Late at night, a faint glow of a purple black light illuminates a Campbell-Elder common room as sophomore Kyle Hammock sits at a table, laptop perched in front of him. He wears a black surround sound headset with a small microphone as his fingers move swiftly across his keyboard. He takes a swig of a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew — the caffeine keeps him alert — and continues killing virtual pigs.
He’s playing Rust, a game that requires players to craft supplies and items necessary for survival.
It’s fictional, but Hammock is invested in the game. He’s been playing video games for at least nine years. This is his life.
For a year, Hammock was a professional. He was commissioned by a local shop, Scott’s U Save, in Steger, Illinois to play on his Xbox console as a “pro-gamer.”
This meant he was legally contracted to play games and represent the shop. He had to write up a five-page proposal and prove he was worth sponsoring. He had to log in over 40 hours a week to sharpen his gaming skills. He would receive free products and do interviews after finishing games. But pro-gaming, for him, ruined the game.
“It made gaming not fun anymore, because it was a job,” Hammock said. “Sometimes I didn’t want to play every day, but I had to or else I’d lose my sponsorship.”
According to Hammock, he’s not in the minority. Pro-gaming ruins a lot of lives.
“[People] get lost in it. They lose jobs over it. They lose friends. … It gets intense to an extent that it begins to be no fun. Once you’re on a contract you’re stuck with them until your contract’s over,” Hammock said.
Even though Hammock doesn’t work with a sponsor anymore, he still admits to being obsessed with gaming. He’s lost sleep over it. He’s skipped class because of it.
Once, he told his girlfriend he’d hang out with her as soon as he finished gaming. Two seconds turned into three hours, and by the time he had finished, his girlfriend had fallen asleep.
When the game Call of Duty was released on Nov. 11, 2013, Hammock showed up to the local GameStop at 9 p.m. to fight an already pushing and shoving crowd, just so he could get the game first. When he finally did buy the game a little after 1 a.m., he played for at least five hours.
He skipped school the next day and stayed up all day playing the game.
“It’s like, I wanna do nothing but constantly play it,” he said.
He played for over ten hours straight, taking breaks only to catch up on a little homework. His diet consisted of Mountain Dew and Monster energy drink to keep him awake and pizza because it was convenient. If he left the computer, his players would die.
When he was finally satisfied with his score, Hammock slept for the next day, skipping a second day of class.
He slaughters a chicken, fingers still pounding on the keyboard, when red block letters appear across the screen:
YOU ARE DEAD.
Hammock’s fingers hover the keyboard, hesitant. He frantically takes a sip of the Mountain Dew and types a message into a group chat: “Can anyone help?”
Hammock is only one of several students on campus and around the world whose lives essentially revolve around playing video games, or “gaming.” These are people of all ages, all genders, from all different corners of the world who take the game very seriously. In fact, some take the game so seriously that the game can begin to consume them.
When Grand Theft Auto V came out last year, sophomore Charles Everson was the first Knox student to buy the game from the Galesburg GameStop for the midnight release. When he bought the game, he played all night.
“I have really bad insomnia. It was either lay in bed and not be able to sleep, or play Grand Theft Auto,” Everson said.
He finally went to sleep at 4 a.m. and woke up at 5 a.m. to do janitorial work on campus.
In the first week of acquiring the game, he played for 64 hours total.
“I didn’t sleep that week. I went to class, I came home, I shot people and that was it. It was crazy. I was cracked out.”
And then he got tired of the game.
“I’m a binger. With everything,” he said.
And yet, Everson considers himself aberrant and defies the gaming “stereotype.”
“I’m at a healthy weight. I do good in school. I have [a girlfriend]. I’m just not what you think of when you think stereotypical gamer,” he said.
In fact, he denies that he’s even addicted to video games, even though some,games, like Grand Theft Auto have been likened to “crack.”
“But most of the time it’s just something that you do in your free time. But there are people who get really, really addicted to video games. Luckily I’m just not one of them. I have a bunch of little outlets instead,” he said.
One of these outlets is building computers. In high school, Everson built his own computer for the sole purpose of gaming. When he got to college, though, he began to use the computer for homework and Skyping his family in Kansas.
As for gaming, he has it “pretty much under control.”
According to Assistant Director of Campus Life Kathleen Drake, gaming can be a positive way to blow off steam and relieve stress, but there’s a fine line between that and the negative connotations.
“It’s when it becomes more important than sleeping or eating or homework and it affects academics and friendships and hygiene when it’s an obsession rather than just for fun,” Drake said.
Still, gaming isn’t the worst problem Knox faces.
“Is it the same as Netflix? Yeah, it’s probably the same,” she said.
Gaming at Knox, though, isn’t as much of a problem than it is at other schools, Drake thinks.
“Because we have so many clubs and organizations on campus, that’s a big outlet that helps with the culture.”
According to Drake, gaming clubs add a level of “accountability” that allow students to make friends, get involved in school and not get sucked into a game by themselves.
She’s referring to Gaming Information Network, or GIN, a weekly club that gets together to “game.”
Every Tuesday night, laughter and hollering fills Post Hall Lobby and about 15 students sit on the couches, lined up, video game controllers in their hands as they focus intently on the flatscreen television in front of them. They take turns playing various games like League of Legends and Mario Kart Ñ more “old school” games, according to club president and junior Ian Moody.
They take turns in front of the game, playfully calling each other names and elbowing each other. They’re “gamers,” and they’re serious about the game, but for the members of GIN, this is more of a social event.
The games they’re playing aren’t like Call of Duty or other single-player games.
“This is more like geek culture,” Moody said. He acknowledges that he plays often, but he’s in no way addicted to gaming. In fact, he doesn’t even believe being addicted is possible.
“[Video games] aren’t addictive in the way drugs are addictive. It’s addictive in the way the rat in the box is addicted to pushing the lever for food. You perform the tasks, and you’re rewarded. It’s not chemically addictive,” he said. “It’s more like classic conditioning.”
These games, according to member Po Liao, are far different from games like Call of Duty which usually “addict” players.
“They’re more family-oriented games,” he said. He spends his time at GIN playing League of Legends, Pokemon and Yu Gi Oh.
“I just don’t think people here are of that mentality. It’s casual, and it’s less violent. We’re not trying to gun each other down. [The people playing Call of Duty] are really aggressive, and they’re usually really mean,” he said.
And yet, he still considers himself a gamer. There’s a stigma to the title, but according to Liao, there’s a stigma attached to “almost anything.”
It’s these games that Drake considers to be more fun and positive.
“The type of gaming is different here … it’s the old school [games] that set us apart from other institutions. Old school [games] have a less realistic aspect, and it’s harder to get sucked in.”