“Cut his electricity.”
“He’d buy a generator.”
“Well, then cut his internet.”
“He’d go to a friend house. Or play at school.”
“At least he’d be at school more often. That’s a start.”
I cannot help but smirk. To me, her problem seems nothing but trivial. I simply can’t understand the source of her apparent agitation and the reason she would call me in such an enervated manner.
“I just want him to… I don’t know, take his life a little more seriously.”
“He’s young. He’s what, nineteen?”
“Almost twenty. At twenty, I was already pregnant with my first child.” I resist the urge to tell her that this could very well be part of the current problem.
“Kick him out of the house, then.”
“You really think that would help?”
I pause for a few moments. She’s a caring mother; sadly, like many, she started caring too late. She saw first signs of the problem and she chose to ignore them. He had become more and more withdrawn, he had developed a tendency to procrastinate, his grades had been declining and so had been his interest in many of the activities he used to enjoy, he had shown difficulties expressing his feelings and emotions (and even more so deal with them in an appropriate manner), he had started to wake up later and later every day and so on. Perhaps she thought it was just a phase - that it would pass. Perhaps she thought it was normal, part of the process of becoming an adult. Typically teenager-ish, maybe.
On the other hand, perhaps she thought she was too busy. She had to get a promotion, buy a new car, repay the mortgage, finish a major project – all excuses are valid when it comes to neglecting a child. Not that it’s any of my business. At least, not that it was before she called me. I remember a very worthwhile maxim from my marketing class – the only one I ever took: people do not like prevention. Very few people will take even the most simple steps to prevent a problem, and yet most are ready to pay a fortune to fix it. For a moment, I am lost amongst thoughts of my grandmother, an obstinate and unyielding smoker. Cigarettes are the perfect paradigm of this situation: you trade your long-term health (and financial resources) for some short-term relief.
“Get him to therapy,” I finally say, breaking the silence.
“I did. I actually did. And you know what the doctor told me? ‘He’s just playing video games, lots of kids do that. Nothing wrong in that, he’s just having innocuous fun. Just be glad he doesn’t do drugs or drives drunk or do races around the neighborhood.’”
At last, I can hold it no longer. I start to laugh loudly. I can hear her frown over the line.
“You know,” she finally says, “he only has one class left to graduate,” she continues. “One class and he gets his DEC and then he has… something, you know? Something to go on, something tangible, something of value.”
Yes, a DEC – how incredibly valuable in today’s world. What excellent position at Harvey’s and/or Dollarama can one get with such a mighty, almost impossible-to-obtain diploma!
On every other point, however, she is right: a two-year program, one single class left. In mathematical terms, he is 95% done. It sounds stupid. Simply said, he should have finished a long time ago. Still, he has failed that class three times already and has been stuck in that college for the better part of the last four and a half years. They want to kick him out. And then he’d have nothing at all. Just a High School Diploma.
I’m not even sure he can land a job at Harvey’s with a High School Diploma in today’s economy. This leaves Dollarama, I suppose. I don’t even know where my own high school diploma is. I should have used it as toilet paper, at least it would have had an use.
“I just don’t know what you expect from me,” I finally state.
“Well, I remember that you play video games, that you used to?” she tentatively ask. “So, you’re kind of a little like him, you know? Hobby wise, I mean. You understand him a bit, you know what world he’s in. So if you could spend some time with him. Maybe… I don’t know, try to get him to study a little bit more…”
“Some kind of mentor?” I ask.
I feel valorized by the offer, but I’m in no position to accept. I have a master thesis to finish. I’m bare months from finishing. I’m busy – too busy for this. Still, the offer is tempting. Sam, that’s his name, is a smart, talented young adult and if someone deserves to be helped, it’s him.
“Like, talk to him, maybe?” she continues. “In his game. Only place you can really reach him, he plays all the time. Try to find what’s wrong. Try to find out what he likes so much in that game, why he plays so damn much. I’m not joking, if he studied ten percent of the time he spent on that game, he would have finished his Ph.D. by now.”
“Give me his username,” I finally tell her.
“Thank you. Thank you so much. The game is called… League of Legends.”
It’s been fairly popular – I’ve caught glimpses of it during tournaments broadcasts, but I’ve never actually played it, nor do I have the faintest idea of how it works. Something with towers and monsters – maybe a tower defense game, I don’t know. The only thing I really remember from it is that it abbreviates as “LoL,” which is an old and somewhat deprecated way of expressing a laugh in chat room. Maybe they have an expansion called “Realm of Forgotten Legends” – or RoFL – in the works.
I call him over Skype. He’ll show me how to play, or at least that’s my plan; you know, playing with your cousin, teamwork, getting along together and all. League of Legends is a 5v5 game. So far, so good – I get it. The main goal of the game is to destroy the enemy’s nexus before they destroy yours. Both nexuses are at extremities of the map. There are three lanes converging on Nexuses of both sides as well as several shortcuts and junctions intertwined in a sort of convoluted labyrinth. I know, right, who designed this place? Waves of minions spawn at regular intervals from your Nexus and become stronger with time. Nexuses are protected by four layers of defensive towers and one range of inhibitors. When an inhibitor is destroyed, the nexus from the other team starts spawning super-minion – strong minions, if you must know. That’s pretty much it.
“Okay, you must pick a champion.”
He’s overexcited to teach me. Sam loves to show people stuff. Ironically, although he doesn’t seem to like school so much, I could see him as a teacher.
Anyway, I have to pick a champion. Here, the wolf looks cool. I’ll call him Wolfie. I’m bad at picking names.
“His name is Warwick, and he is a jungler.”
Well, I certainly wish they had a Tarzan hero character…
“Champion,” he corrects me. I fail to see why this is relevant – he explains that “heroes” are from DOTA and that DOTA is the enemy. People who play DOTA are “stupid, LoL is where it’s at.”
“Nevermind, there’s already a jungler. Go Graves, I’ll support you,” he finally says.
Last time I heard, it was my job to support him, not the opposite. In all cases, I cannot find the “champion” he is referring to. I’m actually looking for an actual grave – you know, a “champion” that would shoot ghosts at the enemy. That would be pretty cool.
“Shotgun-guy,” he finally sighs. “Free this week.” Ah, shotgun-guy, that’s clear. Instead of playing the wolf, I get to pick the guy who kills it. What chance does a wolf have against a guy with a shotgun anyway?
“Shoot the minion. No, you must kill him. The shot from your guy must kill him. You get gold. With gold you buy items.”
“Okay, but what do I buy?”
“For now, nothing.”
A typical RPG. You get gold and you also get experience from being near an enemy minion when it dies. Like in real life, in short: you get gold and experience doing boring, repetitive stuff.
I spent the next ten minutes shooting. It’s not like I’m actually shooting, the guy is “auto-attacking.” Do I need to stay at the computer to do that?
“Keep moving at all times,” he says over the mic. Why? Does it makes you stronger? “It’s a psychological trick. Makes your enemy believes you’re about to make a play, keeps them on the edge of their seat. Like, he thinks you’re really focused and all. Also it makes you look pro… Because pros do that.”
The game goes on for a while, with every minute more boring than the one before it. Nothing happens. The colors are nice, I guess. We go and kill a giant dragon – this actually sounds exciting on paper, but in-game, it’s actually quite boring. It’s possibly as boring as murdering a dragon could ever be. Skyrim should take lessons from this game.
All of a sudden, before I can flash my eyes, the game is over and the enemy nexus explodes. Did I do something right? Did I win us the game?
“They fed our top lane. That Jarvan was a beast,” he finally says. Wait, who’s Jarvan? “Our top lane. The guy with the lance.”
I still don’t get it. “Volcano guy,” he says.” Oh, now I know. “I’ll go Sona – harp girl, nevermind, you got Janna. I’ll go mid, you play Graves again.”
It’s the same thing. The same map, the same game, the same objective. You don’t even get to keep the gold or items you’ve made in the previous game. You have to start all over again. It’s as if you went bankrupt after every game and lost everything. You even lose your experience. So in addition to bankruptcy, you also get brainwashed. I mean, I shoot stuff. Tornado girl, well, shoots tornadoes. There’s not much more to it.
Sam is damn good mid-laner. He chose demon guy and he is obliterating his lane. He comes to my lane and we wipe out our opponents in a flash. This is the closest I have come to being entertained so far.
“So, how is school, Sam?” I finally ask.
“It’s okay. Buy a B.F. Sword.”
My hits do more damage now. I have to synchronize my shots to get the last hit. I’ve started to read my skills tooltips between kills. I can shoot three bullets in a triangle, I can create a gas cloud which slows enemies down, a short dash makes me shoot faster, and I also have a superbullet that creates a huge explosion. Our opponents offer more resistance, but it’s futile at this point. Sam has twelve kills – more kills than elapsed minutes. At 20 minutes, the enemy nexus explodes again.
“This thing has a self-destruct button or what? Maybe they should design it a bit better if it keeps exploding for no reason. Who designed that thing anyway, the same guy who designed the Champlain bridge?”
He laughs. “No, they surrendered.” I get their pain. I feel like surrendering this game altogether. “We’re gonna play with more friends, okay?” Three more people join us on Skype. We are a party now. “You go Graves ag… Nevermind, Vince is going Vay… Vampire girl. He’s good with her. You go mid. You take Annie, she’s simple to play and fun. Just don’t die and we win.”
“Annie?” The heroes are listed in alphabetical order. She is the first. “You mean schoolgirl.” I start to wonder what chance a six-year-old girl has against the ninja girl I’m facing.
Annie, as it turns out, throws fireballs. And, as it also turns out, she is quite boring to play. Unbelievably simple. I read the tooltip quickly: no mana cost if I kill the minion with my fireball. Fascinating. Such an intriguing, revolutionary concept; this champion must have taken countless hours to develop.
“I’ve been told you just have your French class left to do?”
“Yeah,” he replies.
“Funny, you always loved reading. I remember that from you. You still read a lot.”
“Yeah,” he says, still focused on his game. He doesn’t want to discuss the subject in front of his friends, if at all.
I’ve done that French class. It’s stupidly easy. I mean, some advanced mathematics class I could understand, my girlfriend at the time certainly had her fair share of trouble with some of them, but a French class… You just write that Molière was the best thing that ever lived, a misunderstood genius, a pioneer of the verbiage, that his writing style was “magnifique” and “éblouissant,” that he is a “sommité” and you pass. Oh, you have to watch some weird theater piece too, if I remember well, but the trick is simply to coin the expression “nouveau genre” as often as you can to get an easy 70%. End of story. At least that’s how I did it. You had to read some boring-ass poetry book, too, and that I never actually did read past the first few pages, instead inditing a text composed of a mixture of “tortured soul,” “inner pain,” “desperate struggle” and “eternal suffering.” Easy A.
“It’s the writing part,” he says. “You know, grammar. They say I make too many mistakes.”
On this, someone starts complaining over Skype, blaming me, the “stupid Annie, stupid noob.” Easy to say – I’m six-year-old.
“You have to call your m-i-a,” says Sam over Skype.
“Missing in action. Means the enemy champion is no longer in your lane. That you’re alone, pretty much.”
“M-I-A… That’s oddly specific. Why not simply ‘mia’?” It rolls better on your tongue, I think.
“No, you have to say m-i-a.”
“So if I say ‘mia,’ no one is going to understand me?”
“It’s like the military,” says another guy with a coarse voice. “When someone dies, they don’t say ‘KIA’ like the car, they say k-i-a. So yes, it’s m-i-a.”
“But we’re not the military…”
“Look, dude,” continue the guy who supposedly died because of me (yeah, blame me). “M-i-a, mia, I don’t give a damn, you just call when the champion leaves your lane, okay?”
“Okay. And if the guy comes back and leaves again, do I have to keep calling it? Like over and over?” This game just got even better. I mean, if there was one way to make it even more tedious and repetitive, this is probably it. The game should force you to do jumping jacks and push-ups each time you die, at least it would help fight obesity.
He swears at me over Skype. Apparently, our top tower has fallen and he has lost his lane because of me. Oh no, what a tragedy! Given his lamentations, even Shakespeare couldn’t craft something as dramatic, apparently.
I decide to mute him. I yawn as I slowly level up in the mid lane. Level 4…5…6… This is so boring. I didn’t know trying to help Sam would be so blatantly uninteresting and time-consuming. I still don’t understand what could be considered fun in this.
“Call your bear! Now!” scream Sam, overexcited, over Skype. I answer with a surprised “what?”
“Over her circle! Yes! Press ‘r’ then click in the middle of her circle.”
BAM! I get a kill! I feel a short rush of adrenaline as I’m rewarded with gold. Gold, gold, gold! Like a hitman, I am rewarded for murdering someone. I can buy a “rod,” which will make the killing easier. Nice to know.
Annie, as it turns, is extremely fun to play, especially when you win your lane. It’s a game of patience. You wait to have your stun ready – that is, each fourth spell – then you call your bear, you press W and, if necessary, Q and you kill the guy. That’s it. And there’s nothing the guy can do the prevent it. I catch her again (in my mind, ninja girl is most definitely a girl), again and again. Very soon, I’m 6-0.
I kill her a seventh time and goes to help raunchy guy upstairs. Boom, bearshot! The words resonate on the screen in a maniacal fashion: “DOUBLE KILL” I laugh in the microphone. Very soon, I’m carrying the game. Or, should I say, master bear is carrying the game. I’m just here to summon him. I’m summoning a God and he does the rest.
But schoolgirl is no deadweight neither. With a Rabadon’s cap and a Rod of Age, she hits like a volcano. Against some enemies, if I time my fireball and stun correctly, I don’t even need to summon bear god. I can let him rest.
I get a triple kill, my W killing two guys at once and my fireball getting a runner. I’m in love. I want to marry her. There, at last, I found the reason of my existence. If I ever get a daughter, I’m calling her Annie and buying her a teddy bear.
I decide I will only play Annie from now on.
“How many games a day do you play, Sam?”
“Dunno. Ten? Twelve? Sometimes more when I don’t have school” Every game lasts a minimum of twenty minutes, but more often than not forty. Some games go over the hour. And the setup of each game is about ten minutes long as well.
“Do you play every day?”
“Yeah, sure” It’s the first thing he does upon waking up and the last before going to sleep. His mother had made him get a job at a local grocery store nearby, a highly-disorganized, neglected and somewhat derelict store called “IGA,” but he still manages to maintain the same level of playing. He just sleeps less. And skips classes (or, in his case, simply “class”).
Sam spends almost every single second he’s awake playing this game.
I’m starting to get it, too. There is something strangely beautiful about this game. No two games are the same. It’s repetitive, yes, but also incredibly varied. It’s… strangely harmonious, in a way. Predictable yet surprising and uplifting. Monotonous yet riveting, mesmerizing. You feel oddly at peace waiting for the game to start, watching the minions spawn, trying to calculate the best approach and carefully coordinating with your team. You do plays; traps, feints, combos, positions. The strategy is much more advanced than I had thought at first sight and you have to focus pretty hard to be good. Mana, cooldowns, position, speed, and obviously the “champion” you are fighting – they all count in the equation of whether you win or lose.
“How did you get that champ?” He plays a cool crocodile.
“You buy it. Every time you play, you get points. You get more if you win. Or if you don’t want to, you can pay for it too.” Around $10 for this one.
“That’s how they make their money?” The game is free, which makes the whole deal even better. I mean, a free game? Who doesn’t like free?
“Yes, but you can also buy skins. Makes you look cooler.” I ask if there is any advantage: no, you just look different. Slightly different. Or it would be more correct to say that a virtual champion that you get to play from time to time has a slightly different look. Some skins are worth hundreds of dollars. “Makes them look cooler,” he repeats. With a hundred dollars, I could look cooler in real life.
“You know, grammar is only a thing of memory. You just rote the rules until you remember them – at least long enough for the exam. I mean, if you don’t like the class, which is understandable… It’s just a bad moment to pass, you know? You study, you memorize them, then you can forget them forever after.” Or you could just cheat, at this point.
“I know, but… I just can’t get to remember. I… It’s hard. Confusing.”
He’s unable to remember how to conjugate the verb “want,” which would be “je veux, tu veux, il veut…” (I want, you want, he wants…), instead writing “je veus, tu veus, il veu.” It’s not hard to fix, or at least it doesn’t seem hard to fix. Syntax is another point where he has major problems, forgetting some prepositions and putting them at the wrong place or in the wrong order. During his worst days, he omits entire words altogether.
And yet he can remember every single champion in the game, every single of their abilities, their mana costs, their ranges, their cooldowns, the damage they do at each level and no less than three different builds for each champion depending on the enemy they are facing. He knows the exact statistics of well over a hundred items, down with every change brought by every patch, as well as the exact patch that brought the change and the date it went live. He understands the deep intrinsic mechanics of the game, up to the point where he can use his abilities within a pixel’s worth of precision. But he’ll be damned if he remembers to add an “x” or a “t” at the end of a conjugated verb. His situation reminds me of those kids who pretend they have ADD and yet who can still focus on a very intense chess game for hours, or follow every single spoken word in a movie. There will always be a doctor somewhere ready to comfort you in your delusions, camouflaging your laziness and/or personal problems under the pretense of an illness and a drug.
“You know, Sam, you are young. You have your entire life in front of you - decades. And not having any diploma will harm you significantly for the rest of your life…”
“Mia mid,” he says.
“Like, your future. This class might look like a bad moment to pass, but it’s what, a month? Two months? Two months and it’s done and behind you for good.”
“Beware I think they’re baiting. Don’t engage.”
“Just devote a certain time every day to study. It’s one class. Most people have five. Like, for every thirty minutes you study, reward yourself with a game of LoL.”
He’s out of ideas and subjects to change the conversation. He has resorted to not talking.
“You have to pass that class, Sam. You’ve already passed nineteen of them, some much harder than this one… You can a hundred percent do it, and then it’s done, behind you for good. If you don’t pass this class, then you’ve basically done nineteen of them for nothing.”
I hope my speech is not too patronizing. He gets a triple kill and I hear him laugh. Already, my words are far behind him. Gone altogether. I remember the psychological principle of immediate gratification versus long-term rewards. I picture his anxiety and how he has allowed his situation to evolve to such a point in the first place, up to the point where simply broaching the subject makes him uncomfortable and up to the point where he’d rather do anything else other than even think about it. I feel some shame in his voice, too: admitting his incompetence in this field is, for him, tantamount to complete personal worthlessness. When he thinks about this class, he feels like absolutely nothing. If I could speak in few words, I would detail his weak self-image and self-confidence, expose his deep inner conflicts and self-doubts and criticize his entire approach of life. He’s mortgaging his entire life over one simple – oh, not so simple, maybe – thing.
There is a sort of serenity to be found in his “échecs” as well, a certain stability. He’s a college student – that’s what he is. If he finally passes this class, who knows what will happen next? University, perhaps? Or a “real-world” job? Not fifteen hours a week bagging groceries – a real, full-time, professional job with responsibilities and duties, like a grown-up. More stress, more pressure, more opportunities to feel incomplete. Fear of the unknown, that’s for sure. A general fear of the future, of growing up, being thrown in the midst of a reality he never asked for.
His life is at a complete standstill, not progressing by a micron, and he feels safe and comforted in the only reality he knows. He has clearly ventured into the unknown before, been hurt, and fallen back to the only safety he knows, even more discouraged to ever try again. Every single of his failure comforts him in his mediocrity. “See, I told you that you would fail. Keep playing this game, Sam,” his subconscious says.
But is still going on – it’s not going to stop for him, nor even slowing down. In League of Legends minions gets stronger by the minute, but in his life, his obstacles, fears and problems grow in size and number every day. In a way, Sam’s life is an allegory of the very game he plays, except that he gains neither gold nor experience from his lifestyle: his problems grow, but not his skills, and every day it’s harder and harder to get out of the hole that is being dug around him.
Finally, I say it.
“You should stop playing League of Legends altogether until you pass that class.”
“And you should build a void staff.”
Now is not about time to give up. I won’t let him change the subject, not until I at least make some “semblant” of progress.
“What do you want to achieve in your life, Sam?”
“I don’t know,” he simply says.
“Where do you see yourself in ten years?”
“I don’t know. Where do you?” That’s a good question. With my master thesis behind me, that’s for sure. Maybe with kids, a nice house, a good job, a good car, fun vacations, that kind of stuff, you know.
We play game after game. I still love Annie to death, but I’m tempted to try new champions. Anivia, Kassadin, Vladimir. The hours pass.
“Sam, you can’t play League of Legends your entire life.”
And why not? Why not, anyway? Who said you had to get a big job, a lot of money, a nice car, a large house, a big family? Who said that you had to fit the societal definition success? Why couldn’t he be satisfied with his part-time job, playing League of Legends all day?
And then, at last, it hits me.
Sam is very far from stupid. He is, in fact, quite a smart young man. He already knows everything I’ve told him. He’s considered, pondered and analyzed every single of those arguments over and over again in the past. If chances are, he had already memorized every single of my points before I even voiced them. My words, to him, sound hollow. Without any effect. We are both wasting our time. I simply cannot get to him.
And the most fascinating point is, the more he thinks about those points, the more… Yes, the more ashamed and anxious he feels, and the worst he feels… Yes, the more he plays. A vicious circle of the worst kind, almost impossible to get out of. For him, League of Legends is not a game at all: it has stopped being so a long time ago. It’s a way to cope with… reality. With… With his inner fears, his apprehensions, his great, grand questions that nobody ever could bring an answer to, his crippling worries, his painful realizations and the lurid philosophical conclusions he has averred way too often. It’s a way to cope with all those nights he spent in self-doubt, wondering what was going on and what was this “big, scary world” around him. Watching him play, I can see emotional abuse, a systematic annihilation of the feelings of a quite sensitive young child who, like a tree subject to too much wind and too little care, has grown askew over the years.
For Sam, the dices were thrown years ago. None of the things that are happening to him today are his fault. He’s only playing the results someone else seeded for him.
There is nothing I can do to change his views.
“Mia top,” he finally says on a depressed voice.
“They’re all mias,” I utter.
We’re both too depressed to talk. No more of this. We both know they’re doing baron. We both know we’ve lost. We should have warded.
“Fiora,” he calls.
“Fiora top, really?” I laugh. It’s a new game and we are cheerful again. You never lose for long in League. With bear god, I’m starting to get decent. Some players on the other team get incredibly frustrated. They repeat the words “overpowered,” or “op champ” after a particularly skillful kill of mine. Sometimes, a “jajaja” fills the screen, making me realize that Brazil does have electricity after all.
“He’s building a hexdrinker. Weird, for a mid-laner.”
“Not that weird. He’ll craft it into a maw.”
“No, I think he’ll resell it. No point in wasting an item slot for a Maw late game.” I carefully calculate my ratios. I have to go for a more intense cooldown-reduction build. I have runes, now, and also masteries. I have gone for a pure damage build as always, but I include a CDR item as my second purchase.
“Obviously I get sorcerer’s boots.”
“You know what, let’s switch lanes. You go top, the guy has too much armor.”
“Really?” It’s a bold strategy, simple yet creative. The idea is that, for top lane, the jungler can help more easily and Annie being so weak physically, she will most likely die to any gank. Nothing two wards can’t fix, however. I see the jungler coming from miles away, I lure them to my tower, just in range for it to shoot and obliterate both of them with Beargod.
“Very nice,” he says, pushing the tower mid; he knows his opponent is vulnerable.
The games go on, and on, and on, for days, for weeks. We lose some, we win some. Time flies. One evening, two evenings, three evenings, a week, a month, where’s the harm, right? It’s my life. I can enjoy it the way I want. And it’s just a game. It’s not like I’m doing drugs or anything, right? I mean, some people drink every night or waste thousands every month at a casino or smoke weed or whatever. I don’t do any of this. I just play video games. It’s like chess. Or reading. Or studying. There was a study showing video games makes you smarter. So in a way, I’m working on improving myself.
Yeah. This is a good thing. Definitely tests my intelligence, my quick analysis skills, my mathematical skills (1,671 gold? 15 gold per minion, got to kill 24 more until I can afford what I want, that is unless I get a kill…), my planning skills… Yeah, there’s no problem here. I mean, it’s a kind of class in itself.
I have played dozens and dozens of games with Sam. The days, the nights pass. He rarely goes to sleep before 4AM and so do I, now. In a way, I’ve become scared of going to sleep. It means the day is at an end and that another is about to start, and that I will have to work on my master thesis, or at least that I will feel pressured to. I will wake up and think, “Oh, I really have to finish my master thesis.” I won’t work on it, of course, but I will feel bad about it, and I redoubt this feeling of incompletion.
I will feel guilty about it and I’ll play a game of LoL to relieve the anxiety, to change my ideas. Nothing wrong in playing one game, after all. And after this one single game, I’m going to work non-stop, uninterrupted, for eight hours, for sure, if not more. Yeah, I will definitely play just one game… Except if I lose, of course, because I don’t want to quit on a loss. Like, I’ll be in a bad mood because I lost and it will affect my work output, so I better play another. Then again, if I win, well, I’m on a streak, I have to keep going, you just don’t cut off in the middle of a hot streak, and if after I start to work, if I ever get stuck during my writing or on some hard problem, well, I will play just one game to change my mind, except if I lose because I don’t want to…
I Alt-F4. So much for abandoning your teammates; the game practically calls me a loser for doing it. I understand its point, I’m letting down four teammates, but I’m well-past the point of return. I Ctrl+Alt+Del. End process. Control panel, uninstall a program, scroll down, League of Legends.
I’ve seen the trap, and what a beautiful trap it was; it was all too carefully woven around me. I’ve seen and realized the danger, I’ve seen where this is going. I close my Skype and I uninstall that too.
I’ve long wondered about those people who spend their nights and lives playing slots machine. To me, these games always struck me as incredibly stupid. You push some money in – some real, actual money– you pull and a lever, and that’s it. How could that possibly be considered fun by anyone? Either you get three identical symbols and you win, either you don’t and you lose. That’s it, end of the story. What’s the point? Why are so many people addicted to something so simple, so repetitive? Why do some people lose their entire lives, their houses, their families to something so stupid?
Back in college, I used to have a good friend who was obsessed with Blackjack. He counted cards and used to make quite a lot of money. He once played it 38 hours in a row and threw a ruckus when they kicked him out, closing the section for cleaning. Fun stuff, he would even forget to eat, having to set up his watch alarm to remind himself to eat. He had told me he “wouldn’t feel the hunger at all.” Other than those quick rushes for fast-food, his only breaks were for quick trips to the bathroom during deck shuffles. Some people, older and wiser maybe, choose to wear diaper.
He had told me he had decided to “give up blackjack altogether” because he “had an addictive personality.”
It took me a while, but I finally understood it: there is no such thing as an “addictive personality.” We all have the potential to get addicted - just to different things. Speaking of Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, his biographer said that he was “addicted to work.” Some addictions are socially accepted –work, exercise, coffee or fast-food, for example - and some, such as drugs, alcohol, gambling or pornography, aren’t, that’s all.
It’s a clever psychological trap. I don’t blame Riot a second for it. They’re here to make money and I have nothing against that. Casinos do much worse. I’m just not falling in it myself. I refuse to.
I call his mother – not right away, it’s 4 AM, and I can’t remember a single thing I’ve done today short of playing “LoL.” 8AM – “Sorry, can’t help. Did my best. Try to talk to him. He’s quite smart. Good luck.” I hang up before she can reply. If she calls back, I’m not picking up. Too dangerous. There’s nothing I can do for him anyway. Should he go to detox? Should there be centers to treat gaming addiction? “It’s just a game! It’s not harmful and destructive like alcohol and drugs are,” right?
I finish my master thesis within two months. I get an “excellent – strong research skills, recommended for Ph.D.” on it. This story happened two years ago today. Sam has since long been kicked out of his college; last I’ve heard, he was trying to do some adult education class, and he failed that, too. He’s still working at that part-time job at that IGA and he might as well start contributing to its pension plan because I have the feeling he will be there “for a good little while.”
He plays LoL a bit less these days, but never less than eight hours a day, and his friends told me “they didn’t foresee any end to it.”
In a way, his entire life has gone m-i-a.