January 3, 2008 8:00 AM | Leigh Alexander
[The Aberrant Gamer is a weekly, somewhat NSFW column by Leigh Alexander, dedicated to the kinks and quirks we gamers tend to keep under our hats – those predilections and peccadilloes less commonly discussed in conventional media.]
During the holiday break, Aberrant Gamer took a hiatus from whence it’s happy to return. And over said holidays, I put in a lot of game time, and received an array of game-related presents. I received a package of Sculpey craft clay, and promptly used it (amateurishly) to mold tiny Chocobos -- which match the Chocobo mug I received as another present –and an array of Harvest Moon farm animals.
I also made a Weighted Companion Cube cell phone strap to go with my Portal ringtone. I spent all of Christmas Eve playing Guitar Hero 3 with my friend, and then we spent all of New Year’s Eve playing Umbrella Chronicles. When the Times Square ball dropped, we paused the game, switched to the TV, counted down with the rest of the world. Then we went back to the game.
We live in New York City. Does this seem, perhaps, just slightly unhealthy?
I also received some books for Christmas, none of which I’ve opened. Rather than read, I preferred to spend time with another friend’s Christmas present -- Taiko Drum Master DS. It’s not that I don’t want to read those books. It’s just that, at any given time, I feel like playing video games instead. I’ve got a queue waiting to be played, just as I’ve a pile of books waiting to be read. Despite requiring much more time apiece, the pile of games to be played is dwindling down at a much brisker clip than the pile of books.
Also, my cat’s name is Zelda.
It does sound vaguely extreme if presented out of context. I’m going to tread carefully around the word “addiction” -- behaviors like pursuing one activity to the exclusion of all others, including social ones, or being unable to stop using the behavior, are qualities of addiction, but the one of the key diagnostic criteria is that the behavior causes some measure of distress or functional impairment to the individual. Games are fun, not distressing, and at the end of the day, I still maintain my friendships and get my work done.
Except for those Friday nights that roll around and find me ignoring my phone calls because I’m so relieved to finally get some quality zone-out time with Harvest Moon. Or those Sunday afternoons where I don’t take a shower until 4:00 PM because I’m really into downloading some virtual console games. I just dropped 20 bucks on Wii Points, but I forgot to buy myself new shampoo. Still, that’s not a problem, necessarily – nobody’s perfect. It’d only be a problem if I couldn’t stop.
So why don’t I try?
For the next week, beginning with the time of publication for this column, I will endeavor to spend seven days without video games of any kind. No Flash titles, no indie downloads, no XBLA, no console hits, no handhelds. No cell phone Text Twist. Not even Minesweeper.
I admit, without even beginning the exercise, the prospect daunts me. At first, I thought it would be a useful hiatus to allow me to catch up on my reading and my social life. But I notice the way I always reach for my DS after dinner, like a cigarette. Without blocks of gaming time, the weekends seem like intimidatingly yawning expanses of dead air. I’m a little frightened. But it’s the fear that makes me want to see what will happen.
Next week’s column will chronicle one writer’s experience in the game-free zone. It might be relievingly easy to abstain, much more so than I’m anticipating, and I may return to bring you a light-hearted essay on the harmlessness of being an enthusiast. But for all I know, it might throw the doors open on my sinister complex of reality aversion, social avoidance, addiction to constant stimulation, or a nightmarish, genetic inability to keep my hands from tapping and pushing things for longer than a few minutes at a time.
I don’t go in for the concept of New Year’s resolutions. For one or two weeks at the most, Americans in particular indulge in frenetic abstinence – psychotic diets, unsustainable gym plans, and other unyielding regimens of extreme change that it’s hard to make permanent. I know for certain I couldn’t go a whole year without enjoying video games, but for this first week of 2008, I’ll join the rest of the population in suffering mercilessly without a beloved “vice.”
And I challenge all of you reading this to join the experiment with me, and to share your experiences. What’s your initial reaction to the idea of going seven days with no game time at all? If you get the same queer feeling in your gut that I did upon conceiving the idea, perhaps you’ll find your results interesting, too. That’s if you can do it. I’m not so sure I can.
[Leigh Alexander apologizes for the blurry cell phone pictures of her clumsy handicrafts. She is the editor of Worlds in Motion and writes for Gamasutra, Destructoid, Paste, and her blog, Sexy Videogameland. She can be reached at leigh_alexander1 AT yahoo DOT com.]
Categories: Column: The Aberrant Gamer