Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

My Real Addiction

Posted by Gerald on August 5, 2007

This has been the last real weekend off before the semester and I have been vegging above and beyond the norm.  Of course next weekend I’ll probably come up with another reason for doing nothing productive.  Until then I shall let tomorrows rationalizations rationalize tomorrow – or something like that.

Yesterday was mostly reading and playing some Civ 4.  I hadn’t been playing any computer games for several months, but I have started again over the last few days.  I must stop.  If there is an area of my life where I’ve displayed addictive tendencies it has been with these sorts of games.  I first noticed this when I was little.

When I was a kid we used to go “camping” in the summer.  My parent’s (and extended family’s) version of camping was to haul a travel trailer to a campground not far from where we lived and live in them for a few weeks.  My parents and I and some of my aunts, uncles, and cousins would all do this together.  Who had the biggest and nicest trailer became a version of intra-family social warfare.  During the week the adults (including both of my parents – mom always worked) would go into work and if there were non-working adults to supervise we kids could spend the day at the park (if not I would spend the day where I usually did the rest of the time – with my grandparents).  The first place we did this in was called Pioneer State Park and it was right on the shore of Lake Michigan.  This area was somewhat unusual because it had sand dunes.  After a few years, and for reasons that were not explained to me – I think I was seven or so – we stopped going there and started going to a place called White River Campground.  Therein lies the tale.

I used to enjoy playing on the beach at Pioneer, but there was no beach at White River.  There was a swimming pool but I never really learned to swim.  Dad tried to teach me that first summer – an experience that left him frustrated and angry and me absolutely terrified.  This was about 1969 or 1970 and the idea that you should teach children to swim BEFORE they develop a fear of the water had not been communicated to dad.  Still, I could ride my bike – which I lived on at that age – and my cousins and I found this little wading pool near the eponymous White River that was full of plants and crayfish but also had the benefit of being far from prying parental eyes.  We weren’t actually doing anything they couldn’t see, but that wasn’t the point.  We had fun, until during our second summer there the wading pool was discovered and the parental group jointly decided to ban it as “too dangerous.”  A few punishments for trying to sneak down there later, we were back to just riding bikes, which is fun, but can get old after awhile.

This takes us to the game shack.

There was a small outbuilding with three or four pinball machines.  At that point I couldn’t have cared less.  I didn’t really start playing pinball until I lived in Iowa City.  What caught me was a game called “Desert Fox”.  Before I describe this, remember that this is around 1971.  “Pong” was about to be released but I wouldn’t actually see a working version of it for about five years.  This was an arcade game, but not a computer game.  In “Desert Fox” you put in a quarter, a light projected through a painting of a desert with tanks on it.  The painting scrolled down the screen and you used a joystick to move a gun-sight back and forth while firing at the tanks.  The sight only moved along the x-y axis and when you “fired” a little red light would depict gun-flashes and a machine gun noise would sound.  When you hit a tank the whole thing flashed red and there was a bang.  If you hit enough tanks, you got a free game.

After awhile I could – and did – play for three hours on a single quarter.

Then mom found out and I was banned from the game hut as well.

The story doesn’t really pick up again until I moved to Iowa City.  It was there that I purchased my first PC.  Then I discovered Harpoon (a modern naval warfare simulator), then Doom, then the original Civilization… and way too many other to count.  The big ones recently have been Civ 4, the Medal of Honor games, and Oblivion.

I think this is a real addiction.

When I am in these I can lose days of my life.  I will keep playing late when I know I’ve got to get up in the morning.  I will play when I have significant work to do.  In the past, I had even begged out on social occasions just to keep playing.

This isn’t as bad as it used to be, but I can still get lost in these games.  The thing that really makes me think that this is a problem for me is that I KNOW that I feel better after a day of – say – reading, listening to music, and even blogging – but I will still light the damned game up.  I will tell myself I’m only going to play for awhile – and sometimes I do.  Sometimes I don’t.  I’ve taken them off of my computer.  I’ve thrown them away.  But then I hear about another cool game and I buy it.

I don’t think this is really damaging my life but I do not think it is helping either.  I wrote this to try to head off a lost evening and it seems to be doing the trick.  I do not feel the urge I did earlier to play the game.

If I start jonesing again tonight I’ll write a review of the Bourne Ultimatum.  I saw it with some friends this afternoon.  If not, I’ll probably write the review tomorrow.

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3 Responses to “My Real Addiction”

  1. Steve said

    I know this addiction all too well…
    1. We got our first “computer” in 1984(?). My parents refused to buy us a “game machine,” despite our constant pleading. No Atari for us. However, the Commodore 64… now that was a computer! And yet, all we ever did was play games on it. My brother learned some rudimentary programming– and learned how to program games. Now, my brother, later became addicted to Zelda (the original) and the forerunners to games like Civilization (do you remember Populus?)… but me, I always preferred the shoot-em-up games to anything that really involved planning and strategy. I guess that’s why I don’t really like Chess. And why I love pinball.
    2. Pinball and Super Mario Bros. We lived down the street from a Circle K convenience store (“Thank you, come again!”). Spoiled as my brother and I were we had motorcycles. I would ride through the trails up to the Circle K and pump quarters into the pinball machine and Super Mario Bros. Here again, my parents had no problem supplying me with a) money and b) dangerous toys (motorcycles?!) but buy us a Nintendo? Hell no.
    3. Back to that Commodore 64: I mentioned that my brother learned how to “program” the thing. I don’t know how he did it, but he figured out how to change the names and titles in our copy of JumpMan (God, I loved that game). He promptly changed all the levels and such to very, very vulgar things. Years later, one of my mother’s friends bought a Commodore 128. We copied all of our games for her… forgetting my brother’s little customization of JumpMan!
    4. My brother’s ex-fiance bought him a Super Nintendo for Christmas. We didn’t sleep until we finished Super Mario World. I remember having Mario inspired dreams…
    5. For some reason, I spent countless hours, alone, in my dorm room playing Minesweeper, Solitaire, and Othello on an amber monitored PC my brother built for me to take to college. It’s no wonder I never really had a serious girlfriend until after college… Over the years, after I graduated from college (the first time), I mooched off of my brother. It used to drive him crazy that I would play games like FreeCell for hours on end… He could have understood it if I’d been playing Civilization! But FreeCell?!
    6. The only game machine I purchased with my own money was a Sega Genesis. I recently donated it to Goodwill. I had it through my last few years of college and would spend hours playing that damn thing. My brother bought me Street Fighter 2. I would play until I won (without losing a battle). If I lost a battle, I would start over at the beginning. Depending on my mood and dexterity, this cycle would take minutes or hours. Some might call it obsessive compulsive.
    7. While my brother has continued to purchase computer games and game machines (I once spent an entire day of vacation in Italy– over a spring break from grad school– playing Gran Turismo. How’s that for wasted time?!), I have denied myself the pleasure. I will not purchase a Playstation, XBox, GameCube– hell, even a Gameboy. I will not do it. That path leads to darkness…

    All of this is to say that I’m right there with you, brother. I find that if I contain my addiction to things like FreeCell, I can live a semi-productive life…

  2. bridgett said

    I don’t have this addiction about video games, but I can understand the addictive ideation all too well about other stuff. From an external perspective, I can say you were well and truly addicted in Iowa City — I especially remember the Doom jag, but I also remember the heavy time investments in Myst. Would you classify the work you put in on Glorantha and other RPGs (not DMing, I mean stuff like the “econ bible” you wrote, for example) as scratching a similar itch, or is it really just the video games?

    There is a part of my head that insists that being non-productive in a harmless pleasure isn’t really a hanging offense, but as you say, it intrudes on other more enjoyable aspects of your life. Still, the reforming Calvinist in you might get a little extra guilty pleasure from screwing off in a manner that is not “improving.”

  3. Gerald said

    I’d actually put the RPG stuff in a different category. It is a much more creative activity. Even the econ bible allowed me to use my imagination and to consider all the economics I was studying at the time from another perspective. Also, at the end of the day, all of that was aimed at a social activity – albeit an odd one.

    I’m not really feeling guilty about any of this so much as I’m trying to understand why I occasionally lose a whole day to these computer games, even though I’m not sure it really makes me feel all that much better. It is an activity that burns time, but not one I look back on afterward and say “That was fun!” I still feel drawn to it, however.

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