I planned to play no video games during my week-long, stay-at-home vacation. I love my job, but sometimes it feels like I'm chained to my TV and computer. This was my one opportunity to go for long strolls in my neighbourhood's many parks, take my daughter to some local attractions, and generally enjoy a great Southern Ontario summer.
But the best laid plans of mice and Mario often go awry. Within 48 hours of starting my little holiday I was in the throes of a nasty flu, the symptoms of which made it inadvisable for me to venture more than a few metres from a bathroom.
So, I was stuck at home. I decided to do some reading. After burning through a couple of classic sci-fi novels- Ender's Game, in which Orson Scott Card writing circa 1983 does a commendable job of predicting not only what the Internet but also immersive 3-D gaming would be like in the future, and Larry Niven's 1970 masterpiece Ringworld (which has been described as " Halo before Halo ")-I found myself looking for other forms of indoor entertainment. It took a day or so of flipping back and forth between Olympics reruns and the visual and auditory barrage that passes for children's programming on networks like Treehouse before the shelves of my game library, labouring under the weight of countless half-finished and unplayed games, began to beckon.
However, after a decade of generally having the time to play only those games that I write about, I'm unaccustomed to selecting a title based solely on its potential to amuse me.
I instinctively reached for Grand Theft Auto IV, a game I stopped playing after 30 hours simply because I had other titles that needed my attention, then wavered. Did I really want to commit myself to the hours that would be required to reacquaint myself with Nico Belic and Rock Star's reinvented Liberty City? No. Too daunting.
I continued scanning. Ninja Gaiden II? No. Too hard. Lego Indiana Jones? Uh-uh. Not in the mood to laugh. Capcom's critically acclaimed Wii platform game Zack & Wiki (which, shamefully, I have yet to even break the plastic on)? Bad idea; too much movement could lead to unwanted bathroom visits.
Then I spied Civilization Revolution , and the words used by the Globe's own Scott Colbourne to describe this wonderfully addictive console game came back to me: "a laid-back...rainy-day, summer-break game."
Exactly what I was looking for.
And, as I settled in to play a game for no other reason than to entertain myself-something I felt as though I hadn't done in years-I felt completely satisfied. I forgot about my body's aches and discomfort and lost myself in barbarians, world wonders, and high technology. I went at it for days. What I might have remembered as my flu vacation I will now fondly recall as the CivRev holiday of 2008.
More importantly, I regained some perspective for my job. It's easy for me to lose track of the fact that people play games for recreation. All too often my objective is to blow through games as quickly as possible, take notes on their design and technical sophistication, and then quickly digest it all before spitting out a rushed evaluation. I feel like my week with Civilization Revolution has reinvigorated my passion for both playing and writing about games. It might not have been a dream vacation, but, at the very least, it was a rejuvenating one.
And now you know what a game reviewer plays for fun.