I don't really have an addictive personality when it comes to most vices. For me, gambling is a momentary thrill followed by long periods of boredom and disappointment. I rarely drink to excess, and I've managed to keep my toad-licking habit at a steady one to two toads per month, tops. But put the wrong game in front of me, and I become a different person: bleary-eyed, unkempt and struggling to survive until my next fix.
It started with Diablo 2 my senior year of high school. I'd stay up on Battle.net until 4 A.M. spamming Frozen Orb with my lovely sorceress, Propecia. (It seemed funnier at the time.) My obsession peaked toward the tail end of my senior slide, so there wasn't any need to recover from the hit I took to my GPA. And when I caught myself slipping back into the familiar pattern of late-night looting my first semester of college, I had the good sense to forfeit the install discs to my roommate.
Four years after I escaped from the clutches of Diablo 2, I sank even deeper into the abyss with another Blizzard title that shall remain unnamed. I installed it over Thanksgiving break and six months later found myself in summer school making up for a couple failed classes the previous semester. I went out less often, with the common rationalization that I was saving money by "socializing" in game instead. I started ignoring my friends' and family's phone calls, unwilling or unable to come up with a convincing excuse for why I had disappeared off the face of the earth. When I finally managed to pry myself away from the game for good, I realized I had spent 18 months of my life meeting people I hardly cared about, undertaking tasks of absolutely no consequence and dutifully elevating my status among a community that I was almost embarrassed to be a part of. I believe it was B.F. Skinner who said it best: "Epic fail."
It's been a little over a year since then, and aside from the occasional Civ 4 binge, only one game has managed to keep me up past the 4 A.M. mark: Peggle. It first caught my attention when Valve bundled an "extreme" version with the Steam release of The Orange Box, complete with beautifully rendered images of Vortigaunts laser-ing kittens, Pyros torching gophers and headcrabs attacking unicorns. The message was obvious: Here was a casual game that it was OK for hardcore gamers to like.