They say the first step in dealing with an addiction is to admit you have one. Well, I do, and chances are if you’re reading this then you have one too.
It’s not an addiction to video games. This isn’t going to be yet another article on the insidious nature of gaming; how it can crawl under a young person’s skin and coil itself about his or her cerebral cortex, compelling them into a never-ending loop of action and reward. I’m not going to talk about the days I’ve lost to Oblivion or the months some people spend in a drooling stupor in front of World of Warcraft. If I told you actually playing games has little to do with our addiction you might wonder if I was talking about (whisper its name, lest it appear) Farmville. Surely that must be the addiction so vile, so shameful I dare not mention it directly until the third paragraph.
But the third paragraph has been and gone, and our shared addiction has not yet been given a name.
All the same, you are reading, and you’re reading because you’re addicted. You’re addicted to the periphery of gaming, the features, the podcasts, the top ten lists and trailers, the reviews and previews, websites and forums, and everything in between.
Far worse than being addicted to video games, you’re addicted to reading about them.
The need to read and discuss video games is deep-seated, something that took root before we gamers were given the tools necessary for it to become a full-blown addiction. Remember going to school in the hopes that someone – anyone – would have a copy of your gaming magazine of choice? Your Sinclair, perhaps, or C&VG. The proto-addicts would stand in a horseshoe around the owner of the sacred text; he’d turn each page slowly and everyone, regardless of their background, regardless of their standing in the social strata of the playground, would watch intently.
They would scour it for information, gazing upon every screenshot and luxuriating in the colours, the pixels. Certain pages; perhaps regarding the home conversion of a beloved arcade classic, would be almost torn to ragged pieces as a mucky thumb with a broken nail descended from the heavens to hold it open, preventing the magazine’s owner from turning the page.
A breaking voice that sounded like a castrato singing death metal would call out “Hang on, I haven’t finished reading” and we’d wait for the slow reader to catch up, not because we were scared he’d kick our shins and steal our lunch money, but because before gaming news, we were all equal. Even the kids on the other sides of that year’s current gaming war; the Commodore to our Spectrum, the Atari to our Amiga, would lurk somewhere in the background, muttering that each game ‘looked shit’ on our chosen platform but *needing* that news whether it was relevant to them or not.
And once the news, columns, cheats and tips had been devoured, we made up our own. Of course you could complete Green Hill Zone 1 in three seconds, if you hammered the right button on the D-pad fast enough. Of course you could make Lara Croft strip off and play with her girl parts by loading Jumping Flash into the Playstation first, then replacing it with Tomb Raider while the disc was still spinning. Of course Mario and Dizzy’s Egg-citing Adventures is out soon. It’s out in Japan already on the Nintendo 128. I know because my friend’s uncle works for Sega and he has one, and he lets me go on it (but you can’t because he’s not supposed to let anyone see it). Swearsies.
The arrival of the Internet has made things so much worse. Magazines, as useful as they were, brought news to us lesser beings only once a month. With the Internet, we don’t have to wait. As soon as gaming news breaks, it’s everywhere. Which wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for the paranoia-inducing suggestion that follows right on its tail: news can break at any time.
This is where the addiction begins. Feverishly refreshing major gaming websites. Having Twitter constantly streaming to your desktop, your Blackberry, your iPad and iPhone, to your central nervous system if only you could stick a line in there. At any second of any hour someone could leak a blurry image of a game running on the Nintendo’s new handheld console. My fingertips are shaking just thinking about it. It makes it difficult to type, but man, imagine! It’s some kind of 3D thing, only you don’t need glasses in order to view the 3D images because it works by magic. Magic!. My palms are sweating. Aren’t yours?
That’s the next step: the discussion. Whether it’s on Twitter, comment threads on those gaming news sites or on dedicated gaming forums, being able to find out what the entire world thinks of the latest gaming news is what makes the addiction a plague upon productivity. You’re no longer just absorbing information; now you’re sharing it. Dirty data. Filthy feedback. You’re talking to complete strangers about the latest trailers and you’re deciding whether a game is good or not before any of you have ever played it. Your lips are curling. Your pupils are dilating. You’re getting your fix.
I’m a wordy MF. I write at length, and this is a sin on the Internet, where your next info fix is but a click away. During the course of this article you’ve probably clicked away a few times in search of the latest gaming news. You hopped over to Gametrailers to see the latest release of gameplay footage (and oh, how distant those tiny Your Sinclair screenshots seem now) or over to GameFAQs, to find the solution to the last dungeon in The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. Maybe you checked your Twitter feed to see what your Internet mates think of Microsoft’s newly-Christened ‘Kinect’. You clicked on one of those tabs you have open in your web browser to see what’s going on in the grand world of video games. Then you came back here to finish reading the article.
And the one thing you didn’t do is interrupt your reading to actually play a video game. Because this is the problem with the addiction you and I share. It doesn’t turn our memories to sponge, or make us jump out the window believing we’re magical flying unicorns. It eats our game time.
It’s a terrible irony that all those hours you spend on RLLMUK, IGN or this very website you could have spent indulging the hobby you claim to love so very much. I feel that same painful emptiness, the space inside where gaming news flits and flaps, that should be crammed full, not of news, but gaming. Sheer, wondrous gaming. The delight of venturing into new lands, the ecstasy of toppling a long-standing high score. Being a villain. Being a hero. Reliving the nostalgia of youth. Looking forward to the future. And playing, playing, playing.
Instead I’m typing, and you’re reading.
Sometimes the addiction becomes too much. This week, as I’m sure you’ll have noticed we have E3 as our supplier, doling info and leaks and trailers and demos out to our usual dealer websites like some sharply-dressed narcotics barren; friendly and welcoming as he wanders through his plantation, but snarling and bloodthirsty should anyone dare cross him. The simplest thing to do would be to say “No gaming news for me today thank you”, but dare you do such a thing?
In this time of excitement and upheaval, with Sony and Microsoft seeking to ape the success of the Wii with their own peripherals, and Nintendo seeking to further their reach across the planet’s gaming audience with the 3DS… What if you miss something? It doesn’t matter. It’s unimportant. The future of your life will not turn upon a fragment of gaming news, nor an opinion from the Internet. But my God, what if Half-Life 3 is unveiled, what if The Elder Scrolls 5 is announced, what if you miss something?
Some people would say that the ever-expanding reach of Twitter and it’s fellow Web 2.0 social communication tools are turning everyone into news junkies. The human race wants to hear the latest news tidbits and discuss them at length, and then blog about the whole affair. This can be a good thing. People can join hands across the globe and share their pains and their triumphs. Together they can rise up and right injustices (or at least, show their support for such actions with a hashtag or Twibbon).
But we were there first and the world we live in, with its shiny websites and beep-boop computers, is and always has been our domain. This is our addiction, wrought large and terrible, both in fervent discussions about just what can be done about the BP oil spill crisis and the thousands of Justin Bieber fans sobbing and swooning over him the Internet over.
So much conversation. So much inaction.
And somewhere in the centre of it, surrounded by towering stacks of unfinished games, we sit and hit F5… waiting for Microsoft’s E3 conference to begin.
I am an addict. And so are you.