Friday, May 11, 2007

Hack and Slash Addiction

Millions of teenagers and adults in America, including dozens I know personally, are addicted to video games. If you have kids, you're going to have to deal with the video game phenomenon at some point, unless you plan to raise them in a bomb shelter somewhere in Piscatiquis County (sorry, mine's taken).

How can I tell if my child is at risk for video game addiction? If you have ever heard him say something like, “if you hold down the shift key while you right-click on a corpse, you can auto-loot,” he is at risk.

How do I talk to my child about video games? As with anything, it's best to learn as much about the topic as possible beforehand.

Here's something that won't help: “Why are you playing that stupid game? You're wasting your life away.... Wait, where's the remote – I want to see if Survivor is on yet.”

Okay, I'm a little defensive. Americans watch billions of hours of TV a week, but marginalize video games, which usually require strategy, imagination, and physical conditioning (stamina of the posterior).

And the games are only getting better. When I was in college, the most popular game was Diablo, which offered three possible exhilarating adventures:

  1. Journey into the underworld and hack demons and skeletons with a sword. Take their money and buy a better sword.

  2. Journey to the underworld and hack demons and skeletons with arrows. Take their money and buy a better bow.

  3. Journey into the underworld and cast magical spells on the demons and skeletons so they burn to death, etc. Take their money and buy better armor.

While others spent their free time experimenting with illegal substances, I was beating Diablo and his minions, which eventually left me with an empty “what now?” feeling, similar to that which follows the average hangover or graduation ceremony.

As good as Diablo was, I can’t imagine what it must feel like to play today’s video games.

The big one out there right now is World of Warcraft, or WoW for short. It's an online role-playing game that requires you to create an alter-ego to compete against or cooperate with your choice of eight million other players across the world. It involves building alliances and managing armies, and those who do it well are probably capable of getting advanced degrees in economics and political science.

To give you an idea of how big this game is, you can now get a World of Warcraft Visa Card from the First National Bank of Omaha.

“In addition to the benefits it offers,” said one corporate suit, “we feel that the World of Warcraft Visa card is another great way for players to represent their gaming passion out in the real world.”

Yeah, nothing says “I'd rather be looting corpses” to that cute girl scanning your groceries like a credit card with some kind of alien goblin thing on it.

Obviously, the credit card bank is really psyched to rake in people who have trouble making payments. The First National Bank of Omaha knows full well that anyone who wants this card is probably too absorbed in WoW to have maintained any employment or family contacts, and will soon have to surrender all assets, including thousands of rare collectible Star Wars action figures.

“Sweet!” yells the bank CEO. “I’ve been trying to get my hands on these for years!”

Argh, what am I doing?! It's just that type of mindless stereotyping that alienates game players, unjustly forcing them to the fringe of society. We should be helping these people!

How can I help a video game addict? If you have a loved one who is trapped in this game, take it from me: there is hope. The best known cure for video game addiction is an elusive yet powerful tonic called “girlfriend.” Even that sometimes doesn't work, unless you can get the extra-strength “girlfriend with her own interests.”

Sometimes, addicts emerge from their caves independently. They squint in the unfamiliar sun and gradually become productive citizens. I have a friend who flunked out of college because of video games, but now he owns his own Internet service provider and makes 44 times as much money as I do.

While you wait around for that to happen, remember that as a general rule, it's a good idea to remind young people that the world has more to offer than just World of Warcraft, and remind them that it's important to diversify your interests. For example, the quests in Halo are also very rewarding. Other popular games include Gears of War, God of War, Dogs of War, Warped War, War for No Reason, War and Peace – No Wait, Just War, and WarWarWarWar.

There are some games that do not involve war or violence, but nobody plays them. Thank goodness – what kind of world would we be living in if they did?

1 comment:

Lillian Angelovic said...

Thanks for the laugh!
We live in a Halo-free zone - only because we do not have an input-capable TV right now. It would be WoW-free but I have to have some evil distraction at the end of the day. To relieve potential boredom I forced my kids to listen to the audiobook of "Little Women" and discovered (to my horror) that even my sons thoroughly enjoyed it.