Sunday, January 30, 2011

Off the Wagon

Tourism in Sydney
The Sydney Opera House is a world wonder in Civilization V.

I gave up on computer games a year and a bit ago, after having finally admitted to myself that I play them compulsively rather than for mere enjoyment.

I fell off the wagon last week. I bought Civilization V and have been playing it, and I can feel the hooks of the compulsion sinking in again. So I'm stopping again now, before I find myself losing entire nights to a fundamentally pointless optimization exercise that doesn't even simulate ecological destruction although it would be really easy. (Just assign a pollution number to all buildings and improvements, have that radiate around like Culture, and have that degrade Work, Culture, and Gold. Throw in a random chance of an oil rig blowing up, and you're done. As it is, the perfect empire has every inch of land under cultivation, mining, or habitation, which is just depressing as well as being wrong. Very Industrial Age, that.)

The odd thing is that my bout of Civilization actually did me some good. Perhaps my dopamine-reward system needed a workout, or something, but it caused something to click back into place that had been knocking loose previously. I was getting increasingly irritable, stressed-out, and anxious, and my Zen practice had sort of lost its edge too. Suddenly something shifted, and the irritations fell back to looking like what they were, minor frustrations and annoyances rather than matters of real significance. And my meditation feels more focused too.

Even so, I'm feeling the downside of gaming acutely as well; a dull headache, those tiles jumping in front of my eyes, the relentless pull of the computer. So I'm going back on the wagon now, even with Wu Zetian's world-embracing empire half-finished. It was encouraging, though, in a way. Perhaps I'll try again one of these days, maybe with a less open-ended game. The real nastiness of Civilization is that it never concludes; there's always just one more round to play, another type of victory to target, another strategy to try. Its newest incarnation is so exquisitely balanced, too, that all of them are interesting and attractive.

The real bastard about compulsions like gaming is that while it's entirely possible to kick one, there's something else always waiting in the wings to take over. Lately, my Internet use—Twitter, Google Reader, to a lesser extent Facebook—had acquired many of the same compulsive features as my gaming, only with fewer dopamine kicks. That's one reason I tried Civ V—I figured that if I have to be hooked on something, it might as well be something I actually enjoy. At least this stuff is relatively benign compared to much else that is out there.

Still no, though. Going back to spending my free time rooting for the good guys in Egypt and maybe writing some verse. Perhaps when Human Revolution or The Witcher 2 come out, I will reconsider. By then, my aging gaming rig still sitting under my desk will probably be completely useless, though.

Balance. Tricky beast to find, that.


  1. Everyone is waiting on your analysis on the Middle East on RPGWatch ... :)

  2. Hi, David – I don't know if what I've been doing here quite qualifies as analysis; more like commentary. But by all means post a link there if you think people are interested.