Heroin for digital age

Heroin for digital age

Getting home after a long day’s work and a visit to the gym I decided to do something I haven’t done in a long time – relax in front of the computer screen. One of the facts in the previous sentence was a lie, btw, I’ll let you guess which one.

Recently I’ve had World of Warcraft in the back of my mind. The amazing expanse of its world, the beautiful graphics, the ever-changing variables, the epic quests… I love it… The only problem is that I can’t get enough of it once I start playing. Mind you, I never got far as I always managed to curb my “addiction” (and it’s monthly cost helps in that regard) but I’ve always flirted with the possibility of staying glued to the monitor for hours on end.

I can’t help but think that WoW’s own ability to immerse the player is also its limitation. Games like it are highly addictive, mainly because in this day of instant gratification they seem to provide just that. That’s just an illusion. WoW surely doesn’t provide instant gratification for if it did I’d be able to happily walk away from it whenever I wanted to or, at least, after a finite amount of time. As it is, neither I nor hordes (pun intended) of other players can easily walk away from the keyboard after entering its world (just check out the extreme cases at wowdetox). It’s not a chemical addiction, the way substance abuse can be, but a psychological effect, a result of curiosity mixed with anticipation of gratification upon completion of a next quest/instance/raid. The problem is, each completion almost directly leads to a sort of restart. Gratification never comes but always lurks in the shadows.

I don’t think that this should mean games such as WoW shouldn’t be made. Some people just need to be more careful than others. WoW is incredibly entertaining once the bad stuff is kept in check. I know of at least one person who’s always been comfortable playing the game, without his life being shattered, as some addiction stories would lead you to believe. I also know that, personally, in the past I had periods of “addiction” to Doom, Duke Nukem, Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo, System Shock, Wing Commander, XWing, Day of the Tentacle and a variety of those cute/evil LucasArts cartoonish adventure games as well as many, many others (and more recent) games… probably one of the most notable being the first Sims where I broke the addiction when I realized that I was more concerned about organizing my Sim’s characters’ lives than my own. This is probably an indication that your game is taking over your life – when achievments in your game/online world become more important than your own.

One could argue that a person may wish their online/virtual life to really BE their life and, therefore, putting effort into making it better while neglecting this “real” world makes sense. However, always remember that online/virtual/game world is only a subset of this one, fully controlled by powers of this world, to an extent that one could die or become a god in the virtual world they are absorbed in by exercising the right powers in this one. It makes no logical sense, therefore, to base your existence on achievements in a sub-world even if your sole dream is to succeed in it, even if your powers in this world are limited. I put “real” in quotes here because, for all we know, this world could be just as virtual to some other “reality” as WoW is to us… but that “reality” we cannot control… unless you believe that Matrix was a documentary. Essentially, any action made in “real” life has infinite powers in virtual life.

The only drive behind existence in virtual life should, for games most importantly, be entertainment and satisfaction and for everything else, including games, curiosity, experimentation and socializing. I find Second Life to be a good example here as it does offer pretty much all of these things but can also lead to a sort of “addiction” once your preoccupation with the world becomes dressing up your sim or similar nonsense. The only thing that I find more pointless than that is GTA’s ability (and need) to actually go to the gym and spend time clicking up and down to make the sims bench press (or whatever it is that sims do at the gym). This just defeats the purpose. The experience is tempting so you can’t help but actually take your sim to the gym, but ultimately it all becomes frustrating and counter productive. Perhaps Wii phenomenon could change this and make the player actually work out while the sim is but until then I’ll find features of this sort to be completely pointless in games.

Interesting things do start happening once virtual world starts acting back on this one (think gold farmers in WoW or Second Life businesses). However, this has a different purpose and as soon as a player starts thinking in terms of “real” world benefits behind spending time in a virtual world, the spell or addiction is broken and no harm can really be done with the other “reality” (aside from over-charging some customers).

Well, that worked well. I’ve managed to turn myself from trying out that 10 day trial for Burning Crusade that Blizzard has so kindly emailed me. Who knows, perhaps soon I’ll be able to walk away from WoW the same way I can walk away from Tetris today, knowing that not so long ago some used to spend days in their apartments playing pong or tetris or even chess on their commodore 64s.

For now I’ll avoid the “heroin” and stick to “pot”, an occasional frag-out with Worms 4. Bring on those worms, baby!