About Last Night ...

About Last Night ...
The Gamer Within

Sean Sands | 20 Mar 2007 12:00
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Game 3 - Civilization IV
"I used to play Civilization way back," she said, and then told me the story every Civ player knows. It ends with, "And they told me it was 11:00, and I'd been playing for 10 hours! I couldn't believe it."

Don't I know it, babe.

Civilization, as it turns out, had been her first gaming love, and while she only played it a handful of times, each of those times had been for countless hours. As I sat her down in front of this last game I had the feeling it might be The One.

Not surprisingly, she settled on Gandhi as her leader and promptly set out on a course of organized non-violence. Exploring, building temples, researching technologies like pottery and sailing - these were tasks that she could tackle in her own time and at her own speed. Following some brief explanations of the updated controls, she remained largely silent. Her eyes blinked less, her expression fixed itself into concentration and a smile played at the corner of her mouth with each tiny accomplishment.

Occasionally she would mutter something like, "Wow, look at the detail!" or, "Hey, those guys aren't going to attack Delhi, are they?" But the commentary was diminished compared to the other games as she played in the great sandbox of human history. She brought Buddhism to her people and rejected slavery. She built centers of learning and worship, but only enough troops to make her people feel safe from invasion. She sweated over each town's happiness and strove to fulfill their needs.

An hour passed in seconds, and when I called time I could tell she wanted more. There it was; the feral gamer lurked behind her green eyes. She crossed her arms over her chest and considered the screen for a few moments. I could see her measuring the several accomplishments nearing completion: the growth of Delhi, the completion of the Oracle at Delphi, the last section of map that she wanted to uncover. Could she simply stop, leave those things undone, leave her infant civilization to its own devices?

"No, I should stop," she finally conceded. "I'd be here all night."

And that may be the only difference between the hardcore and the casual gamer: the ability to keep gaming from interfering with one's life. It is the difference between the guy who has some wine with friends and the bar fly on his ninth beer of the afternoon. When she rose from her chair and thanked me for the fun experiment, I realized that a casual gamer is all she would ever be. And I was fine with that.

Then, I heard the sound of Lumines Live! echo from the next room.

Sean Sands is a freelance writer, co-founder of Gamerswithjobs.com, and owns
a small graphic design company near Minneapolis. He does not miss his stint
in retail even a little.

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