5 May 2003
Addicted to Civilization
Not all addictions are to substances. Some people become addicted to other people, behaviors, and even computer gaming. Looking back, I wish I had become addicted to single malt scotches. It would have been an expensive addiction, but there are public and private resources for the alcohol addict. Instead, I became addicted to a computer game. Not everyone recognizes computer gaming addiction as the serious problem it is.
Not seeing a physiological component, they ignore the plight of the gameaholic. Even though no substance is being abused, computer gaming addiction is real. While it might seem to be a harmless pastime, computer gaming addiction is a serious problem.
Early in the personal computer age I saw signs of computer gaming addiction in others. It is telling that some of most successful early computers were from Atari, a video game company. Mistakenly, I thought I was safe from computer game addiction since video games bored me. I escaped addiction for years, computing safely until shortly after I purchased my second PC-compatible system in the early 90s. Then I was introduced to the first computer version of the strategy game Civilization, and I became a computer gaming addict within a couple of months.
Civilization is widely regarded as the best of the grand strategy games. It is certainly the most successful. It began as a board game and it is now in its third computer version. It only costs forty or fifty dollars and it doesnAC/a,!a,,C/t require an expensive, fast computer. But, once purchased and installed requires your full time and attention.
The cycle of computer gaming addiction is similar to traditional substance addiction. It often starts innocently; a friend or coworker introduces you to the addiction. In my case it was Rick, a member of my project team at work, who first told me about Civilization. He talked of the fun of building empires and defeating opponents. He gleefully referred to AC/a,!A"CivAC/a,!? as AC/a,!A"the crack cocaine of the thinking class.AC/a,!?
I failed to recognize the danger in RickAC/a,!a,,C/s AC/a,!A"crack cocaineAC/a,!? comparison, nor did I pause to consider the implications of how much time he spent talking about Civilization. Rick was in the early stages of his addiction and he had always looked slightly crazed, so I did not sense any danger. Smitten by his description and smug in my belief that I could easily master any game that Rick could, I bought my first copy of Civilization. This early version of the game came on a pair of floppy diskettes. I installed them quickly and over the next week I spent a few hours here and there experimenting with the game.
The new addict usually doesnAC/a,!a,,C/t notice their growing dependency. As I experimented with Civilization, I failed to notice that I was spending more and more time at my computer. Instructors can find this essay on the original author's web site. Finally, one-week night I felt ready to play at the King level. It was challenging but I fared well. I played on into the night, not realizing that the first of thousands of hours of my life were slipping away. There is no clear stopping point in Civilization. Game play takes place in turns, and you make many decisions and take many actions at each turn: fighting wars, building cities, building roads, irrigating land, conducting diplomacy, building wonders of the world. This night introduced me to the now familiar pattern of AC/a,!A"IAC/a,!a,,C/ll save this game after I do build this wonder or connect those two cities.AC/a,!? But, as I completed the road between Rome and Ravenna, I could see that in just another few turns I could complete the Great Pyramids.
I told myself AC/a,!A"IAC/a,!a,,C/ll save this game after I build that,AC/a,!? and I kept playing AC/a,!A"just a few more turns.AC/a,!? Finally, my sense of responsibility kicked in and I decided to go to bed. I knew I was up a little late but I knew I could get by on 5 or 6 hours of sleep. I was shocked to see that it was 5:00 AM! I had lost a whole night to Civilization.
That was the first of many nights I would lose. I was hooked. Whole weekends would disappear into exploring new strategies to win the game. At the office Rick and I had spread the addiction to others, and we would talk about strategy and experiences for hours on end when we should be working. We never discussed, or even admitted to ourselves, our lost time, our lost work, and our lost lives.
For a while addicts try to get their fix and live a seemingly normal life. This rarely works. As I struggled in vain to reach some balance between my life and my addiction, I tried many different approaches to control my loss of time to Civilization. I discovered my most successful tactic after I purchased my first computer with a CD drive. I would listen to a music CD as I played Civilization. When the CD ended, I would save the game and force myself to do something else. This worked for a couple of years until the next version of Civilization came out. This version required that the game CD be loaded to play the game and I found no other timer that would work for me.
Introduced to Civilization by a coworker and having failed to resist its lure, I have been addicted to it for over ten years. I can only hope and pray that there are no new versions of Civilization. I have tried to kick the habit many times. I even AC/a,!A"lostAC/a,!? my game CD when I moved. When I switched from the PC to a Macintosh, I resolved not to buy the game for this new computer. Yet, somehow, there is a Civilization III CD on my desk now, sitting there, mocking me, and trying to get more of my time.
Edited by: lizwool at: 11/14/05 14:01