Once you go Creative, why go back to Normal?

Both Sim City and Minecraft, and probably other games too, offer a ‘creative’ or ‘sandbox’ mode.  This means that the game turns off all the monsters and disasters and gives you unlimited access to materials. With all that potential wealth at your fingertips, why would people play any other way?

See all that dark brown ground - very bad pollution!
See all that dark brown ground – very bad pollution!

During my recent bout of Sim City playing, I at first resisted the urge to play in the sandbox.  I did manage to build a good city with a somewhat stable budget, but large problems loomed. The coal that made the city so much money was running out and the ground pollution caused by the mining and the trash was slowly seeping across the land towards my dwindling water supply. Random tornadoes and Godzilla had ruined important structures. ( I could go on detailing the various strategies to handle those problems – but I haven’t figured it all out yet.)

It got really frustrating, so I started a new city, this time in sandbox mode, and it was good.  Ah – the perfect city – clean energy, low taxes, lots of education for all those happy little sims.  Lovely.

So Pretty and Perfect
So Pretty and Perfect

Funny thing though…  I haven’t played since the day I built that city.

I haven’t played Minecraft in ages.  In Minecraft’s normal mode there are Creepers.  These monsters do nothing but chase after you and blow you up.  The explosion scatters all the precious materials that you have gathered around the area where you died, potentially losing them forever.  If you happen to be standing next to the awesome structure you’ve just spent hours building, they blow that up too.  All the other monsters in Minecraft I can deal with, but the Creepers freak me out.  So I play in creative mode and build sprawling manor houses or majestic castles, and then…  After a moment or two of admiring my work, I turn the game off.

It is hard to go back to normal mode, with its money problems and lack of resources after playing in creative mode.  But there is something about watching in horror as a tornado rips through the really expensive hospital you just plopped down (and, yes, Plop is the word they use in Sim City to place a structure on the ground – weirdos.)  that, while making you want to punch a hole in your monitor, also makes you want to keep playing, in an, “I’ll show you,,” sort of way.

It is the monsters that make the games interesting.  Games without challenges might be easy and stress free, but they’re not addictive.  They don’t wake you up in the middle of the night with a mind full of ideas on how to solve the latest crisis.  We’ve all got these gigantic, problem-solving brains – if we aren’t using them to solve problems, well, what’s the point?

Next time I play Sim City, I’ll go back to my original, troubled city and see what I can come up with to fix it.  The perfect sandbox city will hover in my memory as the goal for ‘reality,’ but I doubt I’ll ever play in it again. Perfect is Boring.

The Game vs Real Life

Should I worry when the line between real life and a computer game seems to blur?

My boyfriend and I were walking along the street, chatting about this and that, when I saw a sign in a store window that contained the initialism, “GSI.”  Earlier that morning he and I were searching in the game world (SWTOR) for a GSI vendor.  In the game world, GSI stands for Galactic Standard Industries.  I have no idea what this real life version of those letters meant.

SWTOR Empire logo
Come to the dark side (Photo credit: Derringdos)

Here is what happened in my brain during the one second of seeing the sign:

  • Millisecond 1 – Eyes input visual of sign in store window
  • Millisecond 250 – Brain recognizes letters
  • Millisecond 500 – Oh, that is the place we need to get the next quest from
  • Millisecond 750 – Realization of what I just thought
  • Millisecond 1000 – Laughter

My boyfriend turned to me and asked why I was suddenly laughing so hard.  It took me a while to catch my breath enough to tell him, and of course he thought it was hysterical.

And then it happened again.

This time the game was Sim City, and the real life prompt was an abandoned building.  In Sim City it is good strategy to immediately bulldoze abandoned buildings to avoid creating homeless people and to maintain your tax revenue. Probably a good strategy in real life, but not nearly as easy to do:  I held up my hand in the direction of the real life building, moved my finger in a mouse clicking motion and said aloud, “bulldoze.”

English: Abandoned Building
Bulldoze in one click? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My boyfriend almost fell over, he was laughing so hard.  He is threatening to write the two events up on facebook.

I guess I just beat him to it.  But should I be worried?  Is this yet another sign that I am gaming too much, or is it just evidence of a healthy imagination?

What do you think?

My Occasional Obsessive Tendencies

English: Cropped by : Fourohfour, to remove ir...
If you don’t get the Cheetos reference, good for you. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Allow me to share with you my list of activities for the last five days:

Sleep – six hours a night
Eat – about two hours a day
Play Sim City – half of all the remaining time
Play SWTOR* – the other half of the remaining time

Is this obsessive behavior?

(A brief aside for any readers who are also gamers:

 SWTOR just released its first expansion last month and this past week was the first opportunity my boyfriend and I had to take our avatars from level 50 up to the new high level of 55. If any of you out there play SWTOR, let me know what you think of the new content.  I was not pleased.

Sim City does not deserve the negative hype it has received – I have had no troubles playing and the ‘traffic problem’ is not a problem if you lay out your city properly.  It is an amazing game.  I think because of my programming background I have a better understanding of how the ‘sims’ move and act.  I don’t expect them to behave like individuals.  They are simply code.  Sophisticated code, yes, but in the end, they are just 1s and 0s.  If you treat them as such, you won’t be disappointed when they don’t act they way you would in a real-life situation.  There are patterns to their behavior, and once you determine the pattern you can successfully manipulate it, and earn your simulated city millions of simulated dollars.)

You can call my five-day, almost non-stop gaming obsessive if you like.  And in a way it is.  But I wasn’t really neglecting anything.  I worked on a large project two weeks ago and I have another two weeks of work starting soon.  My boyfriend is applying to every single graphic artist job he can find out there.  So what is the harm?

I’ll tell you.  The harm is that, while I am sleeping, I am dreaming of the games. Even when I am doing other things, buying groceries, cooking a meal, taking a shower, I am always thinking about the games.  In my mind I am constantly strategizing, running ‘what if’ scenarios, and planning my next move. I can’t wait to finish up the things I have to do in order to get back to the games.

After a while it starts to hurt.  My mind churns and spins and focuses on this one thing for so long, it physically starts to ache.  Not like a headache, more like a strained muscle.

Thankfully, I am a strong-willed person.  When this sort of mind-ache starts I know what I have to do.  I have to stop playing so much.  I set an alarm clock up across the room to limit my playing time.  I call people on the phone and have long conversations about anything other than the game.  I find a good book and go into the other room, the one without a computer in it, to read.  And eventually, I will lose interest.

Next week I will be off somewhere working, and this will all fade away.  But for now, I am ending this post because my boyfriend and I need to kill an absurdly difficult droid thingy.  I dreamed last night of a new way to try it… wish us luck!

*

SWTOR – Star Wars,The Old Republic