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Diamonds Are A Video Game Player's Best Friend


By Molly Hennessy-fiske

As mid-terms approach, the collective campus consciousness turns once more to thoughts of overheated naps in Lamont, day-long "study breaks" and the endless procrastinatory joys of "Solitaire."

But before switching screens to finish that chem lab report, term paper or English thesis, pause with me for a moment to contemplate the inherent weirdness of the video-game universe.

When you think about it, computer games have a pretty twisted tradition. From "Donkey Kong" to "Pac-Man," computer games are based in a state of pseudo-reality that in many ways accounts for the escapist approach students take in adopting them as procrastinatory tools.

"My roommate played for twelve hours straight," says Jack Chen '97. "He was up until 4:30 a.m.!"

Although some students insist that e-mail will never be supplanted by video games as Harvard's number one procrastination technique, many of the same students are addicted to seemingly simplistic games like "Tetris" and "Jewelbox."

"We have a problem," confesses Veronica D. Mathews '99, a pre-med student admittedly addicted to "Jewelbox."

"Jewelbox" is a cross between "Tetris" and "Dr. Mario," in which players attempt to match rows and columns of precious stones that fall within a treasure chest.

Mathews explains that the game not only fulfills a major procrastinatory function, it also has the potential to deliver a huge ego boost.

"I was having a really bad day, then I hit a high score and I just had to go announce my triumph in the dining hall," Mathews says.

Inter-dorm competition heated up after someone discovered that getting three black boxes on the bottom row yielded big bonus points.

"As soon as we realized that, it opened up a whole new world," Mathews says, "But I think it's pure procrastination on my part."

Mathews says "Jewelbox" has transformed her room into a veritable den of procrastination.

"People come in to play and they won't leave!" she complains, "I even put up a sign that says, 'No Jewelbox!' but they play it anyway."

Is it shameful to get caught sneaking a game?

"Definitely," says Phoebe E. Taubman '99, one of Mathews' roommates, "You can hear those same three keys going, and you know somebody's playing it."

But Taubman goes on to say that the game does have its high points.

"I think it makes me focus and gather my thoughts," Taubman says.

But do more involved games like "Descent" and "Marathon" serve the same purpose?

"It depends on your personal taste," Harvard Computer Society (HCS) President Justin T. Lin '97 says.

"You have to be careful, because the games are addictive. You get so into the team playing, it's almost like going out and playing football except you don't actually have to go out," Lin says, lending new meaning to the term "computer jock."

But if "Doom" makes you shiver and run for cover, never fear. Just as Wesley Snipes showed his softer side in "To Wong Foo," game manufacturers have increasingly cultivated user-friendly products.

"There's just as much demand for either type of game," says Jeremy P. Condit '00, a writer for the CD ROM magazine "Inside Mac Games."

"As technology progresses you get new games, but the older ones are just as entertaining and addictive."

In fact, Condit says he is especially wary of the simpler mainstream games.

"Smaller games like 'Tetris' are challenging and a lot more addictive in the long run," Condit says, nothing that the sheer number of "Tetris" clone games are evidence of the game's staying power and irresistible charm.

But beyond the sheer addictiveness of "Jewelbox" or even "Doom", wherein lies the key to video game success? Where any Vegas showgirl would tell you: looking pretty, taking it easy and letting everybody think they're winning.

"The key is to have some kind of simple yet deceptively difficult task," Condit says.

While computer games may be addictive, violent--and even dare I say it--a grand waste of time, it is heartening to realize that in a world where College-issue sweats and pocket-protectors signify a continental divide, computer games provide a sense of common ground.

Just think: somewhere on campus tonight students--from Applied Math to Folk and Myth concentrators--are playing "Jewelbox"; ditching their studies for the same magic diamonds, for the thrill of eliminating emeralds and the elusive rush of getting three black boxes on the bottom row.

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