A regular at my restaurant calls to me from his table on the patio. “What have you been up to?” he asks.
“I’ve been doing a whole lot of nothing.” I reply. “There’s this video game that’s ruining my life. It’s all I’ve done for the last four days.” I’m smiling but it’s the sad truth. I’ve barely spoken to my boyfriend since I downloaded it.
“What video game?”
“I’m too embarrassed to tell you.” I admit.
I think back to the first video game I ever played. It was 1984 and I was five years old. My mother had just married and I had gained an older brother. The game, King’s Quest, was purchased as something my step-brother and his father could do together. It was based on fantasy and storybook characters. Fascinated, I tentatively insinuated myself. My new brother and I bonded through drawing intricate maps and being frightened as we made our way up a dangerous mountain path or got turned to stone by Medusa. Instead of doing my homework each night I collected ingredients, learned spells from my handbook, defeated evil wizards and befriended mermaids.
Then there was Defender of the Crown. We learned that when you went raiding that the way to win was to press “Enter” a lot. There were two enter buttons and we would each furiously operate one. This act is the foundation of our relationship. We were not able to beat the game and it didn’t sit right with us. Twenty years later, my former husband downloaded it for me. I lost about two weeks, but I finally beat it in my twenties. My step-brother didn’t believe me.
My parents gave me the original Nintendo game system in elementary school. The high pitched noise I emitted upon opening the gift was a response that was never quite duplicated again. I spent entire weekends in the basement in my pajamas, just me and a plumber named Mario.
At some point my gaming got kind of weird and compulsive. I don’t play games like the infamous Doom or Quake. I have never spent a second playing World of Warcraft or Call of Duty. Probably because a few of them have stolen my boyfriend and made me a virtual widow.
Now I play games where I land airplanes, tend a farm, or am a waitress (particularly weird since I am a waitress). I also learned to play pretend guitar better than I can play my real guitar. The worst are the pretend life games. In Harvest Moon I came to the sickening realization that I was spending more time tending to my fake house and child than my real house and children. In The Sims, I found that I was able to make my Sim accomplish all of the goals that I can’t bring myself to do in real life.
It happens the same way every time. I am not certain which comes first, the depression or the game, but they both spiral out of control in short order. If you are a person that struggles with motivation, video games are the perfect combination of time-killer and false gratification. Each achievement gives a sense of task completion. I get so depressed that the thought of how I will spend time without the game is terrifying. The more I play, the more overwhelmed and depressed I become, resulting in even less motivation.
“It’s called Farm Frenzy.” I say sheepishly.
He raises his eyebrow repeating it slowly, “Farm Frenzy.”
“There are chickens. They lay eggs all over this field and you eventually have to turn the eggs into cupcakes. I can’t stop playing it. I only have two levels left. It’s horrifying.”
“You know, you can always delete it.”
The thought is preposterous. The thought is possible. The thought is positively freeing. I think of my life and where I want to be. I resolve to make hastier haste in getting there. I delete it along with all the other games on my phone. I say goodbye to my addiction until the next depressive episode.