Video games: a warning
Zone has been gaming. We’ve been creating an online game for one of our big clients - top secret at the moment. It’s actually a world we’re familiar with: we do design and build work for the online poker site PKR and our BT Vision team regularly reviews the games on offer to customers.
Which is all well and good, save for the fact that such things invariably give me searing flashbacks to the time in my life when I accidentally got addicted to the game Championship Manager. For those who have never played Championship Manager, it’s a football strategy game in which you’re a gaffer that tries to guide a team to success.
For those that have played Championship Manager, well, you’re probably not reading this, you’re probably huddled in a darkened room in a delusional frenzy, yelling madly at your computer screen while trying to negotiate the transfer of a central midfielder from Nigeria. It is the most addictive thing known to man.
Until I bought Championship Manager in 2001, I was never really into computer games. I did once work on a magazine where some bright spark in management thought it would be good for staff morale to introduce a PlayStation to the office. It was indeed great for staff morale - we all managed to complete every level of the Die Hard Trilogy. In less good news, the magazine folded.
Championship Manager takes addiction to a new level, though. You don’t actually ‘play’ the matches as you would in games such as Fifa 10 or Pro Evolution Soccer. What you do is oversee training, transfers, contracts, team selection, formation, substitutions, press conferences and so on. Preparation for each of the 46 games in a season can take two or three hours if you play properly. A season can take weeks. So it’s a big investment of time. Especially if, like me, you’re trying to get Leyton Orient promoted to the Premier League.
I started off playing a couple of hours a night, but soon found I was staying up until 2am, then 3am, then 4am to continue the game. Once asleep I’d dream about upcoming fixtures and transfers I needed to make. While at work I’d berate myself constantly for buying an Indonesian striker (classic Championship Manager error) or for the training ground bust-up I’d had with a petulant left-back.
Things got worse: a couple of times after meetings out of the office I’d return to work via my home to get an hour or so of extra game play. After a big Saturday night out a friend who’d stayed over the night was confused by the fact that I was up and tapping away at the computer at 6am the next morning.
Then my girlfriend left me. This was heartbreaking, although with a key game against fellow promotion chasers Rochdale coming up, there was no time to dwell on it. This looks bad, I realise, but at this point I genuinely had no sense that I was doing anything wrong. For me, the game was so involved and strategic that I felt it was as intellectually stimulating and culturally valuable as reading classic literature, going to the theatre or visiting an art gallery.
Next I became delusional: I genuinely started to think that I could be a real football manager. I figured I’d had so much experience on the game, and the game was so life-like, that actually managing a club would be a simple transition. Seriously.
All of this took place over the space of about a month. By then it was proving impossible to get Leyton Orient promoted to the Premier League (as I said, the game is life-like). Then one night the game crashed and wiped all my saved data. I felt like my insides had been ripped out.
It left me with two options: start all over again, or get a life. Like Renton in Trainspotting, I chose life. I uninstalled the game from my PC, broke the CD in half and went cold turkey, vowing never, ever to play it again. That was nine years ago, and apart from one near-lapse when I madly started to download the iPhone version of the game before coming to my senses, I’ve been clean ever since.