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Lenore Coffee avatar 8:37 AM on 07.17.2009  (server time)
Shoot Em Up: Jonesing for the Game

It’s 4:30 in the morning and I have to be at work tomorr—err, today, but for some reason I’m playing [Prototype] again, from the beginning, to see if I can better my mediocre performance throughout the missions and side events during my first go-round.

The logical reaction to this sort of behavior would be, “What the fuck is your problem?” But I think I’m amongst company that knows full well of what I speak. This isn’t logic—this is gaming, and play has nothing to do with alarm clocks or deadlines or “when was the last time I ate?” It has its own drive, its own pulse, and it drives you at least as much as you drive it. The urge to pursue, conquer, slay, devour, decode, investigate, riddle-with-bullets, or pop sticker bubbles can be all-consuming, and it makes me ponder the reason for this compulsive, illogical, entirely addictive behavior.

I’m sure many of you saw the recent report on China’s brilliant use of electroshock “therapy” for internet/gaming addicts, the majority of whom are teenagers, which was ordered cease stop by the country’s Ministry of Health. However much I desire to refer not just to video games but to acts of play in general, it seems that gaming—like gambling—creates greater compulsive behavior.

In gambling, the payoff is not only financial, but a feeling of acquired skill, stealth, strategy, and beating the system. The same (or similar) can be said of video games, where one desires not just to explore the world divulged in the system, but to discover and ultimately unravel the many faceted obstacles and intrigues programmed to obstruct your success.

With video games, however, I feel there’s something much deeper at play—the immersion and interaction a player experiences once hitting <START> and plunging into whatever universe the developers have concocted, be it rapidly falling jigsaw pieces to the ethical dilemma of saving or sucking dry scores of Little Sisters. The fact that video games offer this interactive, action/response involvement creates not just a system of development and problem solving, but an anxiously desirable realm affected at every turn by a player’s instinct, insight, and imagination.

Gaming provides an other world that is beyond mere escape and traverses into the framework of creation, empowering the player’s every touch of the D-pad with virtually limitless endeavors, custom experiences that change based on a variety of factors located almost solely within the player him/herself. This state of empowerment is both highly desirable and, as history’s legers and the rising of the sun on my sleeplessly addled brain inform, potently addictive.

We play beyond limits because we’re offered the limitless. We thwart common sense and even basic needs because the state we’re in—the gamespace—often has something far better to offer. The Chinese may have decided to cremate the brains of these experiential entrepreneurs, but at least in this world of mine, the worst I can do is…get fired?


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