I’m not a videogame addict. Yet. But if I don’t get this infernal Xbox 360 out of my house, I may become one.
I got the machine on eBay a few weeks ago on Technology Review’s dime so that I could review it for an upcoming print edition. I already have a Playstation2, which I’m quite fond of, and I had never felt a need to try the original Xbox, which didn’t appear to be a quantum leap over the PS2. So I was skeptical about all the hype and fuss over the Xbox 360 – until it actually arrived. How wrong I was.
I’m not going to write here about the absorbing plots and delirious pace of the games I tried on the 360, or the jaw-dropping realism of its graphics. For that, you’ll have to wait for my review. But I will say that I played the games a bit longer than was strictly necessary to gather my impressions. [Ahem.] Well…much longer.
One title, Activision’s World War II first-person shooter Call of Duty 2, became my particular obsession. I’m an aficionado of WWII history and a big fan of relatively true-to-life recreations such as Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, and the game seemed like an opportunity to step into the boots of fighting men whom I had only connected with before by reading their letters, hearing interviews, or watching on the big screen. Of course, the appeal wasn’t entirely intellectual. There was also the adrenaline rush of trying to survive in battle while Germans were shooting at me from every angle.
Now, I have been known to display a few obsessive-compulsive traits. I can’t walk down the street without checking periodically to see if my wallet and keys are still in my pockets. I watched the whole second season of 24 in about 24 hours. I go around with a soundtrack playing in my mind’s ear, as if there’s an iPod Nano embedded in my brain. (Right now it’s playing Tchaikovsky’s
So perhaps it’s not surprising that the time I spent with Call of Duty 2 got a bit out of control. It wasn’t enough to finish the Russian campaign against the Nazis in
Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit. I did finally wrench myself away from the Xbox controller and hand in my review. And I don’t anticipate going through withdrawal after I’ve boxed up the Xbox and shipped it off to Cambridge. But I am realizing through experience that videogame addiction is a serious issue that I may have been too quick to dismiss in the past.
That’s easy to do, since it’s a subject surrounded by the usual moral panic from family-values proponents, not to mention its own urban legends – a 28-year-old man in
But psychologists point out that almost any activity, carried to extremes, can become addictive – especially those that offer an escape into non-reality. Just like drugs, alcohol, and other classical addictions, videogames can put the user into an alternative sphere of consciousness where the stress and pain of existence are numbed. People who are predisposed to daydreams, obsessions, compulsions, and depression are probably at special risk.
Even mental-health professionals can fall into the trap. Timothy Miller, a clinical psychologist in
So my answer to the great debate about whether videogames are addictive is yes – for some people. For the majority, they are probably harmless. But the Xbox 360 gave me my own little taste of videogame addiction, and it was both luscious and bitter. Luckily, the box isn’t mine to keep.