Slave to the game

He reckons he doesn't have an obsessive personality. Yet most of last year found Eric Kwok glued to a screen mesmerized by the virtual universe of the video game World of Warcraft. Kwok might be known as one of the elite of the Cantopop industry íV he has written and produced for the likes of Alan Tam, Sandy Lam, Eason Chan and Kay Tse íV but in the year of his addiction he only managed to pen five songs.

'I am not the sort of person that is easily addicted to something. In my life it only happened twice,' says the Best Melody winner of last year's CASH Golden Sail Music Awards with Kay Tse's Xi Tie Jie. The first time was when his mum bought him a keyboard at 13 and for the next two weeks he locked himself up in his room, figuring out how to write and arrange music on it. 'Addicted to playing an online game is a different matter,' he says. 'It kind of made me realise how drug addicts or people indulge in gambling. Outsiders would think that they are not determined enough but now I understand the feeling of not being able to draw back from something.'

That might sound like a confession on some government-produced educational programme, but the 'addiction' to the game could have ruined his career. He had intended to take a short break when he felt his songwriting had become stale, but ended up spending a year and a half killing monsters and finding treasures online with gamesters he barely knew. Part of the problem lay in Kwok's working from home facing a computer íV he found the temptation irresistible 'I got a bad name in the industry because I could not hand in work on time,' he grins. 'When I played I didn't care about anything. I didn't sleep and didn't eat. The game was the only thing on my mind and there was no inspiration. I didn't even want to write songs íV that was when I started to be scared.'

Now the musician hasn't exactly quit the game íV rather, he manages to control himself. 'When you start working and pick up the rhythm of work again, then it's fine,' he says. His latest release, Leet Collection, is a 2-CD retrospective of the most recognizable (and favourite) works of his career, titled with a word he learnt from cyber culture. It also features his radio hit, Wow, which stands for World of Warcraft. The opening line'Do not complain to me of playing video game every day' is literally a reflection of his life in that a year and a half íV when he even drew occasional fire from his girlfriend for the obsession. 'There is the parental control setting the password you can only play for a limited amount of time,' says the man who grew up listening to The Beatles and Sam Hui. 'I am using that and have given the password to a friend, though I think my friend has already forgotten it.'

Some of Eric Kwok's fondest moments producing for Cantopop stars...

The one he learnt the most from: Alan Tam

'The way he deals with people makes me understand why he is a superstar. He is always cheerful, makes others happy and has his own charisma. You don't meet that kind of artist too often. He is always in a rush, though. But he respects my work and would give me two more takes before heading off to play golf or something.'

The one that gave him a headache: George Lam

'He started recording very early in the morning. From 8am probably. I usually start at 2pm. For him maybe 7am is the best íV he usually plays golf at five in the morning or something like that, then comes to the studio. It was very weird, I had to wake up very early and it literally gave me a headache!'

The most unexpected one: Hacken Lee

'I thought he was a certain type of person before I worked with him but it turned out that he wasn't. He is eager to try new things. I asked if he felt he sang like a robot without much emotion, and he said yes. He wanted a change but didn't know how. So I asked him to sit down during the recording, something he had never done before. And he sang very differently that way, more relaxed.'

Eric Kwok transmutes from songwriter to warmonger