With my recent brief return to World of Warcraft I feel compelled to write an article addressing the concern some people have with MMOs.
Massive Multiplayer Online games (MMOs) are a hot button issue for some people. They're considered addictive and commonly blamed for all things wrong with society. But are the games themselves really so terrible or is it something else?
MMOs have been blamed for divorce, being fired, and even suicide.
I've played MMOs for years. My friends and I played EverQuest all through high school and then I started playing World of Warcraft with acquaintances from EQ. My total time invested into an MMO totals to nearly 7 years of subscriptions.
Clearly these games must have been terribly addictive, very enjoyable or both to keep me shelling out $15 a month in subscriptions and buying their expansion packs, right? The truth is, they weren't.
I was addicted, yes, but the game wasn't to blame. Both EQ and WoW were extremely fun for an RPG fan like myself; in the beginning. When you first start playing everything is new, you get to really explore the world, experimenting with classes and abilities is fun and you're always doing something brand new.
Then, the honeymoon is over. The game become a grind for money, levels and equipment. Eventually expansion packs or patches add new things, but it all becomes the same. Don't get me wrong, I loved that high-end content. Grouping with 5 or 6 people to tackle dungeons, raids with 75 people in EQ, completing high level quests, etc.. Coordinating all those people to bring down a gigantic dragon or even a god was great fun; the first two or three times. Eventually your strategy is perfected and it becomes routine and boring.
So why sink all your free time into something like this?
For some, it is the game. I do not disagree that there are people addicted to or who simply enjoy the game so much that they continue playing, but for me it was the community.
Imagine being in a chat room with over 30 people (Or hundreds in the server wide channels) you know and you're all interested in the same thing. For many people the MMO community becomes their society. They have dozens of people who congratulate them on their in game accomplishments. They get to spend time chatting and gaming with different people they know or meet new people to adventure with. This is even better if some "real" friends play the game allowing you to chat or game with them at the same time.
The MMO quickly replaces all activity outside of the computer room besides eating, sleeping and working.
It's sad that some people becomes so attached that they lose their job or their marriage breaks apart, but I feel this only means the player is unhappy. If the job was a good job that gave them a sense of accomplishment or at least some happiness they wouldn't take too many vacation days or miss work for the MMO. If the relationship was truly a good one then the player would be spending time with their significant other instead of socializing in a world where they don't exist.
I quit WoW because it stressed my real life. A video game shouldn't cause anxiety or stress (except maybe a good survival horror game). When I played during the past few days I found many of my old friends had quit and my "real" friends had switched servers a while back, so there was no one I knew to chat with. I wrapped up some old loose ends I had left behind and fooled around, but I found that it wasn't really any fun.
Flying 100% solo was dull and nearly depressing. I maxed out my characters Blackmsithing skill, but there was one to brag to. Then I crafted a new, better weapon for myself, but I didn't have anyone to show it to or to duel. I found Player-VS-Player (my favorite thing in WoW) to be lackluster when I had no one to talk to or do group PVP with.
Those things and many other events made me realize WoW and EQ had always been nearly 100% social for me. I don't need WoW for socializing. I'd rather go to a Halloween party than complete Halloween quests in WoW, so next month my subscription's time will expire and my account will fade away again.
Some people can't handle something like an MMO, but the MMO didn't damn them anymore than alcohol, drugs or any other addiction would.
However, I am not comparing an MMO to alcohol or drugs. That is a ridiculous comparison. My point is there are much worse things these people could become attached to besides a video game. The best thing for the people with an unhealthy attachment to an MMO is help from the people who want them around.
Don't blame video games for a problem simply because the problem manifests itself into an attachment to a video game. Take a step back and try to see why someone would rather spend time in a digital society rather than the "real" one.
Then again, look at our society. It's enough to make anyone wish they could live in a different world.