I LOST A SUMMER to a video game once. I'd just gotten home from college and brought everything back in my Volkswagen Beetle. I had my winter clothes, a box of comic books and my most prized possessions, a desktop computer and monitor.

At the time, I had been playing this online role-playing game called "Everquest" on and off for more than a month. It was a new experience at the time.

"Everquest" was a persistent online world, where you traveled the land of Norrath and fought monsters, met other travelers and dived into dungeons.

It was a forerunner to what eventually became the dominant title in the genre "World of Warcraft." But for me, "Everquest" is still the end-all and be-all of online RPGs.

My obsession went like this: My first step into the game got my feet wet. I was fascinated with building a persona and exploring a digital universe. My second step had me waist-deep as I found friends and bonded over our collective misadventures.

During the third step, I fell off the deep end, and at some point, I stopped visiting Norrath and decided that I wanted to live there full time.

This was no longer playing because I enjoyed it; this was playing because I physically needed to be hunting giant spiders and fostering friendships with people pretending to be wizards and warriors. Part of the appeal was the camaraderie and another part of it was the competition. (You wanted to be the best player on your server.)

For four months, I woke up and jumped online at 11 a.m. and stopped when I saw the sky outside my window brighten to a dark blue. I ate when my stomach hurt and even then it would be a quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Then I'd sprint back up the stairs to complete some fetch quest.

This was my summer. My friends came over and I ignored them. I forgot that I watched "Star Wars: Episode One," but I remember the in-game conversations about it.

Nothing could compete with "Everquest" because everything else, including real life, seemed so boring.

But eventually, school approached, and I knew this was unsustainable. I couldn't live in Norrath and go to college at the same time. There wasn't enough time in the day for both so I had to choose between a video game and a journalism degree.

The decision wasn't hard. It was actually having the wherewithal to follow through that was difficult. In the end I quit "Everquest" cold turkey.

Afterward, there was a big letdown. None of the games that year or the next seemed any good. They paled in comparison to the experiences I'd had online. I felt like I reached the pinnacle of gaming and everything else was a trifling afterthought.

It took awhile to regain my perspective, and looking back at the whole episode, I saw how damaging it was and swore off online RPGs altogether. It was four months of being Don Quixote.

Would I say that video games are addictive? Yes, they are for some people who lack self-control. Would I say that makes video games bad? No, it doesn't.

They're just like any other form of entertainment, and like any medium, they have their compulsives. Essayist Sarah Vowell said she was addicted to "The Godfather," watching it obsessively for days in college. Critic Gabriel Sherman talked about his fidgety iPod addiction in the Guardian.

As for video games, they're no different. You just need to know (or have friends who know) when to say stop.

Gieson Cacho's video game column appears Thursdays in TimeOut. Reach him at 510-735-7076 or gcacho@bayareanewsgroup.com. Read his blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/videogames.