Saturday, February 21, 2009

WoWholism: What is it?

A thread recently came up on my guild's forum regarding the wonders of life outside of WoW. One of our members recently opted to take an extended hiatus from the game, and is clearly having a great time with his experiences. Some of his comments did prick some nerves within the guild's community, though: just because we play this game doesn't preclude our ability to lead real lives, does it?

The issue manifests itself in countless ways. The worst-case scenario that jumps to mind was a report from Taegu, South Korea on August 31, 2005. The report speaks of a man who died after playing Wow for 50 consecutive hours in a 24-hour internet bar. At the end of the session, he reportedly fell from his chair and was never to rise again. I haven't heard another report of this nature, but I think that one report is enough.

Similar binge cases can drastic, if non-lethal consequences. More than one student here has deferred his graduation or lost his graduate funding on account of unchecked gaming. The quality must invariably hold across the country, and thus the rumors and whispers of "World of Warcrack," "WoWholsim," and "WoWaholics" persist. Blizzard undoubtedly takes some flak for this creation, but even more likely is the stigma that can land on those of us who play with some sense of moderation.

On Blizzard's side: the geniuses there have created a truly amazing game. I'm sure they never expected their game to have quite the scope that it does now. Yet scope it has, and they've done a great deal to tailor the game to help players moderate their playing. The shift from repeatable quests to daily-repeatable quests, the imposition of weekly Raid resets, and daily Heroic Dungeon resets all help to limit the amount of straight progression a character can make in a day. It can be frustrating when you really want to farm up that one upgrade, but the trade-off is a somewhat subtle, yet invaluable benefit: this game isn't about binging, and should never be forced for an excessive duration. "Be sure to take everything in moderation, even World of Warcraft!" says one of the loading tips - they do have player time commitments in mind when they design new content.

Now, on the players: It's easy to get wrapped up in the game sometimes. Especially with the release of WotLK, there were droves of players suddenly clogging the login queues. I know that I spent more time than was strictly healthy getting myself ramped up into the new system. But even then, I managed to keep my studies intact. The game may occupy most of my free time, but my busy time is still there, active and engaging.

But moderation is really all on our shoulders. The game can quite easily absorb many hours more than we would like. But I guess that's my point: WoW is a game to me. I don't mean a mindgame, or some trivial game to be played in a flash window. WoW is a game, in the truest sense of the word: there are goals, there are strategies, and the perfect solution to many of the game's challenges have yet to be found. There's also a heavy element of teamwork involved in all endgame progression - I'd be out of a tank job if I worked alone all the time. So it's a co-operative game, not unlike a sport. More and more, I'm finding myself treating it as such.

Allow me a for-instance. During a week, I plan to participate in three nights of raiding. They line up roughly with when a sports team might have its three games that week. In between, I might slam a couple of heroics for some bonus emblems; These fill in as practices and skirmishes that a sports team would undoubtedly have each week. Whenever I'm running around completing dailies or filling out my cooking repertoire, I simply consider it my individual practice time for that sport.

And now you scoff, saying that playing a computer game can't possibly have the same benefits as a real, athletic sport. Perhaps not, but my gaming practices shouldn't be underestimated: I don't do the bare minimum. Ever. Progressing my sprite is a way in which I can progress my mind, too: performing on-the-fly mental math to do my own recounts, with factors for decursing and movement incorporated; watching, judging, and reacting to the state of at least half-a-dozen properties of a dynamic screen at all times; Writing and theorycrafting the mechanics of my class in order to optimize my performance under different, strenuous circumstances. There's a lot to this game, even if it doesn't require much physical strength or stamina.

So my mind's all set, and my body's going to mush? Of course not. As I said, WoW only fills in for my free time. I exercise regularly, be it in my Martial Arts classes, my Fencing classes, or in the weight room. I cook most all of my own meals, so I know that I'm treating my body right. There's many hours in the day - I see no reason to be limited to only WoW or real-life experiences. With four nights out of the week free, I can hang out with my friends and head out to catch a movie pretty freely. Unlike cake, Wow is not a lie: I work with a group of similarly-minded players who are human beings, living their lives, and working together on accomplishing goals as a team. Unlike cake, I can have the game and... well, eat my real-life food too: being a gamer does not exclude me from having real-world relationships, despite the present lack of any intimate ones.

My confidence in a lot of this tends to shake over time. It's not always easy to manage the time in and out-of-game. Especially with the pressure from friends in the game, it's harder to partition time cleanly, and subsequently very easy to slip into too long of gaming sessions. But then a friend of mine came by to visit today. I was in the middle of a raid, but almost instantly put the game on hold to check in with her. We chatted for a while as the raid finished up the current encounter, and she asked what game I was playing. I didn't even think to hesitate; I had no guilt in stating that I was playing WoW. She responded with a laugh, saying her boyfriend plays it, too; "a lot," she smirks. Apparently, she hears a lot about the game without ever having played.

Since the raid finished just after that encounter, we got back to covering the work she needed help with. That moment's still stuck in my head. Maybe it's the engineering mentality that gives her such a moderate view, but she's totally cool with her friends being gamers, even of the infamous "World of Warcrack." And I have to say, I like that quality - the game really shouldn't be a stigma. It's certainly not a traditional sport, but I feel that it comes under the same category: an activity ideally performed with a team, involving coordination, communication, and commitment from all players. As a tank, that need for synergy is especially resonant; Anything exciting in the game for me needs a full team.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to make sure this coming Saturday night has a proper line-up of real-world excitement.

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