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I installed Civilization IV on Thursday night. I uninstalled it last night, Friday, just before midnight. I played two games about ten hours each.

The game is addictive.

Why is the game addictive? I suppose I could rant about its evils, but I sort of enjoyed this day away from life. We find books and stories addictive; they enable us to escape from reality. Writing can be even more addictive than reading. I good video game is not very different from a good book.

The problem with Civ.

Civ is a large game. You control the evolution of your civilization from the initial settler building a hut and his band of thugs with clubs to advanced modern structures with advanced modern weaponry. You start out at 4000 BC and finish, hopefully, in the 22nd century, literally *grin*

It is a large game with one goal: win. Winning can be one of many sets of victory conditions. Build a space shuttle and you will win. Wie out the other countries, you will win. Be the top country at the end of the game, you will win.

Big games with finite goals consume a lot of energy and time. You do not want to get up. You do not want to restart these games. You want to see it through from start to finish. They can also lose their appeal. Every game can feel much the same, and the fix for that is to get deeper into it. Spend even more time figuring out all the nuances and even competing with others.

My other game right now is Skyrim. It is a much, much bigger game than Civ. It’s an alternate reality where you run around with your weapon and armor, you rescue people, kill more, and find lots of treasures. I carry around over three million gold pieces. Figure that one out. I can’t. I also carry about 4,000 arrows, three swords, a mace, two sets of armor, a gazillion rings and necklaces, and I can’t even keep track of all my spells and powers. At level 74 I can practically beat a small dragon with my bare hands. Bandits die when they see me coming.

The difference in Skyrim is it is filled with many small objectives. At any one time I might have a dozen or more quests to fill, and if I run out, I just stop at the local bar or palace and ask for more. Or I just wander around looking for repopulated dungeons. I can even search out the undying Imperial Captains and kill them over and over with my magic and build up some experience.

I can shut it off within sometimes ten minutes of starting and not lose my day. It’s a nice break. And if I want to indulge for a day, it’s there. But it gets tiring very quickly, so I don’t. Unlike Civ which is the same thing each game, pretty much, has a single goal, and totally consumes.

I was thinking of buying Endless Space. I must be crazy.

The bottom line for me: none of these gaming experiences come close to my experiences creating characters in my stories. My current protagonist talks in the first person for almost 110,000 words. This alternate reality beats any computer game I’ve ever played. This person has brought me closer to reality, not further away from it. I carry this person around with me 24/7 — which may not be a good thing — and I don’t need a computer and fancy graphics to create the alternate reality. It’s there when I work; it’s there when I sleep; it’s there in the shower and bed. It’s not there in my computer games. Tears came to my eyes as I wrote this week. Seriously, they did. That has never happened in computer games.