When you hear about the negative effects of gaming, it’s usually an attempt to make a marriage out of violent games and violent behaviour. You don’t as often hear about the problem of gaming as an addiction. And it’s oh so easy to become an addict, as I am discovering. I’ve been spending long hours most evenings glued to the Xbox. And (no prizes for guessing this) I am getting absolutely no writing work done. Part of me knew this would happen.
These days, games are usually multi-level affairs with story arcs that take about forty hours to complete. And the graphics are so rich that gaming becomes partly a cinematic experience. Pleasure is derived from progress through the levels. This is in stark constrast to the games of yesteryear (and we’re talking the early 1980s here) where pleasure was derived from staying alive for as long as possible and getting a new high score. In those games (e.g. Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Asteroids), the entire game experience was given to you in one playing session. The pleasure was not in progressing to new levels of eye-candy, it was in developing a skill at the game. Every time you played, it was one complete gaming experience that you could walk away from without feeling that you had left unfinished business behind. The pleasure was a complete thing, if you see what I’m getting at. Now, it sounds like I’m knocking modern gaming. No, I’m, just trying to clarify the difference in my own mind and to illustrate why modern gaming is so addictive. Old gaming was like playing a game of poker or chess with a mate, and something in me just misses that same kind of experience with arcade gaming. I’ve even toyed with the idea of building one of those MAME arcade machine cabinets for the hallway.
Currently, I’m playing a first-person shooter game called Condemned, and this one is a good illustration of what I’m saying. Although there is a certain amount of skill in engaging enemies, the layout of every level is almost completely linear. There is very little scope for wandering in the wrong direction or getting lost or having to use clues in order to find your way. The game has a nice feature where you use an assortment of gadgets to collect forensic evidence. But rather than having to use your eyes to look for this evidence, the game actually tells you when it’s nearby. Aside from combat, the game holds the player’s hand the whole way through the story. I confess that even though I can see this is a bad thing, I still love playing the game. I guess it’s the experience of creeping through dark corridors with nothing but a flashlight, wondering when the next baddie is going to jump out.
But something’s got to change. I have got to get back into writing. I’ve already reneged on my promise to get Chion out during September. I need to finish editing the book and publish it. Does this mean I didn’t win the James White Award? Yes, it does. No big deal. I was in with a shot, but only one person wins. Actually, I found out that I didn’t make the top five, either (sob).
There is another, much smaller, contest that I’m going to enter this month. I’m a big fan of John Christopher’s Tripods novels (and the TV series). The League of Freemen, which is the official fan club for the series, is running a short story contest entitled “Captain Curtis, The Untold Story.” Curtis was a relatively minor character in the first season (although a memorable one), and the contestants’ task is the expand on him. I’ve had my thinking Cap on (groan) for a few weeks, and I’ve now figured out the story I want to tell. The prize is an extremely rare poster that I’ve wanted to get hold of for years. So, I’m going to knuckle down and try to get the whole story written this evening. Might as well put Chion off again, eh? Well, at least I’m going to be writing.