By: Eric Thomas

People are afraid to slide into the stacked crates. This was the first message I received in the game. Nate S thought I needed help when he saw me struggling to score more than 2000 points.  He said, “People are afraid to slide on the stacked crates. They think it’s part of the scaffolding, so they don’t. They’re worth double stars.” Though the sentences didn’t bother me, they stayed in my mind an uncomfortably long time. Nothing else seems to matter now. Not the fact that the Red Wings were locked in a death match with the Blackhawks in one of the best game sevens in NHL history. Not that my dog has been blinking beside me for the fifteen minutes, waiting for me to throw his yellow rubber chicken. Not that I’ve had to use the bathroom for at least the last three games and I’ve started a fourth; the last time I went, I took the phone with me, inches away from my nose as I walked. I need to slide through the stacked crates, because not everyone does, and this is how I’m finally going to climb the leader boards so I can rank in the top ten.

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What follows is a warning: I’ve lost my life and you could too. I’ve obsessively slid through stacked crates, jumped over bulls and nudged my fellow runners off the track so I can get an extra ten stars. I yelled at my cat for distracting me. I’ve spent hours dodging TNT barrels (if I’m lucky). Last night, I risked life and limb for a chance at a horseshoe. At any given moment today, I’m probably spending 100 gems on a spin with my fingers crossed for the “break anything” bonus. I’ve taken my credit card out, fingers trembling over the number keys, ready to spend money I don’t have on items within the game because I need to improve my ranking. I’ve acquired a bitter and barbaric rivalry with a woman I’ve never met named Amanda J. Her name is not allowed to be spoken in my house. Yesterday, when I saw that Amanda J (again, a stranger) had leapt over me in the leader boards, I called her a horrible name out loud. This is what the game will do to you.

The game is “Running with Friends,” the latest opiate by an online game company called Zynga. That’s the same company responsible for “Words with Friends,” an equally addicting game that was responsible for many delayed reactions at stoplights two years ago. “Words” was only fun for a weekend, because everyone cheated. Your suspicion was probably raised when you realized your friend from high school who couldn’t pass English with a stolen answer card likely didn’t know the word cognoscenti off the top of his head. “Running with Friends” is a game of timing and reflexes, no site can help you. It’s uncut gaming tar heroin, and “Words with Friends” was a small package of Kool-Aid by comparison.

The gameplay is essentially Temple Run, but instead of running from a temple, you’re running with the Bulls of Pamplona. The rest of the game is a combination of Sonic the Hedgehog and “smash-it-up” old school games like Crazy Taxi. It’s undeniably fun. You’ll hold your breath over jumps and your heart will genuinely race when you start seeing red barrels or the bulls who ride on bumper cars (I know, I know). You smash barriers, ride bottle rockets and dodge oncoming traffic, all while a driving Spanish soundtrack bumps in the background. It reaches that elusive “just one more” hook from every classic game, until you’ve lost hours locked in red eyed intensity, putting in days for the chance to ascend one position on the board above your friend.

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Since the day Jeff Riger told me about it, now in my memory as under a murky streetlight like an after-school special, I’ve been unable to put it down. I challenge people on Facebook, strangers, I’ve even propositioned people through the random match system. I have things to do, games to watch, a novel to finish, dog to walk, but the game calls out like a Siren singing from the rocks.

As I’ve typed this blog, several times I’ve reached toward my iPhone, battling my urges as I hold my quaking hand over the now dark screen. “It needs to charge, Eric” my subconscious screams. “You need to go to work!” it pleads other times. I can’t stop. I must get the horseshoe, smash the stacked crates and the hay bales.

It’s impossible to turn back now. The game is hopelessly addicting. If there was a cure that could turn my obsession off, or replace it like methadone, I would be willing to try. Until then, I’ve made my choices. “Running with Friends” is fun, but it’s addictive enough to be a schedule one narcotic.

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