I was a couple years too young to have gone through the D.A.R.E. program that so much of my generation fondly remembers in the form of ironic t-shirts. Somehow, though, I learned to respect my body and keep myself on the straight and narrow, and like all of the best parts of myself, I chalk my drug-free lifestyle up to spending my formative years playing hours and hours of video games. While drug education relied on horror stories, video games maximized the coercive power of fear by letting us live the nightmare of a drug-filled lifestyle firsthand. Here's a rundown of the reasons to stay off drugs, as taught by gaming.
In Grand Theft Auto III, the Colombian cartels have introduced a new drug called SPANK to the streets of Liberty City, and it's a doozy. Something like cocaine on PCP, SPANK is highly addictive and causes paranoia and insanity, which is fine, if that's what you're into. SPANK starts getting problematic, though, in the mission "Kingdom Come," where you're attacked by "SPANKed-up madmen" with explosive vests and a passion for blastin'. The only thing more terrifying than combustible junkies are combustible junkies who won't shut up, and the SPANKed-up madmen have that pegged: they laugh like jackals and repeatedly yell "COME TO PAPA!", among the grossest interjections in the henchman's catalogue. I consider myself an adventurous guy, but if I'm starting my night with something I think is safe, healthy, mom-and-pop cocaine and ending it screaming my way across a parking lot with a C-4 shirt on, I might just pass this time.
StarCraft taught us that stimpacks are a crucial part of any strategy against alien hordes. They make us fast, accurate, and deadly, like the Adderall of planetary warfare. God knows, there are plenty of times in my life I could stand to be faster, deadlier, and more accurate: sex, for one, and at family dinners and formal functions. StarCraft drives home, though, that performance-enhancing drugs are a dangerous game to play, causing the healthy green parts of your body to turn yellow, orange, and, eventually, tragically, red. Even basic players know that you never use stimpacks unless you've got at least one medic at your back, pumping you full of healing beams as you pump yourself full of amphetamines. Unfortunately, women in robotic power armor with healing abilities simply do not exist yet, making drugs a risky prospect at best and a suicidal one at worst. Sure, I could pop a few pills and have myself a time, but if it makes me dangerously vulnerable to being ripped apart by zerglings, I might have some second thoughts.
Think back to any drug sequence in a video game, like Arkham Asylum's fear gas hallucinations, the magic cake in Earthbound, or the Valkyr overdose in Max Payne, and think about how long these sequences last. At most, these trips play out in maybe an hour, if you're lucky. Do you have any idea how expensive drugs are these days? If video games are to be believed and they are drugs give you significantly less bang for your buck than a nice steak dinner or a comparably-priced prostitute. Even good old alcohol is apparently a rip-off: you can sober up in an hour's wait in Skyrim, and in a few minutes in Grand Theft Auto IV. When considered from this angle, the choice becomes a lot simpler: you could spend too much money on drugs and get a few brief hours of temporary gratification, or you could spend your money on something lasting and worthwhile, like video games.