The epic gaming session; most gamers have indulged in it from time to time, as much as we know we shouldn't.
I had managed to keep a lid on my late night gaming for a few years, but one night last week I found myself compulsive clicking the "next turn" button in Sid Meier's Civilization V for several hours after I told myself I really should save my game and go to bed. It was 4am by the time I finally defeated the French and decided I could turn my PC off.
It was only two days later that I heard of a young man who had died after a 40 hour Diablo III session in a rented internet cafe room in Taiwan. He was not the first, either: another Taiwanese youth died in an internet cafe in February after playing for 23 hours. My eight hours of Civilization V was a brief session in comparison to the marathon that prematurely ended these young lives, but it still made me stop and think.
Neither I nor anyone I know has ever played a video game for anything close to 40 hours, but I can recall a few epic sessions. After the launch of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim last year, a co-worker told me about his weekend dedicated to it, including one unbroken 20 hour session. During the peak of my Borderlands obsession my wife and I played co-operatively over the network for around 15 hours in one sitting, though we had some meal breaks.
How is it that video games, more than any other medium, trigger this kind of obsessive response in fans? We seem to hear about hardcore gamers dying after excessively long playing sessions once or twice a year. In comparison, I don't recall ever hearing about someone dying after watching 30 hours of DVDs or reading a long series of books for 20-plus hours.
Some games seem to be engineered to keep us playing just a bit longer - "one more turn", "one more level", "one more fight". The Civilization series is notorious for it. As you world-spanning empire grows in size and complexity, you have to juggle more and more items, and goals and milestones can overlap multiple times. The Diablo series is another, as players wait for just the right items to drop, for their character to reach the next level, and for the end of the current dungeon or quest.
More than these mechanical things, though, I think it's related to how games draw us in, make us the centre of their world. These artificial events can feel important, and it can be very difficult to walk away from them until we feel they have been resolved to our satisfaction. In the case of my recent game of Civilization V, I felt a genuine personal grudge against Napoleon, and I simply couldn't make myself save my game and go to bed until my army had captured Paris.
Sure, it's just a game, but it felt personal, and it felt important. Perhaps this deep emotional engagement that we get from games can be one of their great strengths, as well as a great danger. I didn't suffer any serious health problems after staying up so late, but I was certainly tired and grumpy, and my productivity probably suffered.
It makes me wonder how many people have lost their jobs because a gaming obsession prompted them to miss too much work, or how many relationships have broken up because of too much spent playing games online. Even a simple lack of sleep can have a substantial health impact. Deaths are an extreme and uncommon example, but I wonder just how much damage an out of control gaming obsession can do.
My question for you, Screen Play readers, is how this kind of behaviour has affected you. Have you ever played a game for longer than you should have? Has it ever had a seriously adverse effect on your life? Please share your stories in the comments below.
- James "DexX" Dominguez
DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez