Following the release of World of Warcraft and other successful massively multiplayer online (MMO) games, some people have become quite literally imprisoned by the allure of online worlds. For many, what ensues when they immerse themselves in these online worlds is a life-limiting addiction. There are millions of players worldwide, and a few extreme cases where this has led to death.
Gaming is considered to be immense fun, and, indeed, it can be a gratifying experience. For the team player, it can be especially so when playing in groups where their participation can boost their team to victory. Some even turn this “pastime” into a lucrative business. Just recently, a player was able to earn $10,000 just by selling virtual items, weapons, and builds for the game Diablo III. Yet most gamers are chasing after the feeling of success by killing enemies in dungeons.
Under the tag “WishboneTheDog,” he spent the first two months playing the game, on average, eight hours a day. On some particular days, he might have accumulated up to 14 hours of game time. His degree in economics probably didn’t hurt, either, as he was able to see the big picture and quite capably manipulate the market in his favor. Later, he could imagine working for Blizzard, or other game companies, to help strike the right balance for these virtual marketplaces.
The gaming industry is a monstrous leviathan of capitalism in a market of over $70 billion in 2011. The New York Times reports that the gaming industry will grow to over $110 billion by 2015. Perhaps you should think about this number for a second. The Activision hit Call of Duty: Black Ops made over $650 million in just five days from the release date. (Not even included here are the hardware and software industries!) Connecting all the dots on the market, millions of gamers drive a worldwide industry of billions in revenue.
Still, there is the dark specter of gaming addiction that hangs like a cloud over so many — including countless minors with parents who may not even be aware of the potential dangers of too much of a good thing. Perhaps such parents are relieved that “at least it’s not drugs or alcohol,” but addiction of any kind — even something as seemingly harmless as online gaming — is a serious matter. It can lead to depression, asocial behavior, and diminishing motivation to do anything in real life.
I can confess that this constantly wired world has sometimes — one time too often perhaps — robbed me of any real motivation. There are two kinds of people who play video games: On one hand, you have the hardcore gamers, whose only goal is to become the best of the best. On the other hand stand those who do game, but know where the limits are.
Friendships forged in these online worlds may be between people who don’t even know one another by real-life names, but their relationships can evolve to bond in an almost familial fashion. Being part of so-called guilds or raiding groups convey a certain sense of being needed. It may not be the rule, but many of these gamers are people who lack emotional devotion to those around them in the real world. Finding friends and nurturing relationships online is much easier than facing people in reality.
So where does the responsibility for ensuring that such games remain entertainment and not life-crippling addiction lie? With the parents? Social pressure from friends? Gamer mates?
There will always be those critics who blatantly blame brutal action games as the cause for gamers turned murderers and terrorists, but this is a very simplistic — and inaccurate — viewpoint. Philosophically, video games are a window to a new world where the gamer can become the character they wish to be. It doesn’t matter if you want to be a hero, a soldier, or a wizard; video games can give you that ability.
In South Korea, video games can be a profession — a job like any other. People practice on a daily basis, win tournaments, and make a living from it all. This transcends addiction and becomes an urge to perfect one’s skills; the time sink is still there, but the rewards seem to justify the means. Unfortunately, the majority of addicted gamers have no such goals and fail to earn any reward beyond escaping from a reality they don’t enjoy as much as the online world.
How do you feel about online games that immerse players in fantasy worlds that can — and do — become addictive to many? Have you ever felt the tug of addiction to such games and their worlds? Leave us some comments below and share your thoughts!
CC licensed Flickr photo of Athena, the MMO-addicted feline, by Stacina