World of Warcraft. EverQuest. Just the thought of these games to many people brings up the image of pimply teenage boys sitting in their mother’s basement playing for hours on end. College kids sitting in a dorm room surrounded by empty Doritos bags, Mountain Dew and Red Bull cans. But these images are only stereotypes of those who play Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) and the reality of it isn’t all fun and games.
Now I’m sure that these stereotypes are sometimes true, but what people don’t think about when these games are mentioned is the people with families and responsibilities in their lives. Those who have become so wrapped up in their characters and their ‘Virtual life’ that they neglect the rest of the world and people in their real lives.
I’ve read stories of husbands/fathers playing a MMO all night, seven days a week, after working a full time job all day. Kids that admit that their failing out of college/high school but don’t want to miss out on a chance to raid a certain dungeon; a long-term boy/girlfriends that skips out on an anniversary to play; even the consummate ‘suit and tie’ that takes his vacation days to pump up his reputation. These are a small number of the tens of thousands of MMORPG players out there, but of that there are a growing number of players that have a serious problem which falls under that category of ‘substance abuse’ or addiction.
Most MMOs need a solid amount of time put into it in order to keep up with the ever improving and changing items and guilds. Ranging from 12 hours a week (for more casual players) to 10 hours a day, seven days a week, players can play endlessly because MMOs are games that just can’t be beaten and the only way to ‘get better’ is to play more and more. Players spend hours on end conquering dungeons for ‘epic loot’ or items that essentially make your character better; come back a week later and the game has refilled the dungeon with more monsters and different loot for you to conquer again.
This brings up the hooks that suck people into MMORPGs: they give players a false sense of accomplishment and security in themselves while providing an interactive immersive escape from reality. Basically, if you have 10 hours a day to kill, anyone can become a superhero and this can breed the artificial sense of confidence. People go through terrible lengths to achieve the ‘honor’ of being the best in whatever virtual world they play in. Threats of divorce, children being forced to grind out hours for their parents (seriously), kids dropping out of school, thousands of real dollars being spent on ‘virtual items’ for in-game play. Not to mention the time involved in order to do something “significant” (according to the game) is rather astonishing. All of this for the praise and applause of others in the world, until a week or two passes and the ‘epic’ gear becomes old news and outdated. That’s when it’s time to start grinding away again.
Now that we have some background, we can discuss some of the causes of MMO addiction. MMO addictions have numerous causes including: people’s needs to substitute real-life human connections with virtual ones, a dissatisfaction with their own life, low self-esteem, an immersive escape from life, or just a lack of personal relationships and an unwillingness to form them. Players put themselves in this virtual world, ‘re-inventing’ themselves as someone else, and getting their feelings of success from their character and their endeavors instead of from themselves. Individuals can overcome low self-esteem issues in MMOs because they may be able to fell competent and less vulnerable in ways not possible in the real world. While a sense of accomplishment and self-assurance is not bad at all, the distinct fact that it is a virtual world that sets you up to keep playing indefinitely keeps the player always wanting more and it doesn’t really provide any real world confidence at all.
A quote from a respondent in a 2002 study on MMORPG addiction said, “I've always been shy around people and never had a great social life and online gaming pretty much become the outlet for that. I've basically spent every waking hour online playing games so I could basically make up for my poor self-esteem in the games by leveling my characters so I'd be better than most and socializing a lot so I'd become a liked person. I recently tried to quit EQ, but after a month I was too bored with normal life again so I got sucked right back into it. [m, 20]”
The whole subject of MMORPG addiction is a very intricate one because every player is attracted to different features in the game and has varying motivations for using it as an outlet. Some gamers are attracted to the game as a social outlet; some purely for the immersive element it provides. Sometimes it may be real life problems may be pushing the player towards the game to build confidence. Sometimes the element of ‘being someone else’ in another world is pulling the player in. More often than not, the addiction is caused by a combination of both. Since there are numerous reasons why people use MMORPGs as an outlet, there is no one way to solve this addiction. If you consider yourself or someone in your life addicted to MMORPGs, especially if your playing habits are having severe effects on your daily activities (job, school, ect.), it is encouraged that you seek the help of a medical professional that specializes in addiction.
Addiction has many faces and can take many forms and I’ll end this discussion with a quote, “I call myself an addict, because I share the same symptoms as someone who's addicted to smoking, or alcohol, or some other substance. I think about EQ while I'm not playing, I get stressed when I have to go 24 hrs without logging on for a fix, and I wasn't able to quit when I tried. If that's not an addiction, I don't know what is.”
To read the “Understanding MMORPG Addiction” study, click here
“You stay classy, My Gamers”
By: David Mackiewicz (DaveMack6@Gmail.com)