The Games MS Plays

When we think about how to describe our lives with Multiple Sclerosis, the term “game” would likely be the very last thing we’d use. A game sounds glib, shallow, cynical, and doesn’t even come close to acknowledging the nuances, the sometimes painful, tragic, or merely uncomfortable or inconvenient symptoms MS causes. And yet, there are plenty of familiar games we could use to aptly describe how those symptoms affect us. I’ve compiled several I could think of and I’m sure you can think up even more examples:


This arcade game from the 1970s is very simple. Moles pop out of holes on the game board and you must hit them with a rubber mallet to push them back down. But each time you whack it back down, other moles pop up in unpredictable places and at any time. It is an exercise in futility. No matter how many you whack and how fast your response time, there simply is no vanquishing the vermin. (See:

Who among us can’t relate to the futility of hammering at a new symptom, side effect or relapse with drugs, tests and doctor visits? No matter how fast we scramble for an intervention and take care of one problem, another pops up, and another. Often, several symptoms will pop up at the same time. At least the Whac-a-Mole® contestant gets extra points for quicker response times. What do we get? Best case scenario, some relief sooner rather than later. There are no guarantees.

Magic 8-Ball®

Invented in the late 1940s, this toy resembles an oversized billiards 8-ball. A 20-sided die with a different statement on each face rises to the clear window at the top of the inverted ball, revealing a single response to the yes/no question you ask it. (See:

Here are the 20 responses:

  1. It is certain
  2. It is decidedly so
  3. Without a doubt
  4. Yes definitely
  5. You may rely on it
  6. As I see it, yes
  7. Most likely
  8. Outlook good
  9. Yes
  10. Signs point to yes
  11. Reply hazy try again
  12. Ask again later
  13. Better not tell you now
  14. Cannot predict now
  15. Concentrate and ask again
  16. Don't count on it
  17. My reply is no
  18. My sources say no
  19. Outlook not so good
  20. Very doubtful

Certainly we can apply this game directly to our sometimes futile attempts at gaining knowledge of and relief from the mysterious MS symptoms and drug side effects that bombard us in a seemingly random fashion, either one at a time or in groups. (See description of Whac-a-Mole® above.) In fact, if you read through the list again, you could probably recall at least one of your neuro appointments where the doc has uttered nearly every response on the list, word for word.


Invented in the UK in 1944, this detective game requires three to six players to solve a murder committed in an English country mansion, using cards dealt out to each player as a means to discovering the truth. It is comprised of six suspects, six weapons, and nine rooms as possible scenes of the crime. When a game piece enters one of the rooms, a player can offer a suggestion about the scene, weapon, and suspect, after which other players provide cards that can disprove the suggestion and therefore narrow down the possibilities. If the player’s suggestions cannot be disproved by the other players, s/he can then make an accusation about the suspect, means and crime location. The accusing player that correctly guesses all three wins the game. (See:

How closely this game reflects the detective work we and our health care teams must pursue to solve the mysterious cause of our complaints! For example, your right eye has been blurry lately. You know two things: you suffer from rhino-allergies and you have a history of optic neuritis. But this symptom isn’t usually how your ON presents. So, is it allergies after all? Are you also sneezing a lot, have a runny nose and feel flu-ish? No, so could it be ON? Should you call your neuro or wait a couple more days to see if it clears up? On top of that you’ve noticed some numbness in your left thigh that isn’t part of your normal palette of symptoms. You also overdid it on the recumbent cycle at the gym yesterday. Is it just an injury or should you call your neuro?

You decide to do the cautious thing and call your doc. But which one? Your neuro or your ophthalmologist? Your allergist or your primary care doc? You pick one as a start: your neurologist.

Because you always show up to appointments well-prepared with written notes, you recite all your symptoms, when they started, and what things you used for activities you engaged in prior to the appearance of these new discomforts. You’ve now presented the facts and wait for the doc to discover the evidence. After listening carefully, your neuro checks your eyes, performs the tuning fork test and the pin test on both legs, and expresses his/her opinion:

“Your optic nerve looks unchanged, no active inflammation. I did notice an ingrown lash on your lower lid, so that could be causing some irritation. Your sensory tests are unchanged since your last appointment. I don’t think you’re in a relapse. But if you’re concerned we can certainly do a course of steroids just to be on the safe side.”

So the ball is in your court. You don’t relish the thought of going through steroid therapy right now, but you don’t want to go into a full-blown relapse either. You go home and pick up your Magic 8-ball®. “Should I do steroids?” you ask the ball, turning it upside-down. An answer floats to the surface:

“Ask Again Later.”

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