Sunday, September 26, 2010

It's Not An Addiction

They say that the first step towards a cure is admitting that you have a problem. I don't think Sam would have ever admitted to being addicted to video games as a child. There were a few reasons he wouldn't have been able to stand up and say “Hi, my name is Sam and I'm a video-game-aholic.” First, he thought that everyone should be playing games basically all of the time, so he was only acting as a person should. Second, he would have refused to acknowledge the signs of withdrawal he had when he was separated from games too long. Third, he wouldn't have wanted to go to the meeting until after he had beaten this level. Whether or not he would have admitted it at the time, I think he would now. It's just part of Sam's personality, he loves to say things like “I had a video game addiction before it was cool.”

Some of you who are familiar with the modern concept of VGA (Video Game Addition, obviously) probably think of it as the kind of thing that affects most teenage boys in our country. You may also think of it in terms of forty-year-old men getting out of work and heading straight for WoW. (If you don't know what WoW is you probably don't know anyone with VGA. It stands for World of Warcraft. You can look it up, but be careful. The first hit is free.) If you're old enough, you think of it something like “and those lazy kids are always messing with that idiot box making that little guy do stupid things and...” All three impressions are wrong. Modern VGA is nothing compared to what Sam had. Of course, back in the day we did have the good stuff. So I guess it was easier to get hooked.

To begin to explain I have to go back just a bit. My brother was generally a good sportsman. He could lose a game and shake hands with the winner. He was fairly even tempered when it came to people. However, he hated our Nintendo. I don't know how many times I saw him slam the controller down on the floor while screaming “The game cheated me!” (To be fair, RC Pro-Am did cheat. Almost everyone who has ever played it knows that.) The reason that this is important is because, over time, the controllers stopped working because of these beatings.

In fact, at one point we were down to one controller. The more we used it, the less it worked. Before it was all over with, it was so hard to push the directional pad that it was impossible to use. After about three minutes your thumbs would be too sore to use them anymore. As a result Josh and I gave up. Sam, however, kept trying to think of a way to use it. Finally he came up with idea of biting the directional pad and pushing the buttons with his fingers. He put in a game where speed didn't matter and sat there playing the Nintendo by mouth for hours. Until you have watched someone playing a game with the end of a controller in his mouth and playing the buttons like a flute, you haven't seen how bad VGA can get. Fortunately I have more information that can be passed down to posterity.

The next example was a few years later. By this time we had a Super Nintendo. I was home sick and didn't even feel up to laying there playing a video game. Sam had gone up-town and rented a game. Since the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) was at our house, he had come over to play even though I was stuck in bed. I remember lying there trying to sleep as Sam sat at the foot of the bed playing for hours. Finally, this just wasn't enough for him.

“Hey, Bro,” he said to me, turning away from the screen for a moment to look at me.

“What?” I groaned.

“Want to play two player?”


“Come on, it'll only take a few minutes.”

“No, I'm sick.”

“You can play while you lay there!”

“No, I don't feel up to it. Just let me rest.”

“Look, I'll beat you in like five minutes and then you can go back to sleep.”

This actually made a bit of sense to me. I knew that Sam couldn't control the craving once it was on him. The easiest thing to do would be to sit up for five minutes, get beaten and then go back to sleep. However, I wasn't the type of guy to just let myself lose without trying. Still, Sam played so much, he almost always beat me, whatever the game was. All things considered I decided to sit up and play one match with him.

It was a war game called Super Conflict. The idea was simple enough: take your army and destroy your opponent's. Fortunately for me this was one instance when Sam forgot a cardinal rule: Never let your enemy control the bridges. Perhaps an hour later I had won. Sam's forces were humiliated and defeated. He wanted a rematch, but I told him no. The fates had been with me because I was sick. I did what I had to do in order to go back to sleep. It wasn't my fault that I won. Sam was satisfied with the idea of a rematch at a later date and I was allowed to go back to sleep. Of course, it wasn't the last time Sam's addiction kept me up.

Here I have to explain the fact that Sam was always beating my games before me. For the most part I didn't care, but he could go the extra mile and make it annoying. For instance, one time I got a new game and he came over to play it with me. When it was time for him to go home he asked if he could borrow it because his bedtime was later than mine, so he would get to play it even if I couldn't. I told him to go ahead and take it, but to bring it back the next day after school. He said that he would. I didn't see him again for three days. Finally he returned with my game and apologized for having taken so long to beat it.

That was enough for me. After that, I laid down the rule that Sam couldn't beat any of my games before I did. Now, this was a terrible fate to befall Sam. I was and am notoriously fickle when it comes to gaming. I pick something up, play with it for a while and then put it down. It may be months or years before I pick it up again. For instance I didn't beat The Legend of Zelda until I was a grown man, even though I reached the last level when I was twelve. Mom and Dad bought me a game for Christmas one year, and I didn't beat it until summer-time two years later. It's not that I'm not a good gamer, I just get distracted and bored very easily. Either way, Sam knew that it might mean never beating another of my games.

All things considered, he took it well. That is to say, up until I got my next new game. It was Star Wars for the original Nintendo. Sam began foaming at the mouth right after I got it. He held out for a few hours, but then it began.

“You going to beat it soon?” Sam asked shortly after we started playing.

“I don't know, we'll see,” I replied, having just started the game.

“I'm sure you could beat it tonight if you tried.”

“Maybe I can. We'll see.”

An hour or so later I decided to stop. Sam couldn't just let that go.

“What? You can't stop now! Look how far you are,” he said with a big smile.

“I'm getting tired, you guys can play something else.”

“Can we play this?”

“No, you'll beat it.”

“I won't!”

“I don't trust you.”

“Well then, the least you could do is play a little more.”

I conceded his point. If I wasn't going to let him play until I beat the game, it was only fair that I try to beat it as quickly as possible. So, the game went on. It got very close to my normal bed time and I had been playing Star Wars all day. I decided I had done my best and that it was time to quit.

“No! You can't stop now! You're almost there!” Sam said as I went to turn off the Nintendo.

“I'm not almost there! It's almost bed time anyway,” I replied, tired of the very sight of the game.

“What! Almost bedtime! It's Summer, Bro! What's the point if we can't stay up late once in a while?”

“I'm tired!”

“Non-sense! You just need to hit your second wind. You're close, Bro, I can feel it!”

My sense of fair play made me sit down again. I couldn't give up while Sam was so excited about beating it himself. I would have to go the extra mile for my friend. The hours flew by, but I reached the end of the game. It was after midnight, and I was so tired that I couldn't see straight. I knew that I couldn't win, I was just too tired.

“Sorry, Bro! I can't make it,” I said as I began to get up to turn everything off.

“What?! I can't believe this, you're right there!” Sam replied with a shocked look on his face.

“I can't beat it right now! I can't see straight! Literally!!”

“You can beat it! You just have to try!”

“You are out of your mind! I'm too tired to play anymore. I'll just beat it in the morning.”

“No, tonight! It has to be tonight!”


“Because tomorrow you'll want to do something else. You'll get distracted! That will be it!!”

Again, Sam had made a valid point. Would I be willing to beat it in the morning? The way I felt at the moment I wasn't sure I would ever want to see the game again, much less play it. Still, it didn't matter, I would have to beat it tomorrow. Beating it at that moment was impossible, I didn't have the strength.

“Sam, I will do my best to beat it in the morning, honestly. I just can't do it right now.”

Sam looked at me for a moment in silence. Then he spoke:

“I'll help you!”


“Just start playing!”

“OK, I guess. At least when I die you'll let me go to sleep.”

I started playing again. Sam was calling out warnings and suggestions almost non-stop. I was slow to respond and was certainly losing. I began to fall asleep where I was sitting. Suddenly I felt Sam's arms reaching around me.

“What are you doing?” I asked as I looked back at him.

“I told you I would help you and I will!” he said as he took each of my hands in each of his.

“Sam, this is crazy! You've gone insane! Let's just go to bed!”

“No! Play!”

So, play we did. I don't remember much. I was falling asleep even in the uncomfortable position of sitting up while being enveloped in the arms of Sam. Had I had the strength to fight him off, I would have told him to keep his hands to himself. However, at that moment I was so tired I would have slept if he had decided to pick me up and cradle me like a baby. I don't how long we sat there with Sam's hands on mine making me push buttons, but I do remember being fully awakened by shouts of joy.

“You did it, Bro! You won! Wake up and look, you beat the game!” Sam was about to cry he was so happy.

“Good job, Bro!” Josh threw in there. He had stayed up with us through this insanity.

“That's wonderful. Well, goodnight,” I said, not caring about anything but sleep.

The next morning I made a decision. It hadn't been worth it. I would rather loan Sam all my new games for two weeks before I ever played them rather than go through that again. I loved Sam like a brother, but I had no desire to be wrapped in his arms during another midnight gaming session. I told him of my change of heart, but he seemed indifferent. He was too busy playing the game to take any real notice of what I was saying.

Sam got older and got his addiction under control. His wife still has to keep an eye on him, but he's very manageable. So, if you're concerned about a child or grandchild or husband who seems to have VGA just compare them to Sam. His was a real addiction, and he beat it. He just found something he loved more: his family. Your loved one can beat it too, they just need a reason to turn the game off. In any case I doubt they are bad off enough to wrap their arms around me in order to get to play, so it's not as bad as it could be. That's something to be thankful for.

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