An old flame - Joel Hall

It's funny how life works in circles. Some things you enjoy more than anything can become stale, but later in life, you pick them up again.

A lot of my earliest childhood memories revolve around video games. Growing up in State College, Pa., there really wasn't a lot to do, if you weren't a Penn State student.

As a kid, at least once a month, my oldest brother and I would round up a handful of quarters and venture a mile and a half on foot to Playland, a massive arcade with five floors of virtual entertainment.

My brother and I would spend hours there, battling the Foot Clan, dodging "Yoga Flames," and stacking Tetris blocks, sometimes until the sun went down.

Two of my brothers worked a pretty aggressive paper route around the neighborhood. Through their earnings, we became one of the first houses in the neighborhood to own a Sega Master System. With eight siblings living under one roof, we soon became addicted to classic games, such as "Action Fighter," "Hang-On," and "Zillion."

By the time I was finally introduced to Duck Hunt on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), I was already addicted. I was hooked on the heft, the precision, and the cool, hard plastic of the NES Zapper.

I probably spent way too much of my childhood playing video games. I definitely got outside from time to time, and had neighborhood friends like everybody else, but until I went to college, I always set a little time aside for video games.

When I went to college, all that changed. No longer could I breeze through classes and have countless hours to myself once I got home. I was involved in orchestras, fraternity life, service projects, serious relationships, and aside from the occasional battle between roommates, I had put games aside.

Two years ago, after a brief stint abroad, I journeyed out of the safety of the college bubble and ventured into the real world. It was a rude awakening. It seemed liked there was no time for the things that brought me joy in my youth.

Then, this past December, my girlfriend got me a Nintendo DS (dual screen) for Christmas. It's something I've wanted for a while, but I had no idea how much one small purchase could shift the axis in my little world.

The slim, attractive rectangle, no bigger than a checkbook, contained a world of entertainment options. There were standard controls and buttons like any other game, but there was also a small stylus, almost like the plastic pin that guides you through credit card purchases at the grocery store.

It was really awkward at first, but eventually, my hesitation turned into obsession. I originally started playing learning games like "My Japanese Coach" and "My Spanish Coach," but I soon found out that there were lots of options that were as mind-numbing as the games I enjoyed as a child.

One past weekend, after getting lost in Final Fantasy III, I realized my game play had transcended from minutes into hours.

It's funny how things work in circles. I'm now having to call upon the same restraint from video games that I did to get through college.

Perhaps this time around, however, I can take the time to finally learn something useful.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.