Thursday, November 30, 2006

Addiction strikes online gamers

People use the word "addicted" loosely. But when someone tells you he's addicted to a video game, he may not be exaggerating:

Thousands of people who log on to online computer games are displaying the same signs of addiction as gamblers and drug users.

The world of online gaming is a growing phenomenon with millions of young men and women around the globe logging on to join in role-play games which allow them to interact with other players.

A study of 7,000 online computer gamers has revealed that one in nine were displaying at least three signs of addiction. ...

They included craving, withdrawal symptoms, loss of control and neglect of other activities.
I used to be among those one-in-nine before starting this blog back in May of '05. My poison was Warcraft II, the revolutionary online strategy game that built the brandname World of Warcraft has so successfully been able to exploit. I displayed many of the signs that substance addicts do: I was consumed with withdrawal when not playing (especially near the end of ladder season), broke up with a girlfriend of a year in part because of a loyalty to it instead of her after school and work, was oblivious to anything else while playing (being late to class and unresponsive to the phone or door), and was extremely irritable, flush, and had an elevated heart rate during and for hours after stopping play. It wasn't infrequent for me to start playing at nine or ten on Friday evening and not turn in until four in the morning on Saturday.

I've gone cold-turkey in avoiding new online games to avoid falling into the same addictive pattern. My saving grace was that newer games like Warcraft III and WoW caused continued attrition among W2 players, to the point that it is unusual for more than 1,000 players to be using at any given time, so competitive games are only sporadically available. Occasionally I still play, but only when I've some obligation scheduled in the next couple of hours that'll force me off. The same symptoms remain. Like other addictions, 'moderation' isn't really an option.

I have friends that are into the WoW scene, and they devote countless hours to play. Blizzard Entertainment has adapted to milk the gamers in ways that didn't exist when Warcraft II was all the rage. While W2 is a real-time strategy game, games last for fifteen or twenty minutes (think chess with a lot more complexity and without pauses between turns). WoW and Second Life, however, feature characters that are role-played for multiple sittings and whose attributes and features save. So not playing means you're falling behind. There is a monthly $15 fee, and expansions are continually released allowing players to level up and gain abilities that had been unattainable prior to the new release. So people have an 'incentive' to come back and spend more to stay on top. Still, the French-owned company hasn't yet found a way to milk the market perfectly--characters sell for upwards of $1,000 at online auction sites like Ebay.

According to the study, most players aren't addicted. I have a predisposition toward addictive behaviors through family history, and the same processes are at work when addicts game as when they drink or shoot up or whatever. As far as addictions go, it's quite benign (although the Daily Mail article points out some tragic results, including a man who shot himself at his computer desk). The online world allows for people to develop relationships with people the world over who share similar interests. In addition to serving as a social outlet, it also serves as an entertainment medium free of political correctness, providing mostly young men (about 20% of gamers are estimated to be female) a way to engage in epic campgaigns to destroy the evil ones in a violent and glorious manner. Nothing about understanding the institutionalized bias against the undead that have caused them to eat your flesh. It's genetic, damnit, and they've gotta die (again)!

We haven't evolved to handle many of the technological innovations that fill so much of the space in our lives well. As online games continue to progressively represent reality more and more, it'll be even tougher. I'm keeping a safe distance for now, playing old emulator single-player games in my leisure instead.


J-Rock said...

It's been awhile since I've been on bnet, but I remember those ladder days like they just happened. What aliases did you use? What's your bnet name now?

crush41 said...

Crush41, of course :)

I reached the #2 spot with Maximus@bao and a previous season finished #6 with HK~LordGolbez.

You are? Email me at and we'll set up a time to partner up and go back into that hellish addiction that's stolen so much of the prime years of my life!

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