One of the last videogames I played was Pitfall, back in the ’80s. I was 11, or maybe 10, I don’t remember. What I do recall with perfect clarity is my obsession for the game. I could play it for hours on end, prodding Harry to swing along those heavily pixilated vines and hop over inky blobs that were either tar pits or alligators, depending on their color.
Fast-forward 24 years, and I’m sitting on my friend Chris’s couch, holding a controller that looks like it could fly the space shuttle, trying to guide a chainsaw-wielding psychopath through a high-def war zone. Chris has agreed to give me a tutorial on the massively popular Xbox 360 game Gears of War (don’t ask why), and so far I’ve had my brains splattered and my guts eviscerated and, worse still, other players online are mocking me while it happens. Question: WTF? What the hell happened to videogames? And when did Quentin Tarantino and Cormac McCarthy start designing them?
OK, so I admit that at age 34, I’m sort of old and sheltered. I read books, I rarely watch TV, and I worry about my carbon footprint. I also happen to like vegetables and practice yoga. You wouldn’t expect me to embrace the gory new world of gaming, let alone the unprecedented violence in Gears of War. So why do I find myself aglow every time I blast the nuts off an enemy with my machine gun? And why is it that no sooner do I put down the controller than I want to pick it back up? Of course, I don’t share these thoughts with Chris, who is busy barking weird commands—“Pan left! Pan right! Kill! Kill! Kill!” Somehow I feel that it’s the wrong time to share, that Chris doesn’t much want to discuss my emotional response to chain-sawing someone’s face off, nor do I think he’s interested in hearing my idea of upgrading the game to have little cafés where players could rest and get to know one another before heading back out for more carnage.
Have I simply tapped some long-dormant compulsion for strategic button-pushing, or is it something more sinister? And how I do reconcile my peace-loving self with this budding obsession for a game whose promotional material says “Gears of War crushes its enemies, hears the lamentation of its women”? All good questions, I think—questions I’m hoping to answer as I continue my Gearhead training, with Chris as my drill sergeant—but none quite as pressing as this one: When can I play again? —Nicole Dyer
[Watch this space for more updates from GoW Boot Camp.—Eds.]