13 July 2010

Be Gone, Demon: Knowing When It's Time To Let a Game Go

There's that scene in The Exorcist where the track-shoes-wearing priest says, "Take me! Come into me!" And the (apparently invisible) devil flies out of the little girl, and flies into the priest, and he and his track shoes go out the window and roll and flail down a flight of stairs. By the time he reaches the bottom step, he's dead.

Sorry if you've never seen the movie. BELATED SPOILER ALERT WEE-OOO, WEE-OOO.

I'm thinking of this scene because I had lunch on Sunday with my developer friend, Thumb-Blaster. Thumb-Blaster's ambitious wife was out of town for a few days shooting a TV show in the woods, and I always worry about him whenever she goes out of town, because he has a habit of letting himself go when she's not around.

He was waiting for me outside the restaurant, unshaven, un-showered, and wearing clothes that he might or might not have slept in last night.

We ordered food, then attempted to talk over the roars and groans of the crowd in the bar watching the World Cup final. Thumb-Blaster told me that he'd recently become obsessed with an iPhone game called Tower Madness. He explained to me how it worked, and tried to articulate why he liked the game so much. "In fact, I'm enjoying it a little too much," he said, wincing a little. "I think I have to delete it."

I asked him why he would delete something that he was enjoying. "That's like deleting hamburgers from the world," I said, about to bite into my hamburger.

Thumb-Blaster explained that sometimes, when he really got into a game, and I mean really got into a game, getting the game out of his life was the only thing to do.

"So you've been playing a lot of Tower Madness?" I asked.

"A lot of Tower Madness, yes." He looked down at his plate and laughed a little.

This isn't the first instance when Thumb-Blaster has, in a lunging act of self-discipline, deleted something from his life. There's a Vampire RGP on the iPhone that he also became obsessed with. Most people make it only to level 20 in the game. Thumb-Blaster achieved a level of 130 before deciding that enough was enough.

Then there was an iPhone game called Galcon. "One morning I started playing it, and the next thing I know, the sun was down. I'd lost an entire day to playing this game. I literally had missed the sun." So Galcon was deleted.

All gamers have a touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder in them. And all games are made by people who are also gamers--at least the better games usually are--and therefore also have a touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder in them. Ergo: Most games are designed by obsessive-compulsives for obsessive-compulsives.

Though I've personally never deleted anything, or gotten a game out of the house because I couldn't stop playing it, I have heard stories like this. I know a man who became so obsessed with Madden NFL 2005 that one night he gave his copy of the game to his wife and told her that under no circumstances, no matter how much he begged and pleaded, should she give it back to him. She was afraid of him, afraid to hear about this other creature that he could transform into.

A few days later, the raving maniac arrived. He begged. He pleaded. He threw a tantrum, his first trantrum in over 30 years.

It was a low for their marriage. Through some miracle, their relationship survived.

I know another man who played Resident Evil: Code Veronica (Dreamcast version) for three days straight, never leaving his apartment. He even peed into empty two-liter Dr. Pepper bottles, Howard Hughes-style.

On rare occasions, videogames get under our skin in the worst possible way. They turn us into people who we don't want to be. Sometimes they consume days, or weeks of our lives. They take us away from our wives, our girlfriends, our families. They make us late for work in the morning. They make us miss the sun.

It's a darker side of gaming that we don't usually talk about.

Thumb-Blaster and I paid our bill at the restaurant, then said goodbye. He went home to play out his own version of "Take me! Come into me!" and finally--hopefully--exorcise Tower Madness from his life.

But probably not before getting in a final game or two.


  1. It's not always a bad thing. I lost my girlfriend in high school thanks to playing Ocarina of Time too much. At the time, it seemed foolish, but looking back -- that game saved my life!

  2. I don't think I've ever been too bad in this regard, but I do tend to get somewhat obsessed with Bioware RPGs when they come out. Usually I don't play games during the week very much, but if it's by Bioware, I'll play during every spare moment.

  3. I had a friend in college who lived 2 doors down from me in our dorm. There were 5 of us who lived on that floor, all good friends, it was a typical microcosm of college life; 2 nerds, a jock, a stoner, and a foreign guy. One of our dorm mates was your typical nintendo fanboy, and when Resident Evil 4 came out for the gamecube, we didn't see or hear from him for 3 days. No socializing, no classes, just gone. The only reason he's still alive today is because a friend went in to ask if he was ok. He peered back at her, sitting in his glowing, tv-lit dorm room with eyes the color of cherry tomatoes, pizza boxes littered around him-- only to say "what?". We later checked his gameplay time, and it did indeed coincide with the few days he went missing. Now that's gaming.

  4. It's the reason I don't play, and have never played WOW.
    "Amanda, you should play WOW, I think you'd really like it."
    "Yeah, I know. No thanks. I'll try meth instead,I'll probably
    like that a lot too."