It’s Friday night. This room, while previously quite spacious, now finds itself rather… confined. At one end, a lone pedestal fan spins in a vain effort to provide circulation to the room. The combination of men, stale beer and open snacks whose nutritional contents are similar to nil, is contributing significantly to the stale environment I find myself in. One might think this is the description of a rained in party – and in a way you’d be right – but tonight is an eerily clear night. The stars are bright, and our obnoxious neighbor is continuing to make an obscene amount of noise outside.

In other words, it’s a perfectly regular Friday evening in which you (or I, at time of writing – a 25 year old male) would typically leave the house and otherwise party or be intermingling with not only friends, but members of the opposite sex. But there’s a problem – the only women at this party are bored girlfriends, and they’re outnumbered 2-1 by men, and 3-1 by computers. That’s right ladies and gentlemen – there are men here. Grown men… and their computers.

You have entered… THE GAMER ZONE.

Sorry.

I’ll be honest here – the extent of my knowledge and interest in video games is enough that I can tell you there’s an old 8-bit Nintendo game based on Top Gun that’s generally considered one of the worst games ever made. I can also tell you that I’ve played all sorts of games on all sorts of devices, and I’ve certainly played them to the extent that I almost smashed a Nintendo 64 controller because my friend was repeatedly playing Oddjob in Goldeneye 64 multiplayer (FUCK YOU). As a child with terrible co-ordination, I found myself absorbed in games and gadgets from a very young age. Play sports? Go outside? Nah. I at least had a bike, until it was stolen off the front nature strip.

Once seen as child’s fare, the children involved have since grown up but not out of video games. While the lives of those former children have surely complicated with the increasingly harsh realities of adulthood over the years, their commitment to gaming – while reduced – still certainly exists. A fact that was recently legitimized by the tardy addition of an R18+ rating to video games in this country – previously they were just outright banned if they were deemed too violent for 15-year-olds, making us a bit of a laughing stock online every time a new AAA title was banned.

MKK

This was a really high profile banned title that didn’t fit into MA15+ with it’s X-Ray skull fracturing stuff, and really helped in the R18+ rating debate. It’s finally been released officially as of this month. Everyone else just imported it (myself included) back in 2011.

The tug-of-war between life and gaming becomes more of a struggle as the obligations of being an adult eventually overpower the ability to game at will. Most people shrug and downgrade their time investment as they shack up with others or get more invested in their careers. Everyone left just keeps fighting the good fight. For better or worse. Some fight it so long that they end up dead in their chairs (see: occasional Asian Internet Cafe deaths).

Like those half-blind pensioners you occasionally find mashing retirement money into poker machines, despite not being able to actually read or see what’s happening, video games can be addictive. It’s social – you make friends with similar gaming interests, and you play online together. Or bring your computers to the very same room. It’s competitive – gaming by nature is a competitive experience. You’ve invested a lot of time playing together developing military grade tactics, so your desire to keep playing and win increases. It’s also a steam valve – you’ve had a shit day at work, so you’ve come home to clean out the depths of hell with a rocket launcher, rather than just simply clean out your house with a broom.

Like a good James Bond film, video games are just pure escapism.

It’s human nature to enjoy a good victory. You’re accomplishing something, and not hurting anyone while doing so… aren’t you?

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There’s real money and a massive industry in professional gaming competitions, but where’s the point of no return? At what age have you missed your chance to possibly catch up to their skill level and compete for money? There must be an age level where you simply can’t reasonably expect it as an outcome.

While a serious commitment to gaming can appear as a mostly harmless steam-releasing exercise, it occasionally becomes something much more detrimental. Everyone needs a hobby to break up the monotony of life, but the dangers of excess always apply. As a person gets more and more sucked into the social and competitive aspects of what they’re doing, all of their focus shifts. The worst kind of encouragement in this sense is provided by games that penalise players for leaving a competitive match. Instantly it’s less of a “I feel like playing” and more of a “I need to finish this or else” scenario.

As part of this time re-prioritisation process, all ‘lesser’ tasks that otherwise require spare time investment go by the wayside. Need to eat? Whatever it is now, it’s quick and requires low effort to prepare (read: shit). The obnoxious kid pulling on the ‘Life’ end of the war rope soon finds comfort in defecting to the ‘Game’ end as an overweight adult with clogged arteries and a caffeine addiction. Toilet break? Between the matches! Need to shower? Later. Need to mow the lawn? Next week. As your concentration gets more focused on the game, your sense of time passage just fades away with the daylight.

Sitting in front of a glowing monitor, listening to other peoples voices and reading the words they type – without being able to actually see them – also leads to some interesting psychological effects. Most of them negative. I’ve never seen so many people turn bipolar in my life than I have with my friends playing video games. From intense laughter to desk-punching in a heartbeat. The screams of terror and rage make our rumpus room unusable for all other purposes to this day.

To the heavily invested, a loss is simply unacceptable and becomes a vocal exposition that can’t be remedied by actually fighting someone in the room (since they typically play together on the same team). The rage just gets banked awaiting eventual release into the microphones and immediately available objects around the room. At least in the Oddjob-hating, offline days, my enemies were well within striking distance!

Oddjob

This guy. This fucking twenty polygon guy.

Obviously not every case is extreme, but in my experience video game addiction has many parallels with other addictions. Only a gamers’ money ends up in overpriced attachments (headphones, mouse-pads, mice) sponsored by professional gaming leagues or brands – instead of a bookies pocket. Never mind that something probably just as good is available at a lesser price in a slightly different form. Any perceived chance to increase the statistics of say, attaining more headshots, overrides all logical thought when it comes to gadget expenditure. That and there’s no time to bargain hunt!

Short of getting a girlfriend (the Internet is not a nightclub) or other regular social engagement, the ways out of a problem gaming loop are not yet clear to me. A lethal cocktail of friends you can’t see, competition, tactics and energy drinks quickly develops a drive into doing nothing else at a hundred kilometres an hour, and happily harbours all the shit that will kill you. Like sitting still despite ingesting a heinous amount of caffeinated drinks and Doritos. You could, say, quit smoking? Go overseas? Go interstate? Stay at the coast? Do SOMETHING! Given any other option, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this story on a Friday night playing games on a Friday night that’s for sure. I want to be out spending money I don’t have, doing things!

And isn’t harbouring bad debt what life’s all about?

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