Monday, October 18, 2010

Pop Crack: The Tale of a Woman's Descent into Video Game Addiction

This story is not really mine to write but if I don't write it will never be written. In any case I don't think she reads my blog too regularly so I think I'll get away with it.

Despite my own obsession with PC games my beautiful wife has never really warmed to the hobby. In the early days of our relationship I tried to share my enthusiasm but "Doom" and its mass murdering ilk had no appeal for her. At one stage "Simon the Sorcerer" looked to be a minor breakthrough. She did show some interest in the game's puzzle solving  but a hobby which keeps participants up alone till  three in the morning does not mesh well with newly married bliss. For a time gaming became an uncomfortable element in our relationship. Sometimes dismissed as a foolish waste of time and sometimes challenged as an insidious  rival.

Years passed. We built a life together. We built a family together. Maturity, understanding, love and trust combined to allow the freedom to pursue independent hobbies. My gaming has become an accepted part of our life but not a shared part. For one brief moment it looked as if the social aspect of mmorpgs might provide a common interest but it quickly became apparent that while the social aspect was appealing to my wife the combat focus was not. I became reconciled to the fact that she would never really become a fellow gamer.

PopCap came into our lives through the medium of Peggle Nights. It was on sale if I recall and I downloaded it in order to sample a taste of the casual gaming revolution without any expectation of lasting interest. I played it for a few hours and completed  a few levels. While I was hugely impressed by the polish and quality of the game I soon grew bored of the repetitive format and moved on. That would have been that except that the attractive presentation caught my wife's eye and she decided to have a go.

That was all it took. She played and she played. The colourful presentation, the affirming jingles and  the compelling game-play grabbed her. She played and she played. My wife has a very competitive spirit (which I by the way do not) and she became obsessed with completing the main campaign and subsequently with completing the other challenges. She played and she played.

I had heard about PopCap. I had read about PopCap. I knew that they were the best at what they do but I seem to lack the gene that this particular style of game is so carefully crafted to ensnare. I could only look on with somewhat academic interest at my wife's growing gaming obsession.

Eventually she began to exhaust the possibilities of Peggle but then "Plants Versus Zombies" arrived. Again I must take credit  (blame) for having spotted it in a Steam sale and creating a Steam account for my wife in order to play it. Plants versus Zombies is undoubtedly a work of brilliance, a transcending achievement of gaming. I may lack the receptors for this particular strain of narcotic but even I recognise how much more potently it manifests itself in Zombies than in Peggle.  Peggle grabbed my wife and held her for a while but Zombies consumed her.

She played Zombies obsessively. She played in the morning. She played in the evening. She played when she should not have been playing. Late at night she would turn on a computer for an hour of Zombies before bed and then toss and turn, unable to sleep after the ferocious concentration of zombie fighting. I could only observe. My own personality and my relationship with gaming are very different. Even at the height of her obsession I was probably spending more hours gaming than she was but my gaming did not drain me. I have never lost sleep over gaming. Indeed I find an hour spent in a virtual world is an excellent way of de-stressing before sleep.

The main campaign of Zombies is really only the tip of the iceberg. There are numerous  side games and a host of achievements to earn. My wife has played them all and earned them all. She has finished "Plants verus Zombies". Knowing the gap that this would create in her life I downloaded a copy of "Bejewelled 2" when PopCap offered it for free in an anniversary promotion. My wife installed it and started playing it and liked it.

Two days after starting Bejewelled my wife stopped mid game and said:
 "No. I do not want to do this any more. I do not want to be like this any more"
 She uninstalled the games. She told me not to get her any more games.

I have been gaming a long time and I am comfortable with my gaming. I feel it is a positive part of my life. My wife was not comfortable with her gaming. Gaming does not make her feel good about herself.  She has decided to stop.


Anonymous said...

"... she became obsessed with completing the main campaign and subsequently with completing the other challenges."

I think that sums up the situation nicely. It's not really any form of addiction. It's just typical obsessive tendencies to complete a task. It's the same motivation people have in the workplace to do a job fully and correctly. Fussy sorts if you like, which is why I suspect it might only be 50% of the population that easily gets obsessive.

And later she realised how repetitive it all was and wasn't going anywhere. The excitement was gone so to speak.

As for the "addiction" label that gets slapped on to gambling/gaming and the likes. I suspect it was a quiet commercially staged insertion in the media a few decades back. The purpose simply to cause a reclassification of common normal behavior into a medical condition along with the associated legitimisation of treatments and control.


mbp said...

Agreed Solbright it is an obsession rather than an addiction and not a very serious one at that given that she can just decide to stop and then stop. You must allow me some poetic license however. "Video Game Addiction" is definitely a catchier title.

Anonymous said...

Just have to be careful about casual use of such terms. Addiction is serious and is something that anyone has the law on their side if they wanted to abuse that law in accusation. Ie: Can be the old witchery condemnation in new clothes.