I’ve been meaning to post about The Daedalus Project for awhile now but haven’t had the time. Nick Yee has been running it for several years, compiling survey data and analysis about how MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online games, like WoW) are played, why they are played and how players live their lives ouside the game. I’ve used his research in several papers and always find it insightful and caring towards the complex and nuanced nature of MMO gaming. More than worth reading through the article list whether you’re a gamer or just know one (and if you don’t know any you will soon), if only for gems like the fact that 30% of all female players end up in real-life relationships started through the game, an astonishing statistic as far as I’m concerned.
Today’s update contained what is no doubt one of the best articles I’ve read about MMO addiction and how we talk about it. Yee is critical of the way the media is tossing around the A-word without giving careful consideration to how the games are actually used by the “addicted” gamers. Though you could almost always make this claim about the mass-media’s treatment of a topic you care about, the fact that most reporters likely haven’t even played a similar game points to the fact that a communication problem is pretty likely in this situation. He then points out how words like “dependence” better capture the behaviors which he likens more closely to shopping-addiction than the more physical and accepted as dangerous drugs-addiction. Most importantly, he proposes that the media and analysts are missing the other negative factors that influence someone’s likelihood of becomming dependent on a game. The social awkwardness or unfortunate circumstances that could drive someone to prefer a fantasy world to the real one.
Link to full article.
These are obviously important considerations to bear in mind but I think he’s missing an important element of the problem, the fact that the game itself is to blame if it’s absense would have prevented the problems that result from it’s presence (which sounds redundant but might need to be pointed out explicitly to make sense). To save your eyes from text-murder I’ll put my full response to his article (posted as a comment on the article) below.
——– MY RESPONSE, POSTED AS A COMMENT ——
While I love this article and found it amazingly interesting and compelling I think you’re missing/ignoring a big part of the problem with MMO dependency. Your arguments assume that the media is ignoring the underlying problems in favor of blaming the visible culprit, the games, but this assumes that there is in fact another cause of the addiction, something bad in a person’s life that makes them choose a fantasy world instead.
In my experience this just doesn’t sync with the people I know who’ve developed problems. Yes, there are many people who already had social problems, but I think if anything that’s because gaming in general can be linked with social awkwardness. The thing about MMOs is that they aren’t just sucking in the “nerds” or whatever you want to call that kind of social outcast who was addicted to FF3 back in the day, it’s sucking in EVERYONE.
People from all walks of life only have to try MMOs (especially WoW from what I can tell, but I’m sure all MMOs have similar effects) to risk becomming debilitatingly focussed on the game and its fantasy context. Yes, you could always find something in a person’s life that could be considered another cause, but the fact is that without exposure to the game the problem would not have arisen. Saying that there’s always another factor is as misleading as saying it’s always the game. Whether it’s the sole reason or not, if it acts as the catalyst for developing social and financial/educational problems then it seems like we should treat it as a dangerous experience to be exposed to. Further, for me at least, the massive number of people who express almost instant improvement in their lives after quitting indicates that it is not their lives themselves but their lives in comparison to the instantly gratifying epic fantasy worlds that seems dreary. The fact that game dependency is positively correlated with a shift in ideology towards “game worlds are as valuable as the real world” does not mean that that opinion was already held by dependent gamers, but can easily be chalked up to the wearing effect that playing a game for 8 hours a day can have on one’s mind and opinions.
Remember that all drugs have on some level a potential therapeutic purpose. From heroin to marijuana to lsd, all have been used medically and have been abused by some because of addiction and dependency. As a society we choose the ones that are most likely to damage ones life as a whole and discourage their use because it is so consistently destructive. It may sound simplistic to frame it in this way, but single-player fantasy games are the marijuana of gaming, while MMOs can only be described as its cocaine.
(full disclosure: I am a recovering addict of WoW, you can say that addiction is not what I suffer from but my daily struggle dissagrees with you. I have managed six months and hope to hold out forever. If anyone is reading this and trying to quit remember that it is possible, you can do it and your life will improve in ways you can’t imagine now.)