I was addicted to a video game for a year. I’m not talking about one of those nuisance addictions like cigarettes or TV, which are just poor solutions to boredom. Or even a more chemically-dependent addiction like alcohol or food. This was a full-blown handjobs-two-at-a-time-in-the-alley-for-crack kind of addiction. Now, I’m not a big gamer. I’ll get one every other year, play it for a month, finish it, and let it collect dust next to the three versions of Madden I own, all purchased after good Bears seasons. But this one was different. It was called Metal Gear Solid 4 and it came with my PlayStation 3. I spent the next month going through the storyline before deciding to dip my toe in the world of Metal Gear Online play. This was a mistake. After filling out my online profile, this was my life for the next year: 1. Wake up; 2. Turn on system, load up game, sign-on;
3. Select “Team Deathmatch” and “Urban Ultimatum” stage;
4. Select sniper rifle;
5. Climb stairs to specific rooftop;
6. Aim scope;
7. Wait for another player to pop his head up;
8. Shoot; 9. Sleep; 10. Repeat. (Note: Eating and bathroom matters were dealt with during the game’s various load-up times. Two birds, one stone.) For those in the know of online gaming, this is a frowned-upon style of play. It’s considered almost as bad of a cheat as exploiting a glitch in the game by, say, hiding behind a wall and firing through it. “Stupid camping motherfucker,” they’d type towards me. “I have the patience of a Zen master,” I’d respond. I tried once or twice to play like the others, just running through the game and haphazardly firing at whoever was in the way. But it lacked the emotional peaks and valleys I needed. Some days, I’d kill hundreds. Other days, nary a soul. But it was the down time that made the excitement of a kill that much more special. I’d keep my eyes peeled for a hint of pixel movement from across the way.
As soon as I saw it I’d press the X button, see my Kill Count rise by one, and bask in the joy of knowing how much shock that other player – most likely a 13-year-old kid – must be feeling. “Get used to disappointment, kid,” I’d say. “Life’s full of ‘em.” On PlayStation 3 there’s an alert that pops up if you’ve been playing for a few hours in a row, suggesting that maybe it’d be best to go outside or something. Anything to stave off obesity for a bit. It was late on a Friday night when the following message scrolled across my screen: “You’ve been playing for 10 hours. You might want to take a break.” This was my rock bottom moment.I snatched the game from the system and Frisbee-d it into the top of my closet, which acted as a kind of catch-all for storage. To get it, I’d have to climb a chair and sift through the mess like a blown-up Jenga game, being extremely careful not to breath on the wrong thing or it could all collapse on my head. After a junk avalanche drew blood from my forehead, I’d have to get a little more drastic.I threw it in the trunk of my car.
That doesn’t sound like much, but you have to understand I was living in the Miracle Mile section of LA, which got its name because it was a miracle if you found parking within a mile of your place. (See what I did there?!?! Jokes!) It was a commitment of about a half hour of walking to and from my car to get the game. And yet, just about every morning, I was making that walk. Ultimately, I had to take the game over to my friend’s place and leave it there. It was only then that I was free from the devil of addiction. But, as most addicts do, I eventually backslid. About a year later, during one particular bout of boredom, I went back and got the game. A few hours of play wouldn’t hurt. I could control it this time. And when that “You’ve been playing for 10 hours” warning scrolled back across my screen, I popped the game out, picked up a pair of scissors, and cut that motherfucker in half. I returned to my apartment a free man, no longer held by the treacherous shackles of gaming slavery. So it was time to celebrate. It was time to say hello, once again, to an old friend, someone who’s never left my side no matter the hardships I’ve been through, my rock, my foundation, my lovely, lovely Internet porn. It doesn’t warn me when I’ve been on it for 10 hours at a time. It just keeps its mouth shut and does what daddy says.
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