Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A siren song I'm choosing to ignore

On the weekend I spent some time playing videogames with friends, specifically games 1 and 2 of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series, as well as Call of Duty: World at War – for the zombie level – and then some old-school Halo: Combat Evolved, the game that we used to play regularly six or seven years ago.

Each of the friends involved owns an X-Box 360, and all expressed the opinion that I, too, should get one so I could join them in their online sessions.

Because, as it is, I don't own an X-Box; nor do I own a Wii or a Playstation. And I don't intend for that to ever change. But it's not because I wouldn't enjoy having one (or even all) – quite the opposite; I enjoy video games, so it's something I'd no doubt get hours of fun out of – and therein lies the problem.

I will play for hour after hour, until I'm in pain – mostly in the shoulders; as it is I already have recurring problems with my right shoulder that stems from gaming – or can't keep my eyes open. For me, eight-, ten-, even twelve-hour sessions weren't uncommon, hence the shoulder problems; using those muscles in that way for that length of time is exactly what the ergonomics people insist we shouldn't be doing at work, and it's not different when it's for fun.

So, yeah. I basically can't trust myself to have one in the house. And it's by no means a recent development.

Having been born in the 70s, I grew up with video games – and I particularly loved the arcade variety, mostly because the consoles of the era (Atari and its clones) were still pretty sucky in comparison. Living in a tiny town in country Queensland, and not being of an overly sporting persuasion (thought at different times I'd played soccer, tennis and cricket and done some pistol shooting; none of them albeit never at any level of seriousness), playing arcade games was one of the few things to do.

One of my proudest moments was when I 'clocked' one particular game, i.e. got such a high score that the numbers went back to zero. I can't remember what it was called, but it was an upright game where you controlled a spaceship, but could move all over the screen (unlike, say Space Invaders and Galaxian and its sequels, where you could only move from side to side) and used a dual-fire weapon system – unlimited single shot and a rapid-fire with a finite amount of 'charge' – to fight butterfly-shaped enemies.

Anyway, no matter what the game was, I spent enough time at it to beat it; even now I think that's pretty cool.

I ended up giving up arcade games – they were changing, with two-player games (like Bubble Bobble and Double Dragon) becoming more prevalent; also, they were starting to get more expensive; 20c wasn't much of an imposition for a game, but 40c or a dollar meant a reasonable session would add up to more than I was willing to spend, given that at that time I didn't have a job and was wholly dependent on the allowance my parents provided – which probably wasn't all that much.

Also, home computing was starting to take off, and I got a Commodore 64, which had some great games available. But, for some reason, I never got as obsessive about any of those as I did with arcade games, or the PC games that sucked me in years later.

It was at uni that I next found myself spending stupid amounts of time playing games; one of my friends at college had Doom, and developed an obsession with that – at exam time one year. I did at least manage to keep enough of a handle on it to make sure I did some study. Another game I wound up playing endlessly during the uni years was Civilization (both I and II), and on more than one occasion I'd found myself still plugging away at until dawn; I also made it all the way through the original World of Warcraft in a few extended sessions.

Speaking of uni: being there meant I never had the time (or funds) to get into the big explosion of console games in the early/mid nineties, though I do remember spending a few hours playing Porsche Boxster Racing on the original Playstation, but not much else.

Cut to a few years later, in Adelaide where I was sharing a house with the some people who were console gamers, and wound up spending some time playing games like Goldeneye and its spiritual successor Perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64; not long after that Microsoft released the X-Box and with it one of the biggest games of recent years, Halo: Combat Evolved.

I played it a bit, but didn't get too into the campaign version (playing what I suppose you'd call a 'traditional' game, where you go through levels) – not sure why; just not quite the right sort of game to suck me in – though I did end up more than a few evenings playing it in a LAN format, i.e. multiplayer with two or more devices hooked up together, with anywhere between three and eight players.

Obviously, that's never going to be too addictive, unless you happen to have a bunch of similarly-minded friends to do it with – which wasn't the case.

Somewhere around this time I got my hands on a Star Wars game, Jedi Academy, and played that for hours on end before realising that I was spending too much time on it, and managed to wean myself off. Having flatmates helped – especially when they'd go out early in the evening and come home hours later to find me in exactly the same spot (at my PC) I was in when they left.

Now, though, I live alone. And I can afford to buy a console and the games to go with it, as well as pay for the appropriate internet connection to play online. So the only real barrier is my fear of it becoming too alluring to resist spending far too much time on.

And, given that since Saturday night I've thought about the games we played about a gazillion times – and, while writing this post, checked out how much the different X-Box 360 packages, and what copies of the games we played that night (as well as the new HD re-release of Halo) cost – I suspect that chances of that are fairly high.

It's actually more than a little embarrassing to admit that I lack the self-control to own a gaming console. But that sad fact is that, while I don't think I'm likely to wind out dead from heart failure brought on by too little sleep and too many Red Bulls, it's still more of a risk than I'm prepared to take.

So, my gaming will be limited to when the other guys in the group are having a LAN evening. The downside to that, of course, is that it means they're going to continue to get better, while I'm going to retain the bunny/target practice/dead meat level of ability I've got now.

Still, probably better than having my filthy, adult-nappy-clad corpse found amidst a pile of discard junk food wrappers in front of a tv screen, controller still clutched in my shrivelled, clawlike hand... 


  1. This is not called "not having the self control to own a gaming console", this is called "having the wisdom, maturity, self-knowledge and self-control to understand that there are things you find ultimately more rewarding to spend your time on". Don't be embarassed - be proud of being a grownup!

  2. I'm reminded about Mark Whalberg, who was cast as the titular character of the Max Payne movie which was based on the game of the same name (sidenote: game was great, movie was terrible). When asked if he'd played the game he flat-out said he didn't play video games because he has an addictive personality and if he started he wouldn't stop.

    I've also had friends who dealt with bad times in their lives by starting and finishing two very long video games back to back over the course of a week. The time just disappeared. You strike me as someone a tad too busy to let weeks vanish like that.