Everyday Gamer

Everyday Gamer
The OCD Gamer

Michael Comeau | 18 May 2010 12:30
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If you don't know anything about Bubble Bobble, I'll clue you in to the basics. It's an action/platforming game in which you play as a cute little dragon that blows bubbles at monsters. Once you catch a monster inside a bubble, you jump and pop it. There are 100 levels, each comprised of a single screen. Each game plays out almost exactly as the last, and it becomes maddeningly difficult as you ascend to the higher levels.

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I played Bubble Bobble every day for over a year, despite the fact that I wasn't having any fun. When I'm having fun gaming, I'm usually laughing, but Bubble Bobble never made me laugh. I turned my back on everything that made gaming fun for me and instead indulged in games which forced me to do the same thing over and over and over again - kind of like what I used to with LEGOs.

I've since quit that job, but I've continued to feed my OCD by focusing on repetitive, pattern-based games like Guitar Hero, Literati, Scrabble, Zuma, and - more recently - Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

Few people would consider MW2 a repetitive game, given all the character customization options and game modes, but I've turned it into one by only playing a single character class in one game mode on a small selection of maps. Once I get a big kill streak and fulfill my compulsion to play, the Xbox 360 goes off.

I've only recently recognized that the feelings I get when playing these games mirror the emotions I used to feel rushing home in fear to turn off the iron. My stomach tenses up into a big knot and I get lightheaded - something like the initial stages of a panic attack. Once the current objective (like checking the iron or completing a kill streak in MW2) is complete, I feel a sense of relief, albeit a brief one, because I know that I'm perpetuating a self-destructive cycle.

I began therapy in an attempt to correct my compulsions in late 2008, and that was perhaps the best decision I've ever made in my life. My brain has gone through some real rollercoasters since then, but I've become more happy, adventurous, and comfortable in my own shoes than I've ever been. I've also drastically cut down on many of my compulsive habits, such as checking the stove, and eating the same thing for breakfast for weeks on end.

But do I still like videogames? I do know one thing: When I'm playing MW2 or some other OCD-friendly fare, I'm not actually "playing" anything; I'm feeding the part of my brain that craves order regardless of the cost. It's no different from building the same things out of LEGOs over and over or repeatedly listening to the same song.

But there's a ray of light at the end of the tunnel. I just downloaded the demo for Blur, and it's pretty fun. Since it's made by Bizarre, I'm not surprised that it reminds me of good old Project Gotham Racing 2, one of my favorites from the days when games were all about fun for me.

Now, I don't really feel like dropping $60 on a new game, so I'll have to find something to trade in. I guess MW2 will do.

Michael Comeau is a Brooklyn-based writer that sees light at the end of the tunnel. Email him at mikecnyc123@yahoo.com.

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