Whenever I heard the word “game,” I generally thought “Scattegories,” “Monopoly” and maybe some “Apples to Apples.” The idea of online games, video games, or games via “apps” to download onto fancy tablets and such, was nonexistent in my head.
Of course, that’s not to say I hadn’t heard about them. Phrases like, “Farmville,” “Temple Run” and “Sims” are just as much a part of my vocabulary as the next person, thank you very much. However, those titles were used much more frequently to mock than for any other purpose. Honestly, the idea that someone might put something important off so that they could harvest all but imaginary potatoes? Puh-lease.
For years, this is how I thought. When I heard of a teacher losing sleep to play “Angry Birds,” I was amused. When my sister became obsessed with “Minecraft,” I was more than a little puzzled. Still, the gaming world was a foreign one.
That is until my family and I took a three-day driving journey to Georgia. Nine people in a van, countless hours to pass, no Internet access, and one iPad. It was with only slight hesitation (I held out for about half a day or so) that I finally caved, holding out a hand and asking for my turn on the tablet.
The first game to conquer was “Candy Crush.” It was vaguely reminiscent of “Candyland” and fairly simple: line up the candy in rows of three or more and they disappear. Entertaining, brainless, time passing. Perfect.
Oh, how I underestimated the power of that little game. It was not long before I dreaded bathroom stops for the sole reason that I didn’t want to cease playing the game. I became obsessed with getting the high score or, at least, beating my highest.
Every time I got more than three candies aligned in a row, I would cheer, unreasonably excited and feel like I had achieved quite a victory. I dreaded the moments that one of my siblings would insist that my time was up and that I needed to share. I found myself acting like a child, crying, “Just wait until I finish this level!”(code for wait another 20 minutes before pestering me again, giving me enough time to find another excuse.) Sometimes I would find myself ready to outright lie about how much time I’d already spent. “What? I’ve only had it for half an hour!”
Any sane person (which I actually do consider myself to be, believe it or not) would be able to tell you that this is a good time to stop playing the game. So, like the responsible person I am, I moved on to Angry Birds. What could be so addicting about launching cartoon, fowl projectiles through the air? Everything, apparently.
My life digressed on this long road trip, even more than it previously had to a simple pattern: drive, drive, launch bird, launch bird, begrudgingly give up iPad, sleep until it was my turn again, drive, drive, launch bird, launch bird … etc.
Needless to say, arriving at our destination was both a shock and a relief. Five days spent distracted by real, human contact, playing real games in the real world? It was perfect. Because I was in such excellent company, it was easy to ignore the permanent candy crush screen burned into the back of my eyelids, or the constant angry bird sound effects ringing in my ears. Yikes.
I had caught the online gaming bug. Probably worse than most. Whether it hit me because of the long drive, because I had repressed it for so long, or because I am simply more susceptible to gaming addictions than your average human being, I wasn’t sure. One thing, though, was certain. Never again would I mock a Farmville addict. I finally understand — I understand the glazed, zombified feeling that is nearly impossible to escape. I understand the pure feeling of victory that accompanies a conquered level.
More than anything, I understand the manic need to keep playing just another minute … another level … another hour … or seven.
Some online game enthusiasts out there are good at keeping all things in moderation. I’m pretty good at that too — with math or responsibility. I can always keep a handle on how much of those things I let into my life. However, I can obviously never trust myself to be a gamer.