Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 135 / NOVEMBER 1991 / PAGE 116

Games addiction: the troubles I've seen. (The World of Electronic Games)
by Darren McKeeman

Hackers and videogrames have had an intimate relationship from the early days of computers. As an ex-hacker, I know: I was seduced by the idea that entire worlds could exist just beyond a VDT. My first experience with all-consuming games was with an Atari 2600, a bottom-of-the-line no-nonsense machine. I purchased a cartridge called Pitfall and ensured my descent into the life of the hopelessly and altogether too happily addicted.

The basic premise of the game was that a small pixoid hero ran through about 50 screens' worth of jungle. He picked up treasure, avoided snakes, and jumped over large pits. That was it, pretty absurd by today's standards. But I spent every waking hour playing that game.

"Why do you spend so much time on that machine?" my father fumed. I didn't know. It felt good, so played. But I never had much money, so I couldn't get many more cartridges for my machine. I tired of playing the game and stopped dreaming about dodging logs and snakes in two lack-luster dimensions.

I visited the Lawrence Hall of Science at Berkeley and played with an Apple II acting as a terminal to a mainframe. Eliza was onlne. It glibly responded to whatever I typed. Recharged and back on edge, i went to my mother and told her I wanted a computer. Amazingly, I got one.

I learned BASIC first but moved directly from there to copying software. Tons of disks filled my drawers, and I again learned of the power of addiction. I'd moved beyond the lure of console games to the more sophisticated and sensatory world of the home computer. And about this time, for the first time in my life, I noticed girls.

In particular, one girl, but she might as well have been a tag-team wrestler. She and her best friend were never apart, so i couldn't move closer. Then I introduced her friend to my IBM PC and Zork. We couldn't get her away from it: she fit the profile of the instand addict. We left her sitting there, oblivious. Hours later, we had to scream at her to provoke a response.

I had encountered a game junkie's nightmare. Another addict had stolen my computer, and I panicked. I almost got violent. I never saw those girls again, and I didn't care. I had my computer back; each breath came easier after the fear of losing my machine left me. Why do we obsess over things like these?

I had a girlfriend dump me over an Ultima game. I think that was the start of my hacking. I spent too much time with my computer, she said. So to save time, I gbegan to look for a way around winning. With a hex editor I changed character files so that I was the most powerful character in the game. Then I went out and skragged everything in sight. I cheated myself. I subverted an urge to win and discovered the strange rush of power that comes from manipulating a game outside of its context. Games grew old quickly then, maybe because I began to grow up. Girls became part of my life, and I slowly pulled myself away from my other addictions. I came out of my shell. Unfortunately, this sort of recovery never happens for a lot of addicts.

I didn't turn out all that badly. I came away with an obsessive tendency to pay attention to any sentence with the words game or computer in it, but that's about it. I no longer pirate games; I no longer spend sleepless nights cracking machine code so that I can play my favorite games and cheat. I try to set an example so that the human race won't devolve into amorphous blobs of flesh with no more urge to leave their terminals than a beached whale has to swim to sea.

That vision scares me. Sure, I still play videogames, and I love them, but life's about balance. Play the games you love and share them with someone you love. Just don't play them to the exclusion of everything else. Take it from a reformed software junkie: Know and respect the power of games.