Posted on September 12, 2007, Jonathan You're Not in Vice City Anymore: Games That Get Inside Your Head
Most gamers know the feeling: you get hooked on some particularly engrossing game so much that it begins to seep its way into your usual thought processes. It’s inevitable really if you spend too much time doing any one task, game-related or not. I myself have experienced the grips of a Tetris addiction, that had me seeing falling blocks as I tried to go to sleep and mentally rearranging the books on a teacher’s desk to form lines. That’s probably why I found this short list from GamerNode on “Games That Warp Your Sense of Reality” particularly interesting. Tetris is of course their primary example, but they also list a number of more recent titles, like The Darkness and Guitar Hero. It’s a good list, but I still think I would add a few of my own:
GTA III: No, not in the “go on a crazy, violent rampage” that most anti-video game legislators theorize. But still, when the first GTA III came out, it allowed people to access one of the first really immersive, open-ended gaming worlds. Add to that the fact that the game was really, really fun, and you had something that could have people playing for hours on end; and thus, get inside their minds. Several of my friends and I described feeling the game’s effects the most while driving to any mundane or routine location. We’d constantly be on the lookout for a better car than our own to steal, and practically jump out to get it. Or we’d be stuck in traffic and start thinking, “No problem, I’ll just drive along the sidewalk and…waitaminute.” Of course, to be fair, who hasn’t been stuck in traffic and wanted to do that?
Hitman: Blood Money: The effects of Hitman: Blood Money on the mind remind me of a book. In “Lullabye,” by Chuck Palahniuk (best known for writing “Fight Club”), the main character comes across an ancient “culling spell,” which, if read in someone’s general direction, causes them to suddenly drop dead. After studying the spell to try and find out more about it for so long, the protagonist unwittingly commits it to memory, and later learns that the spell only need be thought towards someone to kill them instantly. Pretty soon, he’s unable to stop himself from pretty much killing everyone he comes across that annoys him in the slightest, from the guy that bumps into him on the sidewalk to the one particularly annoying radio DJ. That’s about the same way things begin to work in your mind after playing Hitman: Blood Money for any long stretch of time. You get stuck behind someone who’s walking too slowly, and your initial reaction is to go into a crouch a pull out some piano wire. Or someone is blocking your view at a basketball game, and you think, I could just throw this guy over the back of the bleachers and make it look like an accident. You basically begin looking for real world methods to getting that “Silent Assassin” score.
Counter-Strike: When I was living in the dorms in college, a friend of mine set up a dedicated Counter-Strike server for anyone in the building to use. This meant that you could hop on and play with people you most likely knew at almost any time, which meant a whole lot of us played the game quite a bit. At the height of this, a couple of my friends played a joke on the rest of us by having one of them pretend to be sleep-talking, randomly saying phrases like, “Stick together team!” and “I’ve got the bomb.” The fact that we fell for it is probably a testament to the fact that we had all spent enough time with the game to believe that sort of thing could conceivably happen to someone. This is true of many online first-person shooters though. It’s not the sort of thing that begins to leak into the your real-world perception, but the game can enter your mind when you’re just simply bored. You start thinking of different paths, strategies, weapons, and the like. Then, the next time you log on, you try them out.
I know I’ve listed only violent games here, which would probably have video game opponents practically wetting themselves with excitement; but the violence is not the reason these games can seep into a person’s head. It’s simply because they require some amount of strategy; and free-thinking, and when you switch your brain into that more concentrated mode, it’s hard to switch it back when doing things that don’t require that much thought. It’s the same way professional chess players obsess over different strategies. If the knight lopped off a pawn’s head when it captured it, they’d still be thinking of how to get that knight over to that pawn.