Thursday, June 12, 2003

Sid Meier, What Have You Done To Me?

I am not much of a computer gamer. Video games in general are a big challenge for me, and not in a good way. I die quickly. I think the highest level I have passed in any game is four. This deficiency has usually kept me from participating in gaming in any significant way.

And then came Civilization.

I bought this game about 2 weeks ago and installed it on my computer a few days later. And then all hell broke loose.

For those of you who are not familiar with the parameters of the game, you are basically the leader of a civilization that you help create and develop. You are responsible for its economy, its citizens, its defense and its progress. It's an exciting proposition: being able to call ALL of the shots.

And having a military waiting to execute your commands.

I was totally sucked in, my personality transformed. In real life I yell at bad drivers and that is about it. As the leader of "Rome" I was a tyrant and a madman. I spent centuries trying to destroy Greece and defend my territory from coalition forces that would not tolerate my open aggression. I built cities. Infrastructure. I was founding an empire that would stand tall and remain strong for ages!

I lived through millenia in 18 hour stretches. On consecutive nights I was up until 4:30 and 6:30 in the morning tending to the needs of my citizens while I turned my back on real people. Emails were ignored. Phone calls were not returned. Questions were answered in 5 words or less. I was having "fun" and would not be distracted.

But all this "fun" had a strange effect on me. At one time during my marathon of game play I took pride in my decision to go outside and get food, something I had not done in over a 24 hour period. When I went outside everything seemed artificial. Strange. Foreign. I felt altered. Disconnected from the world I lived in.

I eventually finished the game, my civilization in ruins, wrecked by centuries of warfare and civil unrest. I continue to pay a physical price for my adventure as my back is still knotted from 18 hour sessions in front of the computer. Mentally and physically unhealthy, I have been examining the factors that could have led to my obsession. The lure of imaginary power has affected me in unexpected ways and illuminates deficiencies in my real life. I could use this to form all sorts of conclusions about gamers, but for now, I'm just working on spending some more time outside.


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