Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Moderation and addiction

A new shared topic seem to be coming up among the WoW blogs, although this time it wasn't initiated by Blog Azeroth. I'm thinking about the recent postings about the addictive sides of the game, how WoW easily can consume your whole life if you aren't careful. Balancing RL with WoW playing is a challenge to many players. I think that's why the Confessions from a former hardcore raider, written by Monique, makes many of us feel a bit uneasy.

The situation she's describing is far, far from anything I've ever heard of in this game, it's beyond addiction, it's way out of control... A true nightmare if you ask me. But still, at least I cant just shrug and think "well, that's bad for her, but she's one exception, too bad she couldn't handle it, but 99 percent of the WoW population can, forget about it and move on". Because honestly it's not true. I think many of us sometimes ask ourselves the question if our passion for the game really only is healthy and if we're making the right choices trying to play in a balanced way.

Several bloggers have already picked up this thread and made some great posts about it: Noobding, Matticus, Eye for an Eye, Aspect of the hare and Be Nameless are the ones I've spotted so far and maybe more will come.

So what's my thoughts on this?

Well, the discussion of addiction isn't exactly new. The discussions often tend to become rather black and white. The one's who have stopped playing tells the world about it on the wowdetox site, which sometimes makes me think of some kind of extreme religious meeting. Only the people who have seen the light will count, the others are poor lost souls still stuck in the darkness.

If you look into the WoW forums on the other hand, the community sometimes has tendencies to put their heads into the sand, not wanting to see or hear anything. People and situations as the one Monique describes doesn't seem to exist. Or they react with anger, since gaming as such is so much frowned up from the rest of society, not getting the respect and acceptance it deserves just like any other kind of hobby. Some WoW players refuse to discuss the issue seriously, being sick and tired of the prejudices you meet all the time being a gamer.

The reality of course is full of shades and nuances. Isn't it always? When it comes to me - . yes, I'm probably a bit addicted. Passionate sounds better, but addicted is just as true, it depends on how you put it. But I'm addicted to coffee as well, so that doesn't say much, does it? The problem is that being addicted to WoW easily demands very much more of your time and thus affects your life in general, than having a cup of coffee does.

You can't deny that the game can be a huge time sink, depending on what aspect of the game you enjoy most. I imagine it's quite easy to play the game with moderation (which in my world would mean maximum 7 hours a week) if you're happy with soloplaying, just levelling a toon, questing or doing a little BG now and then for pleasure, not participating very much in group activities. But once you get hooked on raiding in endgame or really want to climb the ranking lists of PvP it's quite a different game. There's a minimum level of how much time you need to spend weekly farming consumables, gold, gearing up and looking up on boss strategies to be able to get anywhere at all with the things you enjoy most in the game - even if you consider yourself a very moderate, casual raider. And once you get friends in the game and a nice guild you'll also feel that a couple of hours a week really isn't enough - if you're unlucky you may not even see them online. The social side of the game is probably even more addicting than the well known psychological mechanisms that are triggered by the loot-reward system.

Sooner or later we're all facing the choice: can I enjoy the game with the hours I'm able to put into it without actually sacrificing friends, family, job or my physical health (due to lack of sleep and exercise)? Or will it become too bleak?

For me playing the game without raiding at all seems quite impossible. If I had no other choice, due to RL obligations, but to play it for just a few hours a week, I'd rather drop WoW altogether. It would be too painful to see all the doors available in the game, leading to rooms I know I'd love to explore, but closed for me simply because of my lack of time.

On the other hand I really don't have to be raiding Sunwell to be happy in the game. I'm perfectly happy doing a little progress in T5 raid instances, learning to master ZA, getting regular challenges for my mage which force me to become a better player. I can satisfy my raid cravings by raiding twice a week - I don't have to do it five nights a week to be happy in the game.

Still I know I've got to watch out. I think it's easier than you believe to end up like Monique did if you're not careful. Once starting to make progress - personal in the guild - you may get blinded by the speed, becoming to greedy. One thing leads to next and suddenly you've ended up as a hardcore player though it never actually was your intention.

The risk of doing that - losing proportions, giving the game more of your time and engagement than you really want - is probably enhanced by the quite democratic structure of the WoW community. I think it's a bit different from the sports world. When it comes to football 99 percent of the population is totally happy playing for fun in a field near their home. They don't think for a second they'd ever get into the national football team. They play at their own level without reflecting about it. But in WoW the national team is much more available.

The other day I found myself chatting with a guy in the second best guild of our server. He spends five nights a week in Sunwell and god knows how many hours farming for consumables and repairs. We live in quite separate worlds - but not more separate than that we've pugged together a couple of times. We soon found that we really enjoyed discussing different aspects of the game - no matter that he was on a different level of it.

Likewise I can take part of the quite advanced discussions at Elitistjerks if I want to, learning from the absolute top click of players. I find it hard to believe that you could so easily get in touch with top players in football or any other kind of competitive activities as you can in WoW.
This availability may be a bit treacherous - it can lead into a path where you want to become one of them yourself - which may end up in disaster, like it did for Monique.

What's the solution to this? Well apart from watching out for your own part, maybe we should watch out a bit for those that we care about. Guildies and people on our friends list. If we see signs that they're obviously out of control - maybe we could try to tell them that - in a nice manner. I think it's easier to take that kind of advice or interference from someone who's in the game themselves than listening to non gamers who don't have a clue.


Anonymous said...

Posted by: Dechion
As with anything in life balance is the key. Everything has a price, both in game and in real life. The real trick is staying concious of what you are getting and what the price is.

Well said.

2008-06-25 @ 11:42:54

Anonymous said...

Posted by: 2ndNin
I would agree, raiding in and of itself is addictive. Its not really the content, most of that can be summarised as variations on a theme, you learn that theme, you win. What is addictive is the high stress and team work, Mount Hyjal, at least while you don't overgear it is wonderful, you have 15 mobs attacking you, huge damage, watching out for over aggro, etc, basically each 2 minute stretch is highly intense, you get to be part of something and you relax and let yourself play.

Not letting it become an addiction is actually hard, its not simply a case of saying I will raid x, or I will do x, there is always that drive to stay up and talk, to go once more to the vendor for that rare drop, or indeed to sneak in a fast kara for some badges. The game itself is not really at fault, it is possible to progress on very low weekly times (2x3hr raid nights can be done), what is hard is that we are drawn into it, the community aspect which makes the game is also addictive, you are drawn in, you support your community and they support you.

I don't really know the point of this comment, everyone either knows WoW is addictive, or dismisses it as it doesn't affect them. I will say though that the community aspect is really what drives the addiction not the content, if this was a single player game, or even 5 man, I would have killed Illidan, cleared Sunwell and put it aside, the fact that it is so open, that you are so dependent on others and they on you is what means you come back, I think it was mentioned on Matticus, Kil'jaden is tuned, if you move too soon you wipe, too late you don't have the dps to down him, that means you are driven by 24 other people, and that winning is an achievement even if it is just a game.

2008-06-25 @ 11:43:03

Anonymous said...

Posted by: Larisa
2ndNin I think you're quite on the spot. The team work is sometimes quite painful, but it's also magic. And you're comment is very relevant. Looking forward to see you start filling your blog with some nice posts...

2008-06-26 @ 08:00:54

Anonymous said...

Posted by: 2ndNin
:P Thats the hard bit, so much to write, yet when I start I tend to delete things.

Its so weird really, irl, I don't do social well, yet WoW (and its likely the distance and way computer games operate, the distance and normalisation)I do, I like the experience. I tend to be a tank, and its a really nice feeling having people at your back (healers, dispellers, etc), your other tanks working with you. Its being part of a team, and knowing you can't let one person drop, you need to make sure everyone is there and working towards the same goal, and its done in a way most social or work environments aren't.

Social and work environments (discounting things like team sports etc which tend to be more like WoW than not, but things like going out, pubs etc) are people who are together and spending time, WoW, team sports etc bring together not only people interested in the same thing, but give you a real reason to not slack. There is a drive amidst a group of raiders, I thing Kil'jaden really summed it up, if 1 person dies or doesn't do their job its close to a wipe. That level of focus, and requirement to trust and work with your other players, even if you don't know them irl builds heavily on you and means you don't want to let them down. It is I would say even more vital in a game like WoW than it is in team sports, because the encounters are tuned for 25 people (pre-nerfs of course at the right gear level), not having 25 up makes them so much harder, most fights can accept a few losses, but everyone has to try to not be that loss.

I will admit to probably being addicted to WoW (:P, its fun and I like raiding, was guildless for 2 weeks and bored silly not doing it), however I don't think the game is really all that fun, as a tank my rotation is pretty fixed (I play a paladin, we don't have responses normally), but the additional elements, and the way they interact with the group make it fun, blood boil being the most recent example I can cite, my role is basically stand there, don't die, don't make too much threat (co-operation amongst tanks, normally most fights take a single tank and try and let the dps go aggro free). Its kindof odd, I basically hit the same 6 buttons or so in a rotation, move to avoid stuff, my whole point in the game is to make my 1 number bigger than anyone else's number, yet its fun.

I don't know how you can really treat an addiction like this, it really goes to the core of what it is to be human, to be needed, to be part of something and to be social. Indeed MMO's survive through that, I can't remember which blogger it was, but one noted that MMOs without community die, those with a sense of community live. Blizzard have the benefit of Lore and those that will play simple because its Blizzard or Warcraft, but that community aspect is the real addiction, and its access to 3million or so other subscribers in your game area, people willing to talk, to help, and to simply be there when you need to do something. LFM and LFG are always full of people, your guild is there, WoW is essentially a huge chat program with added monsters, and I have great admiration for people that can truly pull themselves out of it and tone it down to a level of a few hours or what ever, because the need to progress is a very strong draw in this game and mostly because of that social aspect.

:P ok, stupidly huge comment, not sure if it all makes sense, its hard to talk really about addiction in a game like this, where the nature of the game requires that addiction to progress well. There are guilds and people that don't, but for most of us, barring the truly casual, the drive to see the game means we need to play. I think Lich King will help this in a way, with 10 / 25s for every instance, there is the possibility of "finishing" the game with a relatively small group of people and in less time, its not to say that 10 man needs to be intrinsically easier than 25 man, but you have more control and less finely tuned instances meaning there is likely a path of lesser addiction, provided that completion of that path does not draw you down a huge end game path of re-doing the 25mans to achieve "finishing" the game.

2008-06-26 @ 11:20:46

Anonymous said...

Posted by: Larísa
Hm... you've already written your first blog post, just that you write it in the form of a comment on mine... Not that I mind though! It's just excellent to get a really good guest writer like you in here!

I'll definitly try to move your comment to my new home so it won't get lost in cyberspace (I'm in the process of moving the entire blog unless you've noticed).

Anyway... do you really think you'll feel that you've finished the game once you've done the last instance? I wonder. When it comes to me I feel that I by only knowing and playing one class (mage) just see a part of the game. I've never been on the horde side. I've never been on a PvP or RP server. I've never played healer or tank... Even if it the impossible would happen, that Larísa did the last boss in Sunwell, I think I'd find plenty of new challanges in the game to deal with. And anyway - after all it's just a sort of very advanced and good-looking chat program... In one way.

By the way, playing pala seems complicated. Playing arcane mage means mainly mashing one single button: arcane blast... And then some iceblock or cold snap when needed. Most of my cd:s are in a macro... still I can't really say I think it's easy. Every fight which includes a lot of moving around is a big challange to me actually. But I guess it tells more about my level of newbishness than anything else.

2008-06-26 @ 13:45:11

Anonymous said...

Posted by: 2ndNin
Thats the other side of the addiction, is there ever an end to a game with no real end point, the closest you could get is completing every quest, and killing Kil'jaden, but then you can do it on another class (8 more goes!), with a different spec......

I would say that killing Kil'jaden is indeed the "end" of the game, but only in the same way Illidan was, he presents the ultimate challenge in the game, but he may not be your , or indeed anyone's final objective. The question I think is not really can you complete the game, as the nature of it denies you the completion that a single player or group game allows, but rather have you completed all your goals in the game...

WoW strangely offers us choices, not all 100% understandable from any other perspective though. In many ways a game like this is in fact not so much an addiction as a whole social sphere, people rarely complain if you go out and meet friends every night after work, yet playing wow a similar amount is an addiction. I wonder how the casual-raider, who often spends as long as a hardcore raider in a less focused manner, sees themselves and their play time?

Thank you for the welcome though, :P might post more.

2008-06-26 @ 15:44:59

Anonymous said...

Posted by: Larísa
Oh many ideas here worth exploring a bit more. Maybe in another post later on. But it IS quite hard to write about those issues, I've found.

The whole area feels a bit... sensitive. Infected. If you get what I mean. "Addiction" sometimes is just a perogative word, coming from an outsider's perspective, just judging gamers out of prejudices. Therefore just admitting there may be problems about excessive WoW playing makes me feel like one of those "outsiders". Which I'm definitly not.

And I if anyone really love the social dimension of the game and it enrichens my life in many ways.
But it's hard to discuss it in a balanced way without threading on too many toes.

Same thing about the old "casual" versus "hardcore" discussion... I usually call myself casual but slowly I've started to realize I actually may seem a bit hardcore in the eys of some people. Maybe the terms aren't that useful after all.

I guess there is quite a difference though between people who are raiding - casually or not - and people who are not. Raiding usually takes your whole attention for hours, making you completely unavailable for the surroundings, which I guess may give quite a addicted impression. If you're just questing peacefully for yourself, collecting stuff and so on, you can take a break any minute for taking care of dishes, comforting children, aswereing the phone and so on. And the non-gamers probably won't see you as quite as addicted.

Looking forward to read your first blog post!

2008-06-26 @ 16:38:30

Greta said...

wow. Its really interesting that you wrote about the "gray" specifically like I did. I'm following your links to other people's posts about this, I hadn't seen them before. Thanks for putting your story out there. I really appreciate the honesty here.