I haven’t blinked in four and a half minutes, the vein on the right side of my head is protruding violently, my eyes are strained from the flashing images of war, the pain in my spine caused by my posture is bordering on the chronic and the two litres of coke zero I have consumed has elicited an irregular beat from my already violently pulsating heart. Through the wonder of modern day remakes, Call of Duty 4, the game which introduced me to the world of online gaming, has once again entered my bloodstream like a syringe of black tar, hooking me once again from the moment I landed my first headshot in Team Deathmatch.
The mode which made the series’ campaign redundant in the hearts and minds of many gamers, playing Call of Duty (or a variety of other FPS games) online is a common addiction for many, with players regularly forgoing the story altogether upon each new annual release so they can quell their cravings with slightly altered weaponry, maps and perks. For me, the first Modern Warfare, which set this epidemic into motion like the emergence of crack cocaine onto the streets, is still the best dose of online gaming – in the form of first-person massacring – money can buy: weighty, pinpoint weaponry which provide the player instantaneous feedback by dropping them and their enemies with just a few bullets, minimal but brilliantly balanced perks, killstreaks and customisation options and a host of excellent maps (like Countdown, Vacant and Bloc), all of which combined has made COD junkies out of the best of us,
Of course, COD 4 just happens to be my drug of choice, it doesn’t matter whether it is COD, Battlefield, Counterstrike, Halo or any other title you can think of, all online FPS players can relate to the following symptoms: severe lower back pain from excessive rounding of the lower back, hoarseness from screaming profanity-laced abuse at digital avatars, the sudden emergence of severe migraines due to back to back losses, and a kill/death ratio laying obscurely in the red thanks to that one arsehole who keeps sniping you from behind that wall while you conveniently absolve yourself of personal responsibility even though you ran into the path of oncoming fire again and again and again,
Oh sure, the highs are sensational, such as accumulating enough kills to secure a friendly helicopter which, in a hail or rapid-fire death, tallies your killstreak to even greater heights, or finally scoring 150 headshots with your favourite weapon to unlock a new form of camouflage with no practical use whatsoever other than to remind you of how many wasted hours you’ve sunk into virtual murder. As much as I love the single player experience in games in general, there’s something about the first person genre which makes blasting my fellow man’s avatar from Berlin halfway across the map with a sawed-off more satisfying than doing the same to a CPU Nazi in Berlin during a campaign mission. Perhaps it says something about the human condition, but I am not a psychiatrist, I am merely a perpetrator of online gun-violence with an addictive personality and an incessant need to gain XP points. I’ve alluded to the lows throughout this article with my description of physical and psychological ailments which come as a result of years in the service in online gaming, such as damage to the neck, spine and lower back which could only be readjusted through the most aggressive forms of chiropractic, and rage-induced headaches so debilitating that they border on the concussive.
Thankfully, after a short but intense initial rekindling of an old love affair, I have since managed to bring my COD online gaming addiction down to a manageable level, to where it no longer interferes with my life, causing me neither physical nor mental anguish. However, like a sudden emergence of PTSD, picking up the controller to engage in a Free-for-all through the gritty streets of Crossfire brings me back to the throes of my addiction with online gaming at its highest, or indeed lowest: It’s been a few days since I’ve last taken a shower, I cannot remember the last time I was laid, and my social life has hit the skids with contact to the outside world being reduced to a minimum; but I’m not concerned about that now, all I care about are my brothers in arms.