The Top 7... Games that physically hurt to play

Welcome to the Top 7. This won't hurt a bit...

Top 7 games that physically hurt to play - Arm Spirit

Video games are supposed to be fun. That's why we play them. Conversely, pain is not fun, which is why we try to avoid it. So when videogames cause us pain, there's much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Here are the seven best examples of this phenomenon from the past 20 years of gaming. Plasters at the ready...

7) Wii Sports

The first time you play Wii Sports, you're likely to have a lot of fun. You're swinging your arm at imaginary tennis balls, punching your mate in the face (probably both virtually and literally, given the wild arm movements the Tennis section encourages) and generally getting all of the fun you get from playing real sports without much of the actual physical exertion. It's liberating. We'd even go so far as to say that our experience looked similar to Nintendo's famous 'lifestyle' promotional photos.

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Above: And it's called 'Wii'? That's freakin' HILARIOUS. God I love this thing

However. The second time you play Wii Sports, you're likely to feel something very different. There's a twinge in your elbow when you play tennis. The boxing game feels like you're punching treacle. Painful treacle that permeates your skin and makes your muscles twinge with every jab, hook and uppercut. Come the third time, you'll be cursing the good name of Miyamoto with language so colourful, you'd probably make even Killzone's Sgt Sevchenko blush and ask you to tone it town a bit.

The problem with Wii Sports and motion controls? There's no feedback. It's like when you go to kick a ball but it's removed before you get there, Charlie Brown-style.

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Above: Not particularly good for you

Add in the white-knuckled grip and muscular tension that most people seem to feel they need to exhibit when they use a Wii-mote and it's no wonder players get so sore. All those invisible tennis balls and boxing partners add up, exerting limbs that have only had the kind of 'warm-up' offered by a nice hot cup of tea on a comfy sofa.

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Above: Nintendo people. Are they actually wearing golf trousers? That's dedication

The ensuing pandemic of Wii-related pain caused countless gamers to go to the doctor with the inevitable line: 'It hurts when I Wii'.

6) The House of the Dead

There are countless lightgun games in the world, so why this one in particular? Firstly, we're talking about using the official Saturn lightgun the VIRTUA GUN. A gun so big, blue and plasticky, it has to be written down in capital letters. As a result of this chunkiness, it's got one of the least enjoyable and most finger-killing triggers of any gun peripheral ever. I mean look at the thing:

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Above: The House of the Dead pack-in version. Quite the collector's article these days. That is, collectors of PAIN

Pulling this trigger is a surprisingly laborious task. Fine as a one-off, but excruciating when you're doing it for the 1,000th time in one day. And it's not even the gun's fault, really. It was designed to work with Virtua Cop - a game with careful 'justice shot' marksmanship where you pick off bad guys with a single bullet to the forearm for the best score.

By comparison, HotD has a lot of zombies. And the thing with zombies is that shooting them doesn't always kill them - it usually just makes bits fall off. That careful shot to the forearm just causes the arm to come away, leaving the rest of the corpse still trying to bite you. Even a headshot in HotD can merely shoot the corpse's face off.

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Above: And now you know why zombies groan - it's all the awful jokes they hear

You can even choose 'Saturn mode', in which you can elect to deliberately underpower your gun, allowing you to pick limbs off zombies like the one in the intro's tutorial sequence without killing them after two shots. When you have to physically pull the plasticky mechanism five or six times for every single zombie, suffice to say the tendon in your right arm stops being your friend by the end of level 2 and starts stabbing you with hot knives every time you pull the trigger.




5) Daley Thompson's Decathlon

This physically demanding classic appeared on most 'personal home computers' of the 1980s and kick-started the button-mashing sports craze. Never mind that the character sprite looked more like TinTin than back-to-back Decathlon Gold Medalist Daley Thompson. Punters just loved the simple 'waggle your joystick as quickly as possible' gameplay and it flew off the shelves and into gaming lore.

As a result, its inclusion on this list is inevitable. Not only did it single-handedly destroy thousands upon thousands of joysticks (and rubber keyboards once those were gone), it also caused some of gaming's first cases of RSI. Not to mention kids and teenagers everywhere developing blisters on their palms from the tops of their joysticks, like some kind of gaming stigmata.

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Above: The Last Temptation of... another bash at the 1500m

But despite everyone hating what the game made us do, nobody could stop doing it. Not even when their hands were red raw. Incredibly, loads of games successfully followed suit, most notably Konami's Track & Field series.

Admittedly, it's hard to see the attraction in any of them today. But you can recreate the experience if you want to see what it was like to game in the '80s. Get a plastic bottle, hold it in one hand, press play on the video below, then when the gun sounds, use your other hand to waggle it left and right as fast as you possibly can until the little guy crosses the line.

That there is the pain barrier. And you may scoff at the primitive nature of the game's graphics, but consider this - here is a game that turns a sit-down experience into a test of physical might and endurance. In that respect, it's a superb simulation of the Olympic Games and wholly deserving of its place in history. It can also f*** right off.

4) Sega Superstars

This is actual torture. In a world before the only-slightly-crap NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams on Wii and the Japan-only PS2 remake of the original (which we want in HD, please Sega), the only way to get a current-gen NiGHTS experience was to fly as the little jester dude via Sega Superstars on EyeToy.

Above: A French guy plays the game on YouTube. Because you probably haven't

It had the most wonderful idea for control, too. You just flung your arms out like the wings of an aeroplane (like you did when you were a kid, running around the living room in your parents' house, breaking stuff) and tilt them to turn left or right. It was Kinect before Kinect. You were the controller you were NiGHTS. You could fly for about five minutes. After said five minutes, those aeroplane wing arms start to feel heavy. Then they hurt. Then they really hurt. Eventually your 'wings' are 98% lactic acid and screaming for the torture to stop.

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Above: Not quite the serene gameplay experience we bought it for

And look - you're not getting better at the game, you're actually getting worse. NiGHTS isn't flying quite as high as he was before, almost like his arms are tired. Odd, that. And since when did the soundtrack have a weird atonal wimpering running underneath it?

Note to Sega: If you want to bring one of your best niche characters to a wider audience, don't make people associate its image with physical pain.

3) Kid Icarus: Uprising

3DS has caused us more than a little discomfort in its brief year on sale. Madden 3D hurt our eyes, F1 2011 and Mario Kart 7 hurt our fingers but that all pales when compared to the otherwise superb Kid Icarus' control method. What on EARTH was Nintendo thinking?

Pain! Pain! There's just something intrinsically wrong with having one finger on the left trigger (holding it down to auto-fire but still needing to release it to charge) while steering with the circle pad and supporting the rest of the console's weight with some ungodly arrangement of your remaining digits. To compound the problem further, your right hand is just adding to the console's apparent weight by pressing down on the touch screen from above.

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Above: This is literally the most comfortable way I can play the game on my 3DS

And it's incredible how many different ways this hurts to hold. There's the discomfort up your arm from using the shoulder button to fire. The thumb stiffness while attempting the dodge flick while simultaneously trying to grip the machine. And you develop red imprints on your palms from trying to wedge the corners into your hands while keeping your stylus free enough to move. As a method of hurting someone in as many ways possible, that's impressively inventive.

Now, you could say we're being unfair. The game does, after all, come with a little plastic stand, supporting the weight of the console so you're free to play the game without all this painful faffing. A stand? Really? Is that how far we've come from the Nintendo that downgraded its Game Boy's specs just so that it would run longer on 4 AA batteries? And what are we going to look like on the train?

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Above: This is not what portable gaming is all about

There are plenty of times where it's just not practical to whip out a little plastic stand and set up your optimal gaming experience, so there really should be a control set-up to offer some solace from the hurt. Surely the Circle Pad Pro add-on will make it stop? But no! To make things even worse, buying the add-on still doesn't let you play with 'normal' controls it just accommodates left-handed players. Why? Because Nintendo thought it "would end up being just the same as controls on other platforms". You know, the ones that don't leave you looking like someone constantly practicing shadow puppetry. Grrr.

2) Battlefield 3 (simulator)

Battlefield isn't normally the most painful game to play. Any online multiplayer shooter can get so frustrating you start to cry actual tears (if you're that bad at it) but it never really hurts you. But it was the game that UK TV tech programme The Gadget Show used to test a new kind of immersive gaming experience. One that fires paintball guns at you when you get shot. And they hurt. A lot. Just look at this guy's haul from a non-Battlefield-related game of paintball:

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Above: Would it be mean to say this man doesn't appear to be very good at Paintball?

But the Gadget Show's set-up is seriously impressive. You move by walking on floor panels which are actually treadmills linked to the PC that's running the game. That's your control input for movement. As you turn around with your gun, it moves the screen around a 180-degree projection set-up as the camera rotates in the game. The display is so large it fills your peripheral vision so that you may as well actually be there. Look at this:

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Above: Officially the most awesome gaming set-up we've ever seen

In some ways, we're glad this isn't available to buy. Knowing how many hours a day the more devoted FPS fans plough into their favourite pastime, we can just picture a horrified doctor counting 1,785 individual wounds during the post-mortem. It looks very painful.

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Above: Shot by paintball guns at close range every time an enemy hits you? That's gotta hurt

That said, this is probably the future of gaming. Definitely the future of painful gaming, at the very least. But there's something even more painful than getting shot with guns...

1) Arm Spirit

This had to be at number one because it actually broke people's arms. Well, we'll have to say 'allegedly' because the company in question swears that it's so easy to play 'even a woman could beat it'. But that's not what gamers said when they walked away from the machine with broken arms. That's not really what you expect from an arcade game, is it?

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Above: 500 Yen for a fractured ulna, anyone? Yes, Timmy - you can go first, dear

What a disappointing side-effect. That said, there isn't any photographic evidence of the breakages, so we're left to imagine the scene. We're thinking something along the lines of the arm wrestling bit in The Fly when Jeff Goldblum breaks the arm of his opponent thanks to his superfly super fly abilities.

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Above: You think they'll have that on the tour? Oh, wrong film

So that's that. You're unlikely to play it now seeing as the machine itself has been withdrawn from use as a precaution, but that's probably for the best. But it allegedly broke people's alleged arms (allegedly) so it has to be #1. And that's an alleged fact.

But what do you think? Which game has hurt you the most in your gaming life? Tell us in the comments below.

Justin Towell

Justin was a GamesRadar staffer for 10 years but is now a freelancer, musician and videographer. He's big on retro, Sega and racing games (especially retro Sega racing games) and currently also writes for Play Magazine,, PC Gamer and TopTenReviews, as well as running his own YouTube channel. Having learned to love all platforms equally after Sega left the hardware industry (sniff), his favourite games include Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams, Zelda BotW, Sea of Thieves, Sega Rally Championship and Treasure Island Dizzy.