Thursday, June 19, 2014

WoW Addictions and Your Stupid Brain

Let's face it everyone, life can be a drag sometimes. Traffic, the sun, smog, other humans, and cat dander are all things that can lead to a miserable existence. So, why go through all of that when you can escape to a game like World of Warcraft?

In that magical land of procrastination and false glory, you commandeer an avatar far cooler than yourself, a hero who fights for the freedom of all the denizens of Azeroth. You can run epic dungeons, explore a vast world, mine computerized ore, chat to other deprived individuals, and even just run around, jumping on random objects (the last one was a favorite of mine)!

That is why, for all intents and purposes, I believe WoW addictions are understandable. Still, I don't  think they are healthy.

I look at it this way. Your addiction to WoW depends on how awesome your real life is. So it's basically a ratio of how terrible your life is to how great it is. If it is terrible, you are more prone to becoming addicted to WoW, and vice versa.

Or perhaps terrible is the wrong word. Maybe boring fits better? I've known adults in their 40s, 50s, and 60s who played WoW religiously, and while that's cool, I couldn't help but wonder how they were able to spend twelve hours a day in a game (that's like, gotta be unhealthy bro).

I was once addicted to WoW, and I totally fit the definition above of having had a boring life. It's still rather boring now, but there's enough going on for me to not be compelled to play it 24/7 anymore.

And yet, my analysis might be too simple. Perhaps the WoW addiction goes beyond having a boring or terrible life that yearns for some manner of virtual excitement. Indeed, I have experienced this effect myself. It is an indescribable feeling, that you'll only know if you were once addicted to an mmorpg. Basically, after about a year of not playing, you start to feel this urge to return, for no logical reason. Is it the social aspect? Nah, I hated everyone in that game. The gameplay? You can easily find better single player games. The world? Yeah, it's cool but Skyrim's is better.

The only answer is that people become addicted to the grind of playing WoW or other mmos. You spend so much energy, experience so much pain getting that mount, or piece of gear, or level, or power increase, that the joy you feel when you finally reach your goal is unimaginable. The problem is that you forget all the mindless and boring crap you had to go through to get your reward. But the human brain is dumb, all it thinks is "DO THAT THING THAT GAVE ME ENDORPHINS AGAIN," without considering the broader context.

I believe that that is the "indescribable feeling" I talked about above. Some ancient portion of the brain that is so dedicated to finding things to boost your happiness levels that it will, quite ironically, force the person to do depressing and boring acts to reach the peak of joy and happiness you attained once before.

So, that is a WoW addiction in a nutshell, at least in my uninformed opinion. You deal with idiotic 10 year olds, pompous 45 year old nutjobs, 70 year old serial killers, endless grinds, searing pain, throbbing migraines, and many more H.P. Lovecraft inspired horrors, all for an instant of endorphin fueled gratification. And like any drug, once you get that high, you want it again, and again, until you are playing WoW so much your neighbors can smell the stench of your unshowered body and ten foot high stack of empty pizza boxes from across the street. 

How do you escape this trap? Well, basically, you pick a hobby that gives you the same amount of gratification without the needless deleterious effects an mmo places on you. Like, working out for instance! Sure, it's painful, but the hard work is gratifying and the results are actually measurable and meaningful, unlike that piece of gear you received in World of Warcraft.

You could twist my words and think I am saying that all video games are a waste, but I am really not. It's really just mmorpgs like WoW, which are structured around getting you to spend as much time as possible doing BS activities before you get a reward, all so that you keep subscribing/paying for items in their store. Other games are much more honest and open about trying to provide a fun experience from the get go, without the brain draining grind of an mmo.

I'll close with this: feel free to play an mmo, it's your choice. In moderation, they can be fun. However, don't get trapped in the cycle of addiction that, while seemingly providing you with a sense of joy, is actually sucking away your life essence bit by bit, slowly turning you into an empty and malevolent husk of a human, bent on converting more to your evil ways! Muhaha!

2 comments:

  1. So I wrote out a long, in depth comment on why exactly World of Warcraft works the way it does, and why digital hobbies are just as worthwhile as physically based hobbies, but that was lost when I needed to select who to comment as and it booted me back to the main page... I'll try and reconstruct that.

    Watch these videos by Extra Credits, they address this topic especially well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5RSngCFpsc

    Part 2 is especially moving: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_qlumZ5K4I

    ^^ Watch these. It's important and will give you a much better context in which to think about game compulsion.

    So grinding is not inherently evil, it is a staple of the RPG and MMORPG genres. The reasoning behind it can best be seen in early RPG's where space and computing power were something to consider. Many older games used grinding and inflated difficulty to increase the over all playtime or otherwise short games. Another reason for the grind, and more importantly related to WoW, comes from the very basis of experience based level systems, in Dungeons and Dragons. Experience and levels give a solid numerical system in which to frame character progression. It is that character progression that draws so many people into the game, it allows you to grow with your character into the living world at large. More to your point, World of Warcraft has it's leveling and grinding systems down to a science. They have even made it quicker and easier (for better or worse) to accommodate a more general audience. This is especially impressive considering how large and how long the game has been running. This is why World of Warcraft is considered the benchmark of success in the genera.

    I had a lot more here, but I've run down, watch the Extra Credits videos!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree that progression is what draws you in. It's even true of non-grindy games like Halo really, except in that case it's more a progression of your own skills than your character's.

      I think what WoW has down pat is the proper grind:reward ratio. That is, there's a grind but there's enough reward sprinkled about to keep you interested (which is probably why that's the only MMO where I have a max level character). That's a big reason everything in existence has an achievement system now too.

      Runescape (2) is another game that was extremely grindy. It was not as effective as WoW in rewarding you though, as it's design locked the game behind ever-growing level requirements.

      MMOs have the misfortune of server/maintenance/staff costs that singleplayer games don't have. It's crucial therefore that they implement grindy/timey based systems in the game so that you'll keep playing to improve your character and make your effort worthwhile. Stuff like reputation grinds, gold sinks; you know what I'm talking about I'm sure.

      Singleplayer RPGs are much more relaxed in this respect. You are able to become far more powerful and rich in 10 hours played of Skyrim or Two Worlds II than you are in WoW, for instance.

      Of course, MMOs have the social thing, which is partly what drew me in. It's why I don't think WoW will die anytime soon, because it has the Skyrim-ish instant gratification while still managing to implement a sufficient number of manageable grinds to keep players playing for months (legendary cloaks anyone?)

      Delete