A Modern Addiction

by Margaret Hundley Parker

"I leaned over his shoulder as we learned the controls together."




I've never been into computer games. Not long ago my video game playing experience was contained in a decade, the 80s, and in a place, the 7-Eleven.

How things have changed! I just got a new schmancy computer. For writing, of course. I got a few CDs with it: accounting software, a cookbook, and The Game. I downloaded The Game because I thought it'd be a good way to check out all the high tech graphics. I played it for about 15 minutes but never really got the hang of the controls. It provided the same kind of mindless satisfaction you get from watching TV. What a stupid game.



"My sacred punctuation keys were transformed into implements of mobilization and torture."

That first night, so proud of my new computer, I showed The Game to my boyfriend, David. I leaned over his shoulder as we learned the controls together. My sacred punctuation keys were transformed into implements of mobilization and torture. Comma and period keys meant strife left and right, control meant fire, hit shift and you'd be in sniper mode, well you get the idea. All very innocent. Until I left him alone with The Game. I should've noticed the murderous stare, the little river of drool going down his chin. What was I thinking? That was the last I saw of the boyfriend that night. Finally, as I was putting my PJs on, I heard a whimper in the other room. The computer froze mid-game! He broke the new computer! I frantically fixed it with a straightened paper clip and we went to bed. Secretly, I was very impressed.

I banned David from playing it and I threw The Game away. But I began to think about technique; he was button crazy, you need a subtle hand on the keyboard. I reinstalled The Game. Oh, why couldn't the ghost of Flannery O'Connor have swooped down and stopped me? I should've been writing -- but I was losing control, fast. I set a time limit for myself and played the game for 15 minutes. Or maybe it was 20. Anyway, I stuck to it. I got the hang of those controls; I was shooting and parachuting and bombing like a pro. Not bad for a Quaker.



Was all this killing like a vegetarian eating virtual meat? What a waste of time!

I threw The Game away.

I reinstalled it.

I set stricter time limits but casually forgot when I started. Was it 6:00 or 9:00? Did the phone ring? Is someone at the door? Don't I have a story due? MUST KILL MONSTERS.




My daily game playing became as predictable as the sunset. I began to think in game terms, I moved like the little guy on the screen. Eventually a friend got me out of the house to play tennis. As I was on the court shuffling left to right to hit the ball, I thought "strafe right, strafe left = comma, period." Mouse click BAM I hit the ball!

I was in the bathroom at David's house when I realized the faucet looked like chain bullet guns. I tried to unscrew them and put them in my bag but he caught me. "But Honey," I implored, "they're worth 800 points!"

Outside an innocent pigeon flew over my head -- I had the urge to shoot it.

I never wanted to shoot a bird before but it looked like the pterodactyl that sprays laser bullets. Oh pacifism, where for art thou?


David came over one night while I was glassy eyed in front of the computer.

"Come in," I yelled without looking up. Please don't make me pause it, please don't make me pause it.

"Look at you!" he said triumphantly. "You're addicted!"

"Uh...hold...on," I said. I was in a mess, a tank hurled blue deathrays.

"Have you eaten yet?" he asked, coming dangerously close to my screen.

I had to distract him.

"Yeah, there's some more pasta in the kitchen." I could see right through him; he wanted me out of the way so he could play. No way.

When I finally went to bed that night, I was relieved to find David fast asleep. My mind automatically shifted. I couldn't help but SEE The Game, FEEL The Game -- yes, I even felt my body swooshing around in the aftermath of cyberspace. I obsessed over strategies I hadn't tried, monsters I hadn't found, weapons I hadn't fired. I sneaked out of the covers and cranked the computer back up.



I used to make fun of a friend of mine who buys a new game and stays in his apartment until he's beaten it into submission. But I realize, there is no sleep until all the monsters are conquered! And then what? A cool graphic?

You don't play Ms. Pac-Man or Centipede to get to the end (okay, well, we try), you play as long as your quarter holds out and try to get top score. The sad thing is, now no one's at the 7-Eleven, elbow deep in Slurpee juice, putting their initials on the top ten, high fiving the clerk. The game players are sitting home, eating Ramen, alone.




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