Yet again we see the issue of game addiction and game vilification being brought together closely by World of Warcraft. This is a news broadcast which does not appear to be from the US, and I came across it on Kotaku in this article.
The video itself shows parents struggling to deal with their children's addiction. Associate Editor at Kotaku, Eliza Gauger, files these individuals in the "'parents without nuts, literal or otherwise' department." Though perhaps it is easy to judge, in this case, a mother's inability to force her children into quitting something they are addicted to. I would argue that it is damn hard for a mother to make her teenage children do much of anything. Especially if she is a single mother, so let's not jump the gun, especially without first hand experience. My guess is that the absence of a male guardian in this video indicates that she is very likely to be a single mother. That also means that she's probably working her butt off most of the day while the kid stays home and plays WoW.
However, Gauger also makes a valid point about the broadcast's "'violent computer game' known as World of Warcraft" label. Getting footage of the player using the world "kill" repeatedly is little more than a gimmick to make people believe that the game is violent, or at least that the player is violent as a result of it. The game is rated "Teen," which is pretty mild, but they don't explain that in the video. Nor do they show you a comparison between WoW and a game like, oh I don't know, F.E.A.R. for example. Or something a bit more graphic like the old Soldier of Fortune games. That's the problem with these "violent" labels. They don't explain to you that a game like WoW is no more, and in fact less, violent than the Lord of the Rings movies they let their grade-schoolers watch.
Both Gauger and the teen in the broadcast indicate that spending a good portion of your time in a virtual world may not necessarily be an addiction. Becoming part of an online social network, they claim, is just as real as making friends in "real life." Gauger questions whether social interaction in the "'real world' is any better or more fulfilling than an MMO." Even though I agree that online social interaction can be fulfilling and meaningful, I do have some reservations about it. First, the majority of relationships online tend to last about as you computer is on. Turn off the machine, and that virtual world no longer exists in the visceral sense. This is different than the world which we physically inhabit.
Albert Borgmann lays down the groundwork for understanding the differences between that which is created by technology and that which comes to exist by natural and traditional means in his book Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life. I feel this needs to be elaborated since the issue keeps coming back up. Borgmann introduces us to technological results as devices, while the counter example to this is the focal thing, in the device paradigm. Focal things have been introduced by Martin Heidegger prior to Borgmann.
The device is characteristically convenient, accessible, ubiquitous, and barely understood by its user. It promises enrichment of our lives, and fulfillment, but in the end only provides the opportunity for more devices. In this case, and MMO would be the device. It is easy to use, with a streamlined in game tutorial system, and accessible in that most people can purchase the game in a store or online. It is less ubiquitous than other devices, yet as the video shows it can be found on over four million computers in the world. I have noticed it on many of my friends computers to be sure. However, the inner workings of the game like servers, networking configurations, source code, or even gameplay formulas, are not understood by those playing the game. Not to jump on the bandwagon of this game being evil, but the evidence for WoW having detrimental effects on players' lives seem to be on the rise. I would also like to find evidence that WoW has enriched someone's life, but have yet to come across any.
A focal thing, on the other hand, is not always convenient but requires some skill on our part. It is not always accessible, and thus requires effort. Nor is it ubiquitous, but rather it exists in a specific space and focuses our attention on it. A focal thing may be very simple, and can be easy to understand, yet it promises nothing. Often times it serves a simple purpose. A focal thing in contrast to WoW, would be any activity requiring the cooperation of multiple individuals in a recreational and competitive situation with the possibility of tangible rewards. Something that comes to mind is a sport, like soccer for instance. Being on a soccer team is not as easy to achieve as learning how to play WoW. It requires greater skill, and it certainly requires good deal of effort. Not just because we can't do it out the comfort of our own home. A soccer match requires a designated area, and the gathering of other people in order to participate and spectate. The positive effects of soccer are easily noticeable in terms of health benefits. However, the social interaction provided by the activity has visible results.
So, is one better than the other? Is one more fulfilling that the other? I'm sure there would be those who would say yes on either side of the argument. But the fact remains that there is nothing evil or wrong about using technology to entertain ourselves. The danger lies in using it exclusively. When both technological and focal reality exist in balance, then we can gain the rewards of them both. Though letting one dominate over the other creates negative effects, as with most things.
I agree with Gauger in that if the teenager in question provides for his own internet access and game subscription, and if he is satisfied with his achievements therein, then he should be able to maintain this activity of his choosing. However, such an activity should not be undertaken without regard to his family dynamic, and not at the expense of his education and future. I find that choosing to spend one's life inside an MMO at that age and forgoing all other pursuits could lead to a great deal of regret when such an individual would have to depend on themselves.