It’s 3 o’clock in the morning. My eyes are heavy like somebody has tied weights to them. I can feel them starting to droop, but I don’t care. Who cares if I have work in the morning? What does it matter if I’m running on empty with only the blinding light of my TV casting dark shadows about the living room? I’m just trying to get to the next boss. Trying to reach the next level. Trying to grab that upgrade. Wanting to get another headshot.
Whatever the reason for doing this to ourselves, we’ve all done it at one point or another. And while it may not always be the lure of a soft pillow to sleep on, we’ve all blown off plenty of things to do just a little bit more in a game we love or loathe. Sometimes it’s a girlfriend, a spouse, a job, a duty, or a social activity. They’re all just different suits that represent the same thing: distractions.
And the thing that is really odd to me, is that I don’t really do this with my other hobbies. There are plenty of other things that I love to do, besides playing videogames. I write, play guitar, watch movies, read books, hang out with friends. But none of those things make me think about them when I’m gone to the level that a Final Fantasy does. Or a Call of Duty. Or anything in Bioware’s library. So what makes videogaming so different than everything else?
Honestly, I’m not really sure that I have the answer to that one. Videogames strike a unique place that other things don’t quite seem to reach. They combine a strange bit of task-oriented and easy to reach goals, fun, competition, rewards, interactivity and story that makes them truly stand out from the pack. Right now, I’m completely sucked into Final Fantasy XIII, and while I enjoy the story, it’s nothing that’s completely blowing me away. To be honest, I can’t really say what it is about the game that keeps luring me back, but it must be a combination of all those things that I listed.
When I think back on games that I’ve been addicted to in the past, this becomes even more clear. There’s not really any rhyme or reason to them. Counter-Strike: Source and Halo are shooters that had a gripping multiplayer component, for sure. But they are totally different than Warcraft 3, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Mass Effect 2 or Final Fantasy IX, all of which I’ve sported a rather nasty addiction to at any given point over the last decade.
And really, the more I think about it, the more this seems to prove to me that there really is something immeasurably different about gaming as a medium. Just a couple of weeks ago, the dudes at Penny Arcade put on PAX East for folks on the East coast, and were amazed yet again at the turnout. In the parting thoughts of the convention, main writer Tycho wrote some thoughts about the event, and said some things that really stuck out to me. He postulated that gaming forms something of a collective memory, moreso than any thing else we can think of, and that’s what really makes it unique. And, I think, possibly addictive.
Sure, there are plenty more reasons, which I listed above. But the idea that gaming forms a collective memory amongst gamers really is an intriguing idea. That the more we all play the same games and do the same things, the more we kind of share experiences. To me, it’s not the same as watching most TV shows, because most of them can’t elicit the same kind of attachment that gaming creates with its participants. We are ridiculously linked to these pieces of software, and I know that I for one tie periods of my life to what games I was playing at the time.
And now that I think about it, one of the big drives of returning to Final Fantasy XIII right now is for more than just the gameplay or the story- it’s because I’ve got a few good friends going through the game simultaneously. I know that the more I play it, the more I can talk about it with them, and vice versa. It’s interesting to me that we can all experience the same game- story, combat, gameplay, design and all, and get much more out of it than any movie or song. Obviously this isn’t the entire reason I’m addicted to all games, but I know that the desire to share in something other people have is a huge driver for me.
So what do you guys think about the addictive nature of gaming? What qualities make games addicting to you? Go!