Gaming, I jokingly tell my friends, cost me a decade of my life. But there's a touch of melancholy to this joke: I have lost something to videogames.
The explanation is actually quite trivial: I was too busy playing games to meet my responsibilities, and the damage took time to repair. But this begs an explanation: Did I not know what I was doing? Was I simply irresponsible? I could have stopped at just about any moment along my self-destructive arc, yet I didn't.
Without casting blame or shunning accountability, I readily admit that I was addicted to games. What is addiction if not the unhealthy and unreasonable enjoyment of something to the degree that one's life suffers as a result? But I was not a passive victim in this relationship - games did not waylay me and force me to play them. My story is fundamentally no different than those of the addicts of any other substance. It is a mixture of irresponsibility, self-denial and personal issues that initially had little to do with videogames.
Many of my peers went through a similar ordeal, to one degree or another - men (mostly) who "lost" a semester or flunked out of school by overindulging in their hobby. They went through something similar to the fabled "larval" stage of a programmer: barely bothering to eat or sleep, sucked into the abstract world that they have entered so suddenly. Perhaps it's partly because gaming grew up with my generation. To us, gaming wasn't just one of several modern pastimes; rather, it offered an abrupt and dramatic shift in our surroundings. We went from playing on consoles with a few friends (if we played at all) to games with the fundamental framework of modern gaming - including online multiplayer.
Before college most of us had, at best, a 56k modem that connected to the internet via a dialup service like AOL. From this primitive state we suddenly jumped into a world with broadband internet. It was like going from steam to nuclear fission by the simple expedient of changing location. Furthermore, many of us received our first PC when we went off to college. Every month, it seemed, someone would save enough money to buy a modern graphics card, among our first "adult" purchases involving $100 to $200 for an allegedly childish pastime.
College is a minefield for many ambitious, young, (mostly) middle class individuals; the first flowering of independence and the responsibility that entails is often more than they can handle. Combine this with full access to the distractions of adulthood, and it's not surprising that many do not make it. When I arrived, however, gaming in the modern sense was still somewhat new.