'Fessing up at Gamers Anonymous

Hi, my name is Steve, and I'm a computer game junkie.

(All together now: "Hi, Steve!")

I'm a little nervous. This my first time to come forward. I've been in denial for a long time. But I was sitting in the back there, swilling coffee, and I thought: Stand up and say it. Admit it to these strangers and maybe you can finally admit it to yourself. So that's what I'm doing. I'm confessing my sins. Who knows? Maybe it'll help.

My story is a familiar one. I started out small, just a little Solitaire when no one was else was around. Maybe do a little shareware at parties. I told myself I was just experimenting. A taste of computer poker never hurt anybody, right? I still functioned in my everyday life, though sometimes I'd have a virtual hangover the next morning from staying up too late, zapping aliens.

Pretty soon, I was no longer just joy-popping. I moved up to the harder stuff -- advanced games like Tetris that eat up your time and lead to debilitating physical problems, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

My addiction started to crop up during the workday. I'd be itching to play when I should be doing something productive. I began to ignore my chores in favor of computer chess. I'd get irritated when the ringing phone interrupted a game that couldn't be paused. I skipped bathing and eating and other everyday activities that might take me away from the computer screen. I'd bark at my children when they broke my concentration, pestering me with some minor problem, like a house fire.

I was blind to all these signals, of course. I thought I had my habit under control.
The first recognition that I had a problem came when I started attributing human motives to my computer, which is just a machine after all. The computer seemed out to defeat me at any cost, and I began to treat it like a real live human enemy. I'd curse at it and pound the keyboard and choke the mouse and generally act like an idiot.

Some of you are nodding. Guess you've been there, too, huh? But I went even further. I started believing the computer was toying with me.

Here's an example: One of my obsessions is a simple little game called Evolve. You fly around in a spaceship, shooting kamikaze aliens that are trying to crash into you. A silly game, really. It's called Evolve because the aliens change if you don't shoot them soon enough. They go from green to yellow to red with an increase in speed and agility in each incarnation. At first, I just played the game, win or lose, it didn't matter. But then I began to notice a pattern. Just when I'd killed nearly all the aliens and was relaxing a bit, bracing to move up to the next level, one of the few remaining aliens would evolve suddenly and run right at my ship at twice the normal speed.

How else to explain it? The evil computer was out to get me.

Another game involves moving virtual marbles around a board. I started to believe the computer was counting ahead two or three plays, so it could be sure to trap me. It took all the joy out of the game. Now, I get so caught up in trying to read the machine's motives that, boom, I lose all my marbles.

It's insanity to play a counting game against a computer anyway; counting is what they do best. But I kept playing. I was hooked.

And now I've admitted it. I know I have a problem. I'm planning to get with the program and kick the habit.

Withdrawal will be rough. My hands will itch to play again. My brain will desire the strategy, the competition, the occasional victory. I'll hear the beeping and blooping of the games in my sleep. But I think I'm ready. I just hope it's not too late.

I know you're supposed to stop cold turkey, but I was wondering, could I do just a little more Tetris before I get on the wagon? I'm ready to quit. Really. But first I want to teach that computer a lesson.

No comments: