The icon sits in a folder on my computer like a smoker’s last cigarette. It’s out of sight, but you can bet your balls I know exactly where it is and how long it’d take to fish out. At this stage, it’s basically a big red ‘begin-spiral-into-entropy’ button. A few quick clicks and the small amount of discipline I’ve managed to cultivate like a sickly plant will be stamped and crushed beneath the cyber-boot of Riot Games, the developers who have managed to somehow encode their flagship game League of Legends with an almost narcotic addictive appeal. Essentially, the game turns me into one of those rats from the cocaine experiments, clicking and clicking and clicking until my brain is just a gristled hunk of meat floating in a bubbling soup of cerebral fluids. I’m not the only one hooked; 11 million people watched the 2014 World Final. A dude in Taiwan even played himself to death in 2012.
League of Legends is what is known as a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA). Two teams of five players compete to reach the opposing team’s base and destroy their nexus, a big glowing jewel thing that represents…something. Characters are picked from a pool of 123 champions, each with a number of unique abilities and roles. Games last anywhere from twenty minutes through to an hour or so, and, like beers to an alcoholic, one is never enough. And just like beers, too many games turns me into a right dickhead.
I realised something was a bit off when I started crawling out of bed quietly so as to not wake my girlfriend. She thought LoL was super lame, and still does. I wrote it off as ‘girl’s gonna girl’ or something. I didn’t really put much thought into why she thought it sucked, I just thought about how to balance maximum gaming time with not getting dumped. Posting out on my hands, I’d slide out of bed on a slight angle, taking care to keep the warm air beneath the covers lest a cool breeze disturb her slumber.
Swaddled in a soft blanket I would creep to the kitchen, put three or four heaped tablespoons of ground coffee into a french press and smuggle the brew back to the bedroom. Ten minutes later my heart would be going 120bpm, beads of sweat running down my torso. “You fucking scrubs!” I’d type in a fury. “What are you, twelve? Shouldn’t you be at school?!” “I’m 14,” would come the reply. “And it’s school holidays. How old are you?”
I never thought I’d be a flamer. After all, it’s just a game. But there’s something about League of Legends that makes defeat that much more miserable. No, not miserable, enraging. Maddening. Infuriating to the point where I’d stop playing and just spend the game typing the most vitriolic insults I could conjure up in my caffeinated rage. A few warning emails from Riot Games took my edge off for a while, but almost inevitably the blind fury would possess me again and I’d be whipped into a frenzied froth by some smartass kid from Tauranga or something.
I don’t know why I play a game that turns me into a toxic bully inside of fifteen minutes. Actually, that’s not true. I do know, but it’s embarrassing. I’ve tried several times to delete LoL. It keeps coming back. I’ve opened the game to check my stats and grab some screenshots for this article and even now I can hear a dark voice whispering sweet seductive nothings: ‘I can make you a God,’ it hisses.
Because the reason I keep coming back is that I’m addicted to the power. I just absolutely love stomping the enemy. League of Legends rewards success with explosive exponential gains in gold and experience, allowing a well-played five minutes to snowball a character into a wrecking ball virtually unstoppable for the remainder of the game. But fate be a cruel mistress, and the opposing team can just as easily gain the upper hand, condemning the player to a minimum of twenty minutes getting ragged by an overpowered character growing increasingly difficult with every successive screw up from your team. It puts pressure on the relationship with your teammates, to say the least.
And therein lies the problem. When I’m winning, I’m a selfish, power-crazed God in a children’s game, casting my judgement upon actual people, questioning their education and human parentage. When I’m losing, I’m like your average sports writer after an All Black’s game; just heaping venomous blame on the team, the opponents and the rules all at once with terrible and self-righteous omniscience.
So for now the game sits on my hard drive, watching and waiting for an opportunity to claim another victim in its vampiric embrace. I assure myself I’ve changed. My will is steel. I just can’t bring myself to delete it.
Subscribe to The Bulletin to get all the day’s key news stories in five minutes – delivered every weekday at 7.30am.