Philippa Irving


Some computer games are junk food for the mind: strong in flavour, instantly palatable, but empty of nutritional content. They can be dangerous because they provide such an instantaneous, direct and easy stimulus. They also give you interaction without the presence of another human being, and can act as a painkiller for loneliness.

The right kind of mind can be absorbed by the simplest of addictive games for hours, but it’s empty enjoyment. On the other hand, I feel refreshed after emerging from the depths of a good adventure. Adventures don’t give your mind the same moment-by-moment input as the addictive arcade games; there are long moments of staring out of the window, reloading a saved position for the seventeenth time after yet another unexpected death and contemplating maps in bitter frustration.

But when you’re playing an adventure you’re letting your mind stay awake and work independently, rather than turning yourself into a jellied mass of nerves whose purpose in life is to move as quickly as possible to the right or to the left.

Strategy games strike a balance. Adventures aren’t really addictive in the usual computer-gaming sense, because they’re too much on a literary plane: the player types in words, which makes him continually aware of the separation between himself and the game. But it is possible to get lost in the ‘game reality’ of a fast-moving wargame while pursuing a cogent strategy.

And despite my misgivings about excessive indulgence in computer games, there’s no doubt that the basic quality of addictiveness is an essential ingredient of any good piece of software.