A Week Without Video Games: One Reporter’s Sad Tale

I got married a couple of weeks ago. And then I went a week without playing video games. Quite an advertisement for wedded bliss, huh?

Friends and family told me to brace myself for the Big Day. I did, and it went well. But no one warned me about the Big Week that followed: that would be the Honeymoon Week, aka the first week I spent playing no video games since I went to Tanzania in November of 2004 and traded battling through virtual Zanzibar in the then-new "Halo 2" for visiting the real Zanzibar.

My wife and I honeymooned in Belize. Despite warnings from friends I packed a DS Lite for the trip. I promised myself -- for the good of the marriage -- that I would only play it on the flight down to Central America. And so I did, leaving the second trial of "Phoenix Wright 2: Justice For All" in limbo from Monday, June 4 until the 11th. Instead I spent the week doing things like zip-lining from treetop to treetop (that's me hanging on in the picture) of Guatemala, which at least is kind of like parts of "Ratchet and Clank." Might I suggest that in the next Ratchet game they include a tour guide who holds the far end of the line and shakes it vigorously to add -- his word -- "adrenaline" to the adventure?

What happens when a game obsessive spends a week not playing? For one thing, the gaming brain synapses still fire. For example, I found out -- in a jam-the-brakes hard way -- that Belize's roadways are full of speed bumps. That discovery didn't just lead to the first harsh words of the marriage but immediately got me wondering why I couldn't remember encountering any speed bumps in "Grand Theft Auto" or "Need for Speed." I'm always thinking these things!

In Guatemala (which is just next to Belize) I should have had my mind fully blown by the towering temples of the Mayan city Tikal, an ancient city so other-worldly that it was featured near the end of the original "Star Wars" movie. (Imagine this vacation photo we took from atop one temple with a Millennium Falcon flying through the sky -- look familiar?)

I should have been incapable of thinking about games, but I still had the presence of mind to ask our Tikal tour guide which games he likes ("Grand Theft Auto" and some Desert Storm game he couldn't remember the name of). His brother craves a Wii, which the guide says would cost about $600 to import. I don't think there's a more official way of getting a system in the country. But Wii fever doesn't stop at national borders.

The next day of the honeymoon we were wading through chest-deep water of a flooded cave. I managed to catch a moment to ask our guide for that tour what games he liked. He was down on the video games. He thinks they make kids more violent. Soon he would shine a light on a skeleton. We were in a deep area of the cave where the Mayans sacrificed people.

I kept looking for signs of games. I found an Xbox store in Guatemala. Excuse me: I found a "Sala De Video Juegos X-Box Center." We didn't have time to go in. A few days later on an island right off of Belize we went to I found a shop selling "Madden '02" and "Tiger Woods 2003." I resisted making a purchase.

A week of no games didn't seem to make me more violent. (It also didn't make me less, I guess.) I snorkeled with manta rays and nurse sharks. I almost kayaked into a cow. And I propose that these might make for interesting game missions in some new blockbuster title, maybe the cow thing for some sort of bizarre-world version of "Burnout."

Honestly, I surprised myself. Maybe I was trying to make a good first-impression as a husband. Maybe I was just more in a mood to catch up on all the magazines I tucked into the suitcase (including one Game Informer and two issues of the British gaming magazine Edge). I did not crack open that DS.

Then I got home and, within 48 hours, was trying to shake off the effects of a four-hour "Odin Sphere" binge. That was actually the hard part. I'd accomplished such epic adventures in the span of four hours in Belize and Guatemala. Back in New York City, all I could muster in that much time was moderate progress in a role-playing game.