In Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet, “O” is for… well, it’s for something other than “obsession.” But that might have made for a good alternate. Probably since about 24 hours after the first video game was switched on, there have been stories about video-game obsession — stories of players who just… can’t… quit.
Recently, I enjoyed a couple such stories, for distinctly different audiences.
For the younger set, there’s Game On!, the fifth book in the Squish graphic novel series by siblings Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. The series centers on its grade-school-age namesake amoeba who, this time around, finds himself hooked on the handheld game Mitosis.
Game On! walks the fine line between sympathizing with Squish’s obsession and scolding him for the lengths he will go to in his pursuit of the next level. The narration and visuals are full of self-aware fun, with the Holms keeping things light even when Squish appears to be heading off the deep end.
The tone gets a lot darker, and the ideal audience considerably older, with the 2007 documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.
The obsession this time around that of adults fixated on the all-time high score in Donkey Kong — who holds it, how they got it, whether they’ll be able to hang on to it, and what they sacrifice along the way.
But as with Squish — and as I suspect is true with most obsessions– Donkey Kong challenger Steve Wiebe makes it through to the other side of his fixation in pretty good shape. (Here are part 1 and part 2 of a 2012 interview with him.) Each of these protagonists picks up some knowledge of himself along the way, and that’s not a bad thing at all.