Two weeks ago at The Improv I made the mistake of telling another comic about my latest eye-straining obsession: the Tetris game pack installed on my handheld. The gamepack includes Tetris, solitaire, checkers, chess, backgammon and colors. I had become obsessed with colors, spending way too much time trying to beat my own high score, repeatedly. So I tell Matt that I'm into this game colors, which I inarticulately try and describe, and he goes, "Oh yeah, like bejewled, where you try and get three like colors in a row."
I didn't need to hear that. Bejewled? A game like colors? Naturally I seek out this bejewled online and, of course, it's available free on MSN's game zone. I hadn't clicked my MSN game zone desktop icon in quite some time. I went through a dark period where I played backgammon on a fairly regular basis. When I say "fairly regular" I mean hours at a time and everyday. I liked it because I could play against other people. I started out in the casual play rooms but as my addiction escalated I switched to the competitive rooms. I became concerned about my ranking and harbored an unhealthy desire to make sure it stayed above 1500. I even got a second identity for competitive play because my first one had a bad score. I also became one of those people who doubled the games and then, eventually, only played 64 because you could get ahead faster that way. I'd get angry whenever someone skipped out on a losing game with me (could never figure out how they did it without forfeiting), and would occasionally engage in passive aggressive play with people that annoyed me. Backgammon took over my life.
My interest finally started waning when I discovered online pictionary. This time I competed against up to ten people at a time. This, too, became an obsession...and I could play it at work. After all, my job entailed combing the Internet for fun games, crazy guests and outrageous products. So I did extensive research with this particular one. I couldn't leave a game until I'd won at least one game. Each game contains ten rounds. And even if I won, it became important to win repeatedly and then talk smack to my fellow players. When I switched browsers, I wasn't able to run the Macromedia software. I'd log onto the site and see nothing but broken links. I eventually figured out a way to run Macromedia with Firefox and can play again, but my Pictionary fever had subsided.
Now, thanks to Mr. Iseman, I am in the crippling throes of a Bejewled addiction. My dog doesn't get walked when she needs to because mommy is online. When hunger pains kick in, I often ignore them, concentrating instead on trying to make it past level three. Unlike my stupid handheld game Colors, bejewled has sound. When I clear a row of five, it coos encouragement, "Excellent!" And there's a little bar on the bottom of the screen that shows you how much time you have left before you lose the game. And when the bar gets low, a little alarm goes off to alert you of imminent death. But you can't panic. You've got to keep a level head and find three in a row, more if you can, get some extra points.
And as I spend hours and hours in front of the computer, I have a vague idea that there are other, more important, things I could be doing. I could be writing more jokes, preparing for my auditions, running any number of errands. Almost anything would be more productive than Bejewled. And yet I'm hooked.
I won't be surprised if MSN starts charging for its gaming services. Right now the company's biding its time, waiting until there are enough of us strung out their games. Then we'll have to pay to get our fix. Microsoft will own us as sure as a dealer owns an addict. I'm sure they've already worked something out with Yahoo and the other gaming sites. One day they'll all start charging...
When that day comes, I'll finally get my life back. Either that or my bank account will dry up. I hope it's the former.