition (which we might loosely describe as redditors and Huffington Post readers) has undoubtedly come apart over the last decade: “a cultural fissure between Acela Corridor thinkfluencers with humanities degrees and Silicon Valley bloggers with STEM degrees”.

    Mike Cook’s post is interesting for at times reading like straightforward Humanities rear-guard(ian)ism, depicting the culturally ascendant STEM-sciencism as nasty, flippant, macho and worryingly prone to infiltration by performative grifers, and at others a regretful appeal for reconciliation, for a cultural need to form a more holistic appreciation of our wider stores of knowledge and wisdom, and of their best application.

    It chimed with me, but I also found it telling in the footnotes that he admits to exactly the same macho twitter-dunking awfulness that he bemoans of others. It makes me a little suspect of his conclusions: we’re all like this. As with all diagnoses of the zeitgeist, I find myself unsure of whether the truest takeaway from the post is This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, or just, as always, We Can’t Have Nice Things.

  9. I had lots of random thoughts reading these comments. Reading about vfig’s own experience made me suddenly think – ooh, maybe I should try the piano, perhaps it will be a cure for me where it was a curse for him. And then That Scar just made me nervous about all my other habits, dammit.

    But then Daniel, I have to tell you I have a vertical mouse, so I’m well-sorted on that score. But there are stereoscopic games? This is a thing that exists? When did this happen?

    CA pushed the Controller Solution towards me which I admit, I hadn’t thought of. I assumed I just needed to be nicer to myself. Maybe buying an alternative controller IS being nicer to myself. And I’ll learn to parry in Dark Souls at last.

    Perhaps Jono’s advice is the most useful, to try out more gentle games which don’t force my fingers to race around the plastic gamepad. Perhaps a walking simulator. But not too slow as I’ll end up putting my body weight on the stick to my the protag walk a little faster.

    And Matt’s gaming anecdotes just made me think about how excited I was to try out the original Zeno Clash and then I just couldn’t get it together at all. I press what to do what? Maybe I’ll just try punching. Everyone and everything. Thank you for playing Zeno Clash.

    Matt also mentioned a chill game but I’ve never heard of it. I’m pretty sure Matt has never ever mentioned it before.

    Lastly I might actually read CA’s links. I’ve definitely had my ‘science is the most important thing’ phase as I was raised on Asimov and Bear but as I’ve gone through several decades I’ve become jaded at how easily science can be hijacked with blind faith and snake oil sales just the same way religion can. I’m reminded of string theory lied to us and now science communication is hard.

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