Hello (Again), World

Hello, and welcome to the Dreamgrove, a blog dedicated to playing a Restoration Druid in Azeroth … without the use of one’s hands!

I first created Phaelia after being initially enamored by the cinematic in which the Night Elf Druid morphs into Cat Form. Unfortunately, neither the Feral and Balance specializations appealed to me, but I loved the feel of Restoration. I had previously played for years as a Ranger in EverQuest — a much maligned and often underperforming DPS class — and was eager to play a class or specialization that would always be wanted. I played for several years before founding Resto4Life.com in 2007, which I authored for just over two years before the impending arrival of my son (for whom the Phaelia’s Vestments of the Sprouting Seed were graciously named) prompted me to take a long break from blogging and gaming altogether.

I would visit Azeroth intermittently over the next few years, but was unable transition to playing regularly. A year into the release of Warlords of Draenor, our little Sprout was old enough to play a character of his own, making World of Warcraft an activity we could enjoy together as a family. Mr. Phae and I helped him to level a Worgen hunter of his own, all the way up to the level cap. This is no small feat as the majority of conversation seems to revolve around determining what happened to his pet and where he has run off to now.

After only a couple of months raiding in Draenor, a project deadline at work caused me to have to put in longer hours and greater amounts of typing than I was accustomed to. The two activities combined caused me to develop pain in both of my wrists and forearms. Because I had previously suffered from similar pain years earlier – pain which had resolved itself without too much difficulty – I didn’t think much of it. I began icing my wrists at work and during raids. When it became apparent that I wasn’t healing on my own, I spent several hundred dollars on ergonomic equipment which, although seemingly helpful at first, soon proved to be ineffectual. As my condition worsened and because my career depends upon the use of my hands, I was forced to give up all recreational computer use.

Seeing me suffering, my manager kindly suggested that I consider using voice dictation software at work. I was initially resistant not only because I feared the loss of productivity, but because I was self-conscious about what my coworkers would think (like most software developers, I work in a cubicle, not a closed office). Eventually however, I grew desperate enough to install Dragon NaturallySpeaking and began the process of re-engineering my workflow. Still, even with voice dictation, having to use a mouse continued to take a toll on my arms and I sought a mouse alternative that did not require the use of my hands. I initially tried a piece of hardware called an eye tracker, which uses a small camera to observe the motion of your eyes and then attempts to position the mouse where it believes you are looking. It felt quite Minority Report, but unfortunately the technology is not yet accurate enough for use as a mouse replacement. I eventually found the SmartNav 4: EG by NaturalPoint, an infrared camera that tracks the movement of a small, reflective silver dot that you wear somewhere on the top of your head. That movement is then translated into mouse movement on screen. This device – along with voice dictation software – may have saved my career.

However, even with these adaptations at work, I was forced to concede the need for surgery, at least on my right arm and wrist. Nerve conduction studies had conclusively diagnosed me with nerve compression in my right forearm but was ambiguous about carpal tunnel in both wrists. I was hoping to have fully recovered in time for the release of Legion, but when it became evident that I would not be, I started making investments in the same equipment I had purchased for work to use at home. I was initially discouraged because in-game movement was such a difficult obstacle to overcome, but I was determined not to have to forever sacrifice what I consider to be part of my core identity: being a gamer.

Now I can play comfortably and (so far) effectively without the use of my hands (I do also leverage an XBox controller for initiating auto-run and to make minute adjustments to my position when raiding). As it happens, World of Warcraft is the perfect game to play hands-free because of the number of key bindingd available and its support of complex macros and scripting. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it is actually easier for me to game than to program. There are, of course, a number of limitations: additional latency, occasional instances of poor recognition, reduced mobility, the need for pre-configuration and maintenance, and background noise (try playing beside an overly excited seven-year-old).Nonetheless, it is a fun and engaging method of play. I have particularly enjoyed how it has freed me from the need to fit all of my abilities onto a relatively small number of buttons, as I was forced to do when using a Nostromo.

I have always enjoyed sharing my knowledge with others, and I have decided to share what I have learned over the past year because I know that many other gamers may be experiencing symptoms of RSI, even if those symptoms have not yet developed into a long-term injury. I hope to provide a way to provide readers many more years of gaming without the threat to loss of career or self-identity. I hope that other gamers — inside and outside of Azeroth — can benefit from the knowledge I have to share.

20 thoughts on “Hello (Again), World

  1. So good to see you back. I am glad that you are able to find a bonding experience with your son through the game, I have run into a number of people myself included who have been able to take advantage of that. I look forward to reading more of what you are finding out with this form of gaming.

    I wonder if some of the VR setups can help along with something like the Leap Motion (https://www.leapmotion.com/) would help at all?

    1. Thank you for your kind words (and for being my very first commenter). I am very excited about the new VR technologies that are coming out! While they don’t necessarily seem immediately applicable to a traditional game like World of Warcraft, there will undoubtedly be fantasy-style RPGs developed for the platform as it matures.

  2. Welcome back! I have been Resto myself ever since reading your early posts on the old blog. (My my it has been a bit of time hasn’t it?) I use Dragon in my medical practice and am interested in observing how your experience develops.

    1. I actually started with Dragon Medical at my work, as well (I work as a software developer for a major hospital).That’s the only reason I noticed the lack of macros and advanced commands in the Premium version I bought for home use (and for telecommuting, of course).

  3. Welcome Back! As a resto druid, I am super excited to see another resto blogger and really really interested to read about your playing 🙂

  4. Welcome back! I am happy to hear you found a way to play still. I also suffer from CTS, not as serious as your condition, I know how frustrating it can be though. Some games take more of a toll on me than others. Great to know there are alternative ways to play, I’ve always wondered how voice recognition would work in MMORP games.

    1. Sorry to hear that you are a fellow sufferer, but happy to have you as a reader. I developed CTS/PTS a year and a half ago and gave up the game for a long time. I was just sure that I would be all better in time for the release of Legion, and when I wasn’t, got mad enough to try to find a way to make it work! Then, when it worked far better than I had expected, I wanted to tell the whole world about it! And here we are. 🙂

  5. I am thrilled to see you back Phaelia 🙂 your difficulty with your Hands is frustrating but how you are coping with this is an amazing journey of determination!

  6. Welcome back!!! Has it seriously been 7 years??!? Already!! Where did the time go? I appreciated all you did back then and now moving forward with the CTS.

    -Experience (Boomkin riding Red Dragon)

  7. Welcome back! I play my main Boomie a Resto druid on Fizzcrank and glad to hear you are able to enjoy the game again. I am familiar with the pain in the wrists and hands. Something you may want to consider is carrot juice (I would not of been a believer had I not tried it). 2 cups carrot juice 3 times a day at meals. It’s easy enough to get at Walmart for $4-$6 for 64oz Bolthouse. It’s a natural anti-inflammatory. But the beta-carotene (gives skin a slight nice tan look) improves the flexibility of the tendons a LOT as it is absorbed by them. After 3 days I noticed a reduction in my pain. In a week I noticed a large reduction in my pain. In 3 weeks I went off my Mobic (with doctors approval) as the pain relief from taking the carrot juice was far superior to what I got from the Mobic. YMMV but if you wanted to give it a try it is plenty cheap enough to try. Thought I’d pass my experiences along if they would be any help and welcome back to the game! 🙂

  8. First of all, I want to thank you so much for all the work you’ve put in to helping others with what you have discovered. I was wondering if you’d be able to share a bit on how you programme hands free . the RSI in my wrists keep me from using a keyboard or mouse at all and I’ve been looking for A way to do hands-free programming but have not found a feasible/tolerable solution just yet. do you only use DNS? I can’t wrap my head around how to dictate things like variable names, Create loops, et cetera.

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