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The Games of Christmas '11: Day 15

The truth about gaming addiction

Christmas is a time for giving. A time for giving every spare second of your time to a doomed quest for meaningless glory that no-one else will ever care about.

(Christmas is also a time for party-sized tubs of delicious savoury treats such as Mini Cheddars, Cheeselets and dry-roasted peanuts, but that's another story).

It's... Realm Of The Mad God!

Should one of your games of the year be a game that you are actually too scared to play again? Realm of the Mad God was my crack addiction tragedy in 2011 - the whole gamut from curiosity to enjoyment to compulsion to eventual devastation, guilt and partial insanity. It could, perhaps, have happened to me with any game. Clearly, something dark and needy hides within me somewhere, and ROTMG just happened to be the game that brought it out.

There's reason it was this particular game, however: it's a concentrated hit of the pure stuff at the heart of both MMOs and shmups. Kill, kill, kill, upgrade, upgrade, upgrade, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me. Nominally a massively co-operative game, in practice it's nothing of the sort, but instead a rampant, wild hunger for your own advancement and pathetically short-term rewards.

You play near-silently, barely tolerating the presence of others on your screen because, while they help take down the monsters, as soon as the fight's over they'll become your arch-rivals for any loot left in the battle's wake. Look at you all, scrabbling in the dirt for others' cast-offs. Pathetic.

Realm of the Mad God is the brothel of RPGs, a dark and seedy place where men go to slake their most foul and selfish desires. It offers no pretence about being anything noble, no complicated controls, no real higher purpose to speak of. It is there to cater to your whims - those whims being "killing loads of things" and "making some numbers gradually increase." It's just fancy masturbation, kidding yourself that it means something and that anyone else involved cares in the slightest.

There's barely any skill to it outside of common sense timing and dodging, instead it's just a high-speed grind. But it's the proof of why people grind, rather than why they shouldn't. That sense of progression, even if only you can see it, feels so damned important. You must reach level 12, you must find a better bow, you must find a ring of defence... It doesn't matter in the slighest, most especially because you'll just start another character the second you die. It matters completely.

The Mad God? That's not Oryx, the sadistic world-ruler you're theoretically there to kill. That's you, an insane deity bent on self-indulgence, sacrificing legions of tiny, silent heroes simply to achieve your idiot goal of finding items with better statistics.

This all sounds like a diatribe against the raw evil of this simple little free browser game. It's quite the opposite: a celebration of one game's absolute honesty in an age where so many others prevaricate and lie about what they really offer us and why we really play them.

Alternatively: it's just an entertaining twin-stick shooter with RPG mechanics.

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