So, I played WoW for a while. And I have to be honest in that I don't think I'm really into the whole MMO thing. I mean I love games and all, but with online games--well, there are just too many people! Yes, I have anti-social depressed nerd tendencies at times, but that's not really the problem. The fact is that a massive amount of less-than-friendly people don't exactly add to the enjoyment of the game for me.
However, that's really not what this post is all about. Since I've gotten over WoW, I have become aware of how the success of this game may in fact not be entirely a "success" for gamers. As a former Gamestop employee, I watched the success of the game from the front lines since its launch date. It flew off the shelves, and continues to do so even today. In fact, WoW has continued to stay in the top ten PC titles sold. Blizzard has been rolling in cash as a result of this, I'm sure, but I have to question whether the mass adoption of WoW has been good for the rest of us.
I know that I wouldn't have any trouble finding fans to rave about WoW. But sometimes you also hear less flattering evidence. Penny Arcade did a comic strip effectively showing how hugely successful WoW has become, to the point of putting an uneasy ball-of-steel-cable-knots kind of feeling in my stomach. Which brings me to the point of how WoW, more so than any other game perhaps, has exerted this "dominance" over people's lives.
While I was away traveling, for instance, Nikki played a ton of WoW. She made a lot of "friends." She even ran her own guild. She did little else but work, and play WoW. I will confess that her physical and emotional health suffered because of my extended absence, and because of her incessant WoW habit. As a married couple we both inevitably depend on each other for support. This is true of the social fabric in general, and when individuals withdraw from that fabric the effects can be detrimental.
Others have spoken out about how those enthralled with WoW cause hardships for them. Numerous posts have been made on the Minitokyo forums from individuals who believe that WoW stole their friends. Those who do not choose to play WoW are left as outsiders, which has a painful effect on teenagers just as much as it does on those of us that are older. I can remember that when I moved to a new state not too long ago, many of my coworkers from Gamestop spent their free time playing MMOs together. Since that option was not available to me for some time, it was difficult to break through that barrier and make more lasting friendships. It was almost a year before I was able to integrate myself into that social circle.
The extent to which WoW has taken over some people's lives is nothing less than addiction. Some may believe that the relationships they form online are just as significant as they would be in real life. However, I would argue to the contrary based on Albert Borgmann's device paradigm. That concept, however, is to involved to be discussed here. Suffice it to say that, according to Borgmann, the technological barrier makes the online interaction artificial and a mere shadow of real life interaction.
People's addiction to WoW, MMOs, and video games in general has sparked the concern of others around them. In my experience, single player games do not seem to have as strong of a draw for most--though it may be different for me--as online multiplayer games do. I may be able to speculate as to why, but I cannot be sure. But it is important to note that addiction to games has generated enough concern in Europe to open a video game addiction treatment facility.
Don't get me wrong, I am not anti games, the internet, or technology in general. Those who know me will attest that I am quite the opposite. But the line must be drawn somewhere. If my marriage were to suffer because my wife plays WoW every time she can get her hands on that keyboard and mouse that hasn't been cleaned for a while, you better believe that I'm going to pull that cat 5 cable out of her machine. Whatever benefits this game may bring about, it's not worth sacrificing a real relationship between people who live together. I don't think it's even worth sacrificing a relationship between people who don't live together.
This is not some sort of "game vilification" post either. It should be taken as call to think about what's really worth doing, and what is worth sacrificing in order to bring about a more meaningful lifestyle.
Update: Reader comment -- hoyeboye writes me "Nice article. I should probably share with you a story about a close friend of mine.
He married a woman with whom he'd been in a "toxic" relationship with for some time, but they moved in together and he saw her calming down. They got married (against his closest friend's warnings.) I'm not sure what came next (sort of a chicken and the egg thing) but she began to slip back into her former self and he "hid" from her in Final Fantasy 11. It was a means for him to ignore any problems as opposed to working on them. I still place the fault of their split equally between the two, but am sad to say it may have been prevented if my friend hadn't hid in the game."
From there our discussion went into an uninformed remembrence of other extreme MMO addiction cases from Asia. In one of those cases "a player killed a fellow player who had stolen his virtual sword," reported here. In another case, a 13 year old committed suicide after a 36 hour Warcraft binge, found here. Not to mention the divorced couple who was arguing over their virtual items, blogged by Gaming Steve here. But since most of these cases seem to be happening in Asia, China has passed fatigue laws to limit play time in online games as reported by BBC News.
Nevertheless, I also came across "a sad collection of letters from partners of MMORPG addicts" on Aehso's Output here, so let's not forget that plenty of people are dealing with this problem in the US as well.