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October 19, 2006

A World Of Warcraft Horror Story

Addicted to MMORPG crack. The true confession of an experience point junkie:

60 levels, 30+ epics, a few really good "real life" friends, a seat on the oldest and largest guild on our server's council, 70+ days "played," and one "real" year later...


I just left WoW permanently. I was a leader in one of the largest and most respected guilds in the world, a well-equipped and well-versed mage, and considered myself to have many close friends in my guild. Why did I leave? Simple: Blizzard has created an alternate universe where we don't have to be ourselves when we don't want to be. From my vantage point as a guild decision maker, I've seen it destroy more families and friendships and take a huge toll on individuals than any drug on the market today, and that means a lot coming from an ex-club DJ.

It took a huge personal toll on me. To illustrate the impact it had, let's look at me one year later. When I started playing, I was working towards getting into the best shape of my life (and making good progress, too). Now a year later, I'm about 30 pounds heavier that I was back then, and it is not muscle. I had a lot of hobbies including DJing (which I was pretty accomplished at) and music as well as writing and martial arts. I haven't touched a record or my guitar for over a year and I think if I tried any Kung Fu my gut would throw my back out. Finally, and most significantly, I had a very satisfying social life before. My friends and I would go out and there were things to do every night of the week. Now a year later, I realize my true friends are the greatest people in the world because the fact I came out of my room, turned the lights on, and watched a movie with them still means something. They still are having a great time teasing me at my expense, however, which shows they still love me and they haven't changed.

Looks like this South Park parody was spot-on:

This part sounds pretty much like blogging:

These changes are miniscule, however, compared to what has happened in quite a few other people's lives. Some background... Blizzard created a game that you simply can not win. Not only that, the only way to "get better" is to play more and more. In order to progress, you have to farm your little heart out in one way or another: either weeks at a time PvPing to make your rank or weeks at a time getting materials for and "conquering" raid instances, or dungeons where you get "epic loot" (pixilated things that increase your abilities, therefore making you "better"). And what do you do after these mighty dungeons fall before you and your friend's wrath? Go back the next week (not sooner, Blizzard made sure you can only raid the best instances once a week) and do it again (imagine if Alexander the Great had to push across the Middle East every damn week).

What does this mean? Well, to our average "serious" player this equates to anywhere between 12 hours (for the casual and usually "useless" player) to honestly 10 hours a day, seven days a week for those "hardcore" gamers. During my stint, I was playing about 30 hours a week (and still finding it hard to keep up with my farming) and logging on during my work day in order to keep up with all the guild happenings and to do my scheduling and tracking for the raids. A lot of time went into the development of new policies which took our friendly and family-oriented guild further and further away from its roots but closer to the end goal. Honestly, what that end goal is I'm not totally sure - there is truly no end to the game and every time you feel like you're satisfied with your progress, another aspect of the game is revealed and, well, you just aren't as cool as you can be again.

Blogging is like that-- the false sense of accomplishment, the gaining in "stats" and "experience" (traffic, ecosystem rankings, which are, you know, pretty much just D&D levels). And it sucks you in.

Well, it sucks you in when you're "winning." When you're not "advancing" in "experience levels," interest wanes. (Which, um, has been happening to me for a while. That, and having this perpetual low-grade sickness. I think I may be allergic to the carpeting in my new apartment... something sure seems to keep me in a neverending state of the sniffles and coughs and headaches.)

But the thought of getting that +3 sword (an NRO-lanche) or +4 plate armor (an InstaLink)... well, it keeps you going.

And what do you have to show for it?

A totally min-maxed Rogue/Warrior blog with a 19 Charisma, yo!

(And a 5 Intelligence.)

I remember playing Diablo for a while and having that sort of "sucked-in" feeling. The game wasn't especially good. It was just busywork. You just went down into similar-looking dungeons, fought the same stupid monsters over and over, etc. But you got to find new crap, or shop for new crap with all the gold you found, and I got pretty into maxing out my barbarian, or whatever the hell he was.

Until I started to realize -- who the hell cares if my barbarian has a 25 strength, or Armor of the Sun, or whatever?

Fortunately, Diablo actually ended (if it didn't have a definite ending, I'd've stopped earlier). So, I soldiered on, beat the stupid Big Bad Boss Demon at the end, and never played it again. (I played its sequel for about an hour before realizing it was all the same, all over again.)

But this game just doesn't end, ever. You can always be "better."

It's kind of the reverse of drugs. Drugs allow people to escape inhibitions and let loose their control in life (and, with psychadelics and other hard drugs, their control over their actions and even over their perceptions).

These games, on the other hand, offer a false sense of control and a false sense of "advancing." Is your life out of control? Are you treading water? Well, plug in and start leveling up and taking control of your (fantasy) life!

Kind of interesting. I'm not saying these games are inherently bad or anything. Pretty much any hobby can get you overly involved and spending too many hours on something trivial which you can begin to excel at, rather than something important but difficult in which it's hard as hell to excel (e.g., real life).

A lot of people have addictive personalities but don't realize it, because they've never come across the thing that addicts them. And then one day they do.

Thanks to JackStraw, I think. Sorry-- thanks to Retired Geezer.

The Sims Is Like This, I Think: What is The Sims except a game in which you get to shop all the time and advance your career and build your dream house?

If you're having trouble managing that in reality, why not live the fantasy in the Sims?

Again, none of this is unprecedented or new. Any popular game, hobby, or pasttime will probably show a good competency curve, where it's relatively easy to get decent at it by spending a certain number of hours at it, and then takes more effort to get really good. Which thus pulls people in, because it's satisfying to see tangible progress at anything, even something kind of lame and useless like, I don't know, bocce ball or model railroad building.

Or blogging.

Bad Form: I actually meant to mention this-- a lot of what I was saying above applies to strictly amateur blogging.

At this point, I'm earning money from this blog (and of course the generous donations of readers), so the complaints are "bad form," as "someone" tells me.

At this point, this is a "job" (although a moronic one), not a hobby, which puts me in the same position of about 4 billion people in the world who get kind of annoyed they have to show up for work every day. (Or, in my case, "work.")

Still, the analogy to non-money-making blogging is still pretty strong. And even if you're making money -- which is another kind of experience point bonus (treasure counts for XP's, after all) -- there's still that massively-multiplayer online role-playing game aspect to all of this.

Hell, I've even had my Declared Opponents from time to time, the Big Bad Level Bosses I decided I had to best to advance a level.

The comparison was meant more as a lighthearted poke at blogger addiction syndrome than a real complaint that you're supposed to feel sorry for me over.

And yeah, it's still true, when you're gaining "levels," the "game" is a hell of a lot more addictive. Retuergate? When I gained four levels in just a few weeks of furious playing, and even got hold of a Cloak of Appearing On FoxNews? Seriously addictive. I was blogging like crazy, to the detriment of most real-life personal connections and obligations.

Again, though, I understand that this is hardly any different than people who have to work a lot of hours in order to get a promotion, or to advance their business.

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posted by Ace at 06:24 PM

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