I’ve had a weakness for video games since the beginning. Being over 50, I started feeding quarters to fully mechanical pinball machines in the arcades and followed all the way through to a full home theater setup Sony PS3, soon to include PS4. Along the way I’ve owned Atari 2600, Intellivision, Sega Master System, Game Gear and Genesis (missed Dreamcast, somehow), Nintendo NES and Wii and Playstations 1, 2 and 3, many of which are still working and occasionally used. My smartphones provide games on the go, and my children have filled in the gaps with most of the later handhelds from Nintendo and Sony. I’ve had plenty of opportunity to “waste” vast amounts of time playing video games- when I actually have the time. When I do find time to play, I typically spend it racing on Gran Turismo, or playing simple old-school button mashers like Sonic. Bored or need a break, crank up the game, spend an hour playing, turn it off and walk away happy. That changed a little over a year ago, when I started in on a game recommended by my son…
Fallout 3 is a fairly violent post-apocalyptic role playing game with a decent, flowing story line (and I quickly recognized elements A Boy and His Dog and Mad Max, favorites of mine, in the content), very cool graphics and some great surround elements to keep you jumpy. Thing is, it’s not my style game at all. There is a complexity to the buttons I usually don’t feel like learning, ongoing quests that need attending and the need to actually remember where you’ve been and where you’re going- which my random play time would require taking notes to remember what I was doing! At the beginning, I wandered aimlessly around the Capitol Wasteland (post-nuke DC) marveling in the detail and imagining of the future. I found plenty of new areas, and promptly got my character’s (The Lone Wanderer) butt kicked everywhere we went. I started to lose interest, and was about to give up when my son came home from college on break. He would stop in to talk while I played, giving me a few pointers here and there and admonishing me for ignoring the quests I was tasked with- and his input changed the entire atmosphere of the game for me. When he went back to school, my daughter, who unbeknownst to me, had been regularly watching my son play, would sit with me and read as I played- arbitrarily advising (or also admonishing!) me on gameplay the entire time. From November through April, the worst winter months for me, I was completely hooked on Fallout 3, completing it and moving on to its slightly less addictive (for me) follow-up Fallout: New Vegas.
I work a 2nd shift schedule, and come home to a dark and quiet house- even the TurboHounds don’t wake for my arrival. Add to that a fair bit of seasonal depression from NEOhio winter gloominess, and it was easy to see how I could find such a sense of escape in a video game that rewards exploration, gives Karma points for being a good guy and offers treasures and gratification throughout. What I did not expect was to actually become addicted to Fallout. This is not to make light of those with dangerous, life altering addictions, but this was as real as any of those. I only played at night after work, with an occasional crappy weekend winter day thrown in, but that could run from no more than an hour, to frantically trying to get to bed before the rest of the house got up for the day (and I start my days between 9-10, so it’s not like I was sleeping away the day to make up for lost time). As I was trying to sleep, and all through the next day, I found myself craving the opportunity to get back into the DC wasteland and thinking of places I needed to revisit, quests I needed to complete, or items I might have missed and needed to collect. I was texting my son at OSU to tell him where I was and how I was doing, hoping for bits of wisdom and suggestions on how to continue forward. I even found myself regularly discussing the game with folks at work (other gamers, at least)! Around late February I was becoming aware that something was not right. I could not go a night without playing, and when I did I could not sleep without the siren song of Fallout whispering to me. I had become a “functioning gameaholic”, and I could not understand how or why.
In the daytime moments where I forced myself NOT to play Fallout, I make time to read. The nature of my job at night is such that I can usually listen to audiobooks for a few hours a night as well, and I found the book New: Understanding Our Need For Novelty and Change by Winifred Gallagher in both print and audio. I simultaneously read and listened to this book- then promptly read again. It was fascinating and enlightening, and perfectly described my personality in a way I had not found before. I know I have a personality that requires me to always see what’s “over the next hill”. It’s obvious in my camping and hiking trips, in all-day mountain bike adventures, in motorcycle rides that start local and end up several tanks of gas away trying to find the quick way home to get to work on time. It’s even obvious in the mundane, like my need to take different paths to my regular runs to work, or to pick up the kids from school. New actually gave some explanation to my need to constantly accomplish, then move on. I don’t need the accolades, I simply need to meet the goal, to complete the challenge. I had not given any thought to these moments before reading Gallagher’s book, but I was seeing my life in a new light- and it was dawning on me why no other video game had affected me like this before. Who knew a book and a video game could provide a path to new self-awareness?
NEOhio winters leave me somewhat lost. I continue to walk the dogs, MTBike and motorcycle through the winters, but I just hate being cold and I can’t stand the short days. By necessity, I have far more indoor time, less “adventure time”. Fallout gave back my adventure time, though in virtual form.There was always something to find “over the next hill”, quests to accomplish, foes to vanquish and vast areas to wander and explore. Without leaving my couch (or, more frequently, my stationary bike- so I get ridiculous amounts of exercise, at least!) for many, many hours, Iwas exploring the unknown, and meeting a very strong need I was only vaguely aware was boring a hole in my psyche- and I could not stop! Fortunately, with spring came the much stronger drive for exploring the real world, and I could leave the game (mostly) behind- though pieces still surface from memory at the strangest times.
Though I’ve completed the game several times, I still occasionally feel a need to step back into the wasteland. I’m always surprised that I continue to be rewarded by something or someplace I haven’t found before. The depth and detail of the world created by the game developers just blows me away, and I’m utterly awed by their skills and imagination. It’s even fun to discover the famous actors behind many of the voices, particularly in New Vegas. The whole package is just remarkable to me, but I’ve finally (nearly) reached a point of boredom with the two Fallout games I own- a very good sign. This winter I spent most of my video game time playing Gran Turismo 6, a game that actually helps keep my real-life track skills sharp through the winter. But I still find my self wistfully scouring game sites for any signs nuggets of potential development on Fallout 4, knowing full-well it will cost me another winter when it finally arrives. But until then, it seemed I had beaten my addiction… until last week.
I just celebrated a birthday, and with it came a surprise package from my son. Seems the same folks that developed Fallout 3 also developed a fairly popular open-world fantasy epic called Skyrim, and my son thought I would like it (Thanks!… I think…). Not really into the wizards and magic type games, but within an hour or so of bumbling around trying to get a feel for the new game, I was hooked. Thankfully, spring weather is upon us, and I will (hopefully) be able to stay above this until next winter, but we’ll have to see. The worst part? It’s a 3-pack bundle, with a pair of BioShock games as well. Must. Maintain. Self-Control. -at least till the weather turns crappy again!
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