Coping with Virtual Addictions

I woke up late in the afternoon to the sounds of swords clanging and cries of pain echoing throughout the basement. Feeling the effects of my sleep-induced stupor, I staggered across my dark bedroom and into the area of the basement my friends dubbed “Nerdtropolis.” To the left were two glowing computer screens; a zombified corpse occupied each screen. I stumbled over someone’s mattress on the floor as I tried to make my way to the shower. I then carefully stepped around a computer table set up in front of the washing machine that had a stack of pizza boxes piled up next to it. Further down, just to the right of the bathroom door, was the last segment of the cancer zone that we had created. It, too, contained several glowing monitors and devices.
To some, the scenery described above could be regarded as a typical afternoon following a large party. The truth of the matter is, none of the individuals in the story had drunk any alcohol. In fact, aside from attending class, none of them left the confines of the basement for at least a week. This scenario comprises another day in the life of a World of Warcraft player.

World of Warcraft (WoW) managed to earn itself a place as one of the most talked about video games in history. Friends, family and co-workers are exposed to many stories about the game. Whether it be addiction, people meeting others of similar interest, or just facts about what the game is, information about WoW can be found everywhere.

For the uninitiated, World of Warcraft is a massively multi-player online role-playing game or MMORPG. Players create a character that best represents their personality from a large selection of races and physical traits. Once this character has been formed, the player then guides it into a virtual world. More than 8 million subscribers around the globe inhabit this world, and the number continues to grow. Last January, Blizzard released the game’s first expansion pack to retail stores; companies create expansion packs to add supplemental material to their games. The Burning Crusade, the title for WoW’s first expansion, continues to augment the popularity of the game after having sold 2.4 million copies its first day.

“They’re geniuses,” says Charlie Waters with a laugh. Waters does not play the game himself, but lives with two roommates that do. “These people know how to make some money.”

The MMORPG genre defines itself by the concept of a game that does not end. Players occupy their time with simple quests given to them by NPCs or non-player characters. These tasks serve to earn virtual currency within the game and raise the player’s level from one all the way to its current cap of 70. This level measures the player’s strength and determines what the player can do within the game.

Once the character finally reaches level 70, he or she can only advance by obtaining items that are superior to the ones that the player may already have. Individuals do this by joining a group of 25 in what is known as a raid group. This raid group works together to do things such as instances, which are essentially obstacle courses that require a large investment of time to tackle. Players often become addicted at this point.

Many people hear of drug and gambling addictions. Few, however, familiarize themselves with people being addicted to an online game. World of Warcraft addiction blossomed into such a real concept, there now exist Websites dedicated to the very topic. Matthew Schaefer, a current player of WoW, knows what it feels like to have been addicted to the game.

“Well, if you get to the point where you are spending several hours playing the game every single day, seven days a week,” Schaefer said, “I suppose you could probably consider yourself an addict.”

The problem of people getting addicted to World of Warcraft can be attributed to the design of the game. Player advancement is awarded by investing time into WoW. However, since new content is always being added, you can never truly “beat” the game. You will always have something to earn in the game that requires a large amount of your time, and the rewards that were gained previously will become obsolete by the time new content is released.

Despite the horror stories that exist, not all aspects of World of Warcraft are negative. There have been countless stories of people meeting their significant others and best friends through this game. Many regard it as a great way to have fun with their friends and family online, since they don’t need to be close in proximity to play together. Ryan Rose, a former WoW player, knows why the game is such a draw for millions of people.

“Part of the reason is, it is a fun escape,” Rose said, “especially when you have people to escape with, like friends to play with online.” Since the game emphasizes groups so much, there are exercises in teamwork that it encourages. There is nothing more exciting for a player than to be a part of a raid group that works together in unison to accomplish a mutual goal.

Like all things in life, World of Warcraft can be a fun and beneficial experience when taken in small doses. There are many WoW players out there who are not addicted and lead similar lives to those that don’t play. They simply share a different method of using up their free time.

World of Warcraft, despite being a very phenomenon, has found its way to the forefront of news and popular culture. Many people still do not know what WoW is, or why people would risk addiction to play, but it is a topic that will be discussed for years to come. Perhaps even you will find yourself listening to stories from your friends and family about their world… of Warcraft.