Here's how things go when I play my most addictive game so far in 2009, "Tiger Woods PGA Tour '10."
My ball is teed up. The game shows me a flyover of the rolling fairway and runaway greens. I can see the hungry sand bunkers, the overhanging trees that want to grab my ball, and the thirsty ponds. I see how hard the wind is blowing, and in which direction. The wind can really screw the pooch.
My heart races in the tee box. I pull back my Xbox 360 thumbstick (that's my backswing), then push the thumbstick forward (the swing). If I don't pull off this swing exactly right, I'll end up in the sand, the trees, the rough, the water - somewhere not good.
This exercise of nerves and prowess occurs in every shot - the hard drive, the loopy iron, the wedge save, the killer putt.
Sometimes, when I go through this emotionally fulfilling yet wrenching process, I forget to breathe, and just after I strike the ball, I realize I need to gulp in air or spew out air.
This is what the best video games are all about: adrenalin and precision.
Top Ten New Games
Here are the Top 10 best-selling video games, according to retailer Blockbuster. Games are listed by title, company, gaming system, and rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board. Most games are priced $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3; $50 for Wii; $40 for PSP; $30 for DS and PS 2.
1. "Ghostbusters: The Video Game" (Atari) for Xbox 360; also available for PS 3, Wii, PC, DS, PS 2; rated "T" (comic mischief, fantasy violence, mild language)
2. "Ghostbusters: The Video Game" for PS 3
3. "Grand Theft Auto IV" (Rockstar) for Xbox 360; also available for PS 3; rated "M" (intense violence, blood, strong language, strong sexual content, partial nudity, use of drugs and alcohol)
4. "Guitar Hero: Smash Hits" (Activision) for Xbox 360; also available for Wii, PS 3, PS 2; rated "T" (lyrics, mild suggestive themes)
5. "Guitar Hero: Smash Hits" for Wii
6. "Mario Super Sluggers" (Nintendo) for Wii; rated "E" (comic mischief)
7. "EA Sports Active" bundle (EA) for Wii; rated "E"
8. "Wii Play" with remote by Nintendo for Wii; rated "E" (mild cartoon violence)
9. "Haze" (Ubisoft) for PS 3; rated "M" (blood, intense violence, strong language, use of drugs)
10. "Ghostbusters: The Video Game" for Wii
(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone"; "T" for "Teen"; "M" for "Mature 17+"
It's remarkable that I still get this eager feeling with every swing, even though I've been playing "Tiger Woods" games for years. It's not like I'm a newbie enraptured for the first time by the series' beauty, intuitive feel and exhilaration.
No, this game is just so good, so near perfect, it sucks me in. I have found myself, at 4 a.m., forcing myself with great will power to stop golfing so I can get four hours of sleep. In bed, I think of how I'll golf the next night.
I should mention "PGA Tour '10" ditches previous problems with the putting system in 2008's "Tiger '09." The putting now is back to awesomeness.
You can play as Tiger or other pro golfers. That's fine. But it's way more fun to start a character from scratch, dress him or her up however you like, then start your career in the PGA as a journeyman.
After a few rounds of good golfing, you can then buy supernatural attributes - or boost those supernatural abilities through practice shots - to make your golfer drive farther, pitch more accurately, and putt like a master.
You can play online tournaments daily and weekly, although you better be stellar. In my last online 18-hole game, I shot a dismal 14-under par, and came in a lousy 249th place for the day, way behind Hebbsy69, who shot a 25-under par.
But you don't have to be the best gamer or golfer to enjoy "PGA Tour '10." You just have to be ready for the rush, the joy, the disappointment, the excitement, the anger, the anticipation; just like golf in real life, but better.
("Tiger Woods PGA Tour '10" by EA retails for $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3; $50 for Wii; $40 for PSP; $30 for PS 2 - Plays very addictively fun. Looks terrific. Challenging. Rated "E." Four stars out of four.)
Doug Elfman is an award-winning entertainment columnist who lives in Las Vegas. He blogs at www.lvrj.com/columnists/Doug_Elfman.html.