Thursday, April 7, 2011

Doing My Dailies, Part Two: Doctor Professor Replies

Part One is here.

Anonymous said...
Post an update....what do you think of the replies you've got here?

March 15, 2011 2:32 PM

Okay. You're on.

Anonymous said...
I think moderation is key in many things. I play WoW, but not every day. I'm also 42, a father, work out in combat sports 5-6 times a week and earn a 6 figure income as CTO of a startup.
WoW is a pleasant diversion for me, I don't think about it all the time, and when other areas of my life need attention, WoW is the first thing that gets cut. I enjoy playing with my son in Azeroth from time to time, and he plays when he has time as well. I keep it from getting excessive, though.

Games don't have the power to trap people who don't want to be trapped. They do have power over people who have a hard time setting priorities, making decisions, or resisting the temptation of instant gratification.

I respect your decision to take control of your own life - but I don't think it's fair to add to the media hysteria over these games when plenty of people get along fine playing them.

December 31, 2010 4:07 AM

A lot of commenters suggest that in order to play WoW in a healthy way, all you need is a little self-control, or moderation, or good priorities, or time management skills. Many people have stories of all they've accomplished in life while playing WoW on the side. But for each of those, someone else has one about pouring their life into WoW to the detriment of their health, career, friendships, or family, until they finally quit and then went on to do great things. And I have both a comment claiming that those who "take it too far and lose perspective" are a "tiny minority" and another claiming that "most people" can't play in moderation.

As I've previously discussed, we tend to assume other people are like us. People who have fallen into addiction to something are likely to see it as an insidious, inescapable trap, and people who have not are likely to see the addicts as weak-willed and foolish. It's very easy to look at something that did not addict you and marvel at how it could addict anybody.

Why does this matter? Because if you think you are too smart or strong to become addicted, you're not going to be careful, and that vastly increases your risk of addiction. Or, as another commenter put it:

Erin said...
I agree wholeheartedly. Those who have posted "what about moderation?" That is typically how it starts. My husband and I met in an MMOG, through our years together (in real life) we have removed that game from our repertoire. We have watched marriages and families crumble, we have watched mothers lose their children, people losing their homes, jobs, health.....

The best analogy that I have heard to date is this:

MMOG's are like a "social club" with a side of meth. The meth stealing your life, and leaving you with a feeling of "need to" and the social pressures of the social club are all too apparent. When you start, people begin to help you, you feel indebted or want to return the favor, even if just "for the next week" or "the next battle", after you start doing well at the game, others will ask for help, and having built a "relationship" or "bond" you will, as is human nature, feel obligated to assist - end of story.

I can't even begin to tell you how many times my aussie acquaintances have set their alarm clock to assist their friends in an upcoming battle scheduled for a particular time that falls in the dead of night for them.

Granted this seems like extremes but take a moment.... how many people who play in excess started with "moderation?"

The addiction to gaming is all too true, and all too real, and the main reason why we choose not to play any longer. It's very much like substituting real life for the virtual counter part.....

January 1, 2011 3:42 PM

Some people can have just one drink, and some people can't. Some people can play WoW in a healthy way, and some can't. I'm not saying that everyone in the world needs to quit WoW cold turkey. I am saying that everyone who plays needs to be aware of why they play, and think hard about whether they're making healthy choices.

Anonymous said...
A good article, and good points, but I feel like you're a bit too jaded.

As someone pointed out, someone with WoW problems is probably a person that would have problems with addiction regardless. Your former guild leader would have probably had the same issues (or worse) if she got into gambling or drugs.

December 31, 2010 3:53 PM

I was never addicted to WoW, and I don't think my guild leader was either. We were both making rent, maintaining friendships, and keeping our health. WoW was not getting in the way of our ability to live functional lives. The toll it took was an opportunity cost. WoW was a default activity, taking the place not of necessary activities but optional ones - not ones that maintain a baseline, acceptable existence, but ones that could help us rise above it.

I've written before about abusing games for fake achievement and fake relationships. What I was writing abut this time was fake altruism. This is what is insidious abut MMOs and social games. With achievement and relationships, at least you're only affecting yourself. With fake altruism, you drag others into it too - by helping others, you obligate them to reciprocate or pay it forward. (See A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz's essay Cultivated Play: Farmville, quoted in my WoW post, for more on this idea.)

Fake altruism appears on the surface to be a perfectly rational decision to help others. It is not a question of moderation or self-control. It's not about how much or how little time you spend playing. It's not about what you are or are not achieving with your life. It's about why you play. It's about what you would be doing for those reasons if playing were not an option. It's about filling a healthy need in an unhealthy way.

There are enough essays and videos out there by recovering WoW addicts that it's natural to assume that any article about quitting the game is about overcoming addiction. But the whole point of my essay is that you don't have to be addicted for your play to be harmful.

Midnight Tea said...
To be honest, I'm pretty grateful for the time I spent in WoW. It helped me a lot with confidence issues, and playing the Death Knight story in particular (and getting all the way to 85 with her!) really helped inspire my own creativity. To answer the question you quoted, yes, I'm glad for the time I put into WoW even if I overdid it some.

Neither Blizzard, nor World of Warcraft is at fault because people lack discipline. It's kind of become the American way to never take responsibility. Are you fat? It was McDonald's fault. Are you dumb? You're just a product of the education system! And it's all bullshit -- you're responsible for your own life.

Kudos to you for recognizing you were cruising through life on autopilot and taking control. Your guild leader didn't do that. But I promise you, if she wasn't sinking time into WoW she probably would have evaded her pursuits in another way. Why people do this is complicated, and it's a shame they take the easy way out.

Coming this New Years, it's my resolution to no longer be that kind of person myself. Wish me luck.

December 30, 2010 8:08 PM

Of course the ultimate responsibility for how the game is played must rest with the player. I have said this before. But saying that Blizzard and WoW are totally blameless is a bit like saying that guns don't kill people.

"And the National Rifle Association says that guns don't kill people, people do, but I think the gun helps, you know? I think it helps. I just think just standing there going, 'Bang!' That's not going to kill too many people, is it? You'd have to be really dodgy on the heart..."
—Eddie Izzard, Dress to Kill

When a company puts out a product that is designed to hook people, designed to keep them paying for something they do not need, designed to decrease the quality of their life - it is not a sufficient moral defense to point out that people can quit any time. I could not in good conscience work for a tobacco company, and I could not in good conscience work for Blizzard. And Blizzard isn't done finding ways to create social pressure in WoW. Check out this announcement writeup (emphasis mine):

"...Blizzard has announced that the 4.1 patch for World of Warcraft giving players some encouragement to hurry up, put on some big boy pants and join a guild already, because there’ll be extra experience points and gold to be had. . . .

The new feature couldn't be simpler. Through nothing more than guild members emerging victorious from level-appropriate dungeons, raids and battlegrounds on a weekly basis, the entire guild will benefit from an experience point boost (one which doesn't even count towards the daily experience cap) and a neat stack of gold will be deposited into the Guild Vault. . . .

It’s a move displaying typical Blizzard-level wisdom. Not only will it encourage the formation of new guilds and please older guilds, standard MMORPG design can only keep people playing a game for so long. Ultimately, it’s the social glue provided by guilds that turns World of Warcraft from a diversion into a way of life. I’ll be very surprised [if] something similar to this doesn't start popping up in all sorts of other MMORPGs over the next year."
—Quintin Smith, WoW Guilds To Get XP Boost, Free Money

To be clear, this bonus experience is guild experience, which comes with some serious perks. So not only do the game mechanics push you harder than ever to join a guild, but now even when you stand nothing to gain personally from running a particular dungeon, even when no one in your party does, you can do it to measurably help out your entire guild.

The potential here for friendly obligation and fake altruism is staggering. Don't you want to help out your guildmates? It's what a good guildie would do!

Blizzard is very deliberately creating a trap. If we fall in it, it is not our fault alone.

Jess said...
This is a very well written and thought out article. But I find your judgmental attitude toward your former guild leader disturbing.
Who are you to judge her?
I don't play WoW, never have, never will it doesn't appeal to me. I blog. And I blog a lot because it makes me happy. I have a husband, and two kids and a very full live.
Don't assume because she lives in what you call a crappy apartment and that you label her fat, that she is unhappy.

March 8, 2011 1:37 PM

I have been accused of being overly judgmental toward my guild leader, who after all showed me great hospitality. It's possible I misunderstood her comments about being a paramedic, or that she misrepresented her feelings on the subject. If she was perfectly happy with her life as it was - fine, more power to her. I bear her no ill will and certainly would not look down on her for living the way she wants to.

My comments on her were based on this: she told me she had a dream, but was spending her time playing WoW instead of going after it. I knew that I did not want to live that way. By showing me an example of what lay down the road I was traveling - regardless of how she felt about being there - she spurred me to action, and for that I am grateful.

Anonymous said...
Did you tell your guild leader this, or send her the link? I'm curious to know what her reaction was, was she mainly hurt by your impressions of her or did she find something useful in all said...

December 31, 2010 6:21 AM

When I quit the game, I also cut off contact with the guildmates. I wanted a clean break. But my post got a lot of traffic (over 135,000 unique views at time of writing, not counting people who read it on the front page or via RSS) so I would not be at all surprised if she's seen it. And there's just enough detail that I think she'd know she's the one being talked about.

I don't know if she still plays. I don't know if she still wants to be a paramedic. I don't even really know whether she wanted to be one back then. I hope she does know what she wants out of life and is doing whatever's appropriate in order to get it. Whether that's going back to school, doing naked Deadmines runs, or something else completely, I hope she's having a good time.

ivancosic said...
Need a pic before and after?

Here it is -
Ok I had health issues and I had to finaly sort my life out, and quitting wow was just one of the parts of it.

I was guild leader and lead strategist of one of the top 1000 EU guilds and had unusual bond and feeling towards my community. It's a hook that you cannot give up easily.

I've lost 40+ kilograms over the last year, and changed my life. Yes I would love I did it earlier, I still played WOTLK, it was tempting once Cataclysm was shipping, but I resisted.

Great post

January 25, 2011 12:24 AM

I don't actually have anything to say about this one. I just really love the picture.


  1. I thought this topic was a great one; I'm glad you took the time to respond to some of the comments.

  2. "WoW was not getting in the way of our ability to live functional lives. The toll it took was an opportunity cost. WoW was a default activity, taking the place not of necessary activities but optional ones - not ones that maintain a baseline, acceptable existence, but ones that could help us rise above it."

    I really like the way you've expressed this concept of opportunity cost as it relates to time spent playing WoW, especially the difference between maintaining a baseline existence and striving for something better. This passage exactly reflects my experience from 6 years of playing WoW.

    I wasn't failing in the obvious sense of losing my job or losing my girl over the game (though I certainly would have been a better employee and boyfriend without all the time I spent playing WoW), I experienced the more subtle results of WoW being my default, go-to activity whenever I had more than a few minutes of time to myself.

    The people who lose their jobs, families, friends because they play MMOs too much are the ones who make headlines, but for each one of those there are hundreds more who could be experiencing improved quality of life if they were putting at least part of that time to other uses.

  3. Good to see you are blogging again, your post was insightful as always!

    I agree on Blizzards aggressive approach towards getting people hooked. I play Starcraft from time to time, but never got into WoW. Then I got this e-mail from them offering me free WoW for a month:

    "[My First Name],

    Thanks a lot for being an early supporter of StarCraft II. The community is off to a great start, with over four million players worldwide and I'm pleased to report that the rumors of the death of real-time-strategy gaming have been greatly exaggerated.

    As a thank you for your early support, I've flagged your account to receive a free, downloadable copy of World of Warcraft. This is the full version of World of Warcraft that we sell in store and includes a 30-day subscription. Just follow the instructions below to activate it, download the game, and start playing. Again, it's totally free.

    I'd also be interested in hearing any feedback you may have about StarCraft II: what was fun, what we could make better, etc. So if you have any thoughts, please send them along to

    Again, thanks for helping us make StarCraft II an epic launch, [My First Name], and I hope you'll enjoy adventuring in World of Warcraft and connecting with another fun part of the Blizzard community."

    However, my friend that already plays WoW and started playing Starcraft at the same time, didn't get a month of subscription for free.

    To me, this seems to be a little too much like a dealer of an addictive substance offering you some free sample, hoping that you will become addicted and stay with them for a long time.

    Anyway, thanks for blogging; oh, and btw, did you ever consider putting a linkroll by this site, you seem to have a nose for finding interesting articles online.

  4. I need to make a point regarding your former guild leader. Did it ever occur to you even a little that there we factors in her life other than WoW preventing her from achieving her dream? Post secondary education or training can be very expensive, and the $15 a month for WoW would never get you there in 30 years. You seem to have neglect such possibilites quite nicely in order to strengthen your point.

    Also, doing something to excess repeatedly with no ability to stop is the DEFINITION of addiction. Plently of people dedicate large amounts of time to the game, but aren't addicted, you're right. But just because your daily life isn't suffereing doesn't mean you aren't addicted. You had to take extreme steps to be able to stop playing permantly (deleting characters and uninstalling the game). Kinda almost sounds like you might have been addicted there. I should point out as well people are only addicted to video games becasue you let yourself be, and it won't be limited to mmo's. Try some Elder Scrolls games, there is actually signifigantly more depth to them than there is to WoW, but 0 social aspect. I bet you have a hard time stopping. Comparing a video game addiction to a physical addiction such as meth or cigarettes (that comarison was made by a commenter, but needs to be addressed all the same) might as well be comparing the sun to a comet. Sure they're both celestial bodies, but they aren't even close to the same thing. An addiction to a video game is purely mental, a matter of willpower and willpower alone. A physical addiction actually causes severe chemical imbalances in your brain and body, not just a lack of endorphins or a comfortable sense of familiarity or accomplishment that could be gained from any number of other activities other than gaming.

    So, are video games addicitive? Only if you let them be. Any good game (or book series, or TV show, or movie for that matter) is going to have some one obsess over it, it's inevitable.
    Blaming Blizzard for giving a pay to play game as much replay value as possible is just foolish.

    Anyone who claims they can not stop playing a game, that is a choice. You can always walk away from a game with 0 reprecussions. If your friends don't agree with your choice to stop playing, and stop associating with you becasue of it, they weren't friends to begin with. They were users who saw you as a means to an end, and exploited your so-called "fake altruism" to their own gain. Again, it's YOU that let's this happen, not Blizzard. And this kind of thing where people get "trapped" by altruism happens much more so in day to day life than in video games, but with much more real consequences for simply walking away.

    An example: A mother volunteers to direct her son's school play, and does a fantastic job. Now the school would like her to spearhead an after-school drama club, and there is plently of interest for members, but no one else to organize and lead. Perhaps this is something that she loves, and is thoroughly excited about.

    But maybe she intended the play as a one-time favor, but feels responsible to her son and the other children to do this drama club anyway, despite not having the passion or perhaps the time to commit to it. Trapped by altruism, but in this case, if she walks away, her son and the other children lose out on a valuable experience, and she loses standing in the eyes of the community becasue of it, because people rarely see the whole picture in such a situation, and simply judge. See? Concequences. Just stop playing WoW for a while radomly some time, the people that care for you will be happy to see you further your life in some other way, and the users that "trapped" you will find some new sucker to leech off of.

  5. Actually, funny thing is, I largely agree with your response to me. I stand by what I said that I got a lot of personal meaning out of WoW, but it's pretty hard to disagree that they're very intentionally being manipulative and using operant conditioning to keep people playing far past the point they actually want to.

    At the end of the day though, it *is* still no different than the sort of manipulation we're seeing out of any other corporation that grows fat on manipulating irresponsible adults.

    In general though, as much as I hate to say it, I wouldn't recommend WoW in its current form for anyone. The Wrath of the Lich King was the height of the game for me, when the game was most accessible and least punishing and manipulative. But honestly, given WoW's whole lifespan that isn't saying much.

  6. Damn good blogging. Posting about internet addiction on the internet is dangerous business, especially considering that most of the people that will see your blogs are internet addicts. Many people need to hear what you're saying.

    You may have already seen the research, but check this article I ran across on gaming's effects on the brain (not what I expected):