It's 10 pm. Do you know where you and your loved ones are? Here is a collection of experiences from those who live / have lived with an obsessive MMOG gamer and from those who have lived the experience of obsessive MMOG gaming.

Friday, December 16, 2005

This email landed in my mailbox yesterday afternoon:

As a game scholar and casual MMORPG player, I have followed your web log with interest for quite some time. I thought you might be interested in this article about addiction that I recently wrote for The San Antonio Current.

I tried to take a balanced approach: acknowledging problematic addictions while also comparing gaming behaviors to other types of media habits. My recommendations at the end of the article might be somewhat controversial, and I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Thanks for making such a valuable, supportive resource available to the community. The stories posted on your site stand as a cautionary tale for all of us who enjoy these games.


I followed up with an email since he's asked me for my opinion on the conclusion that he's drawn at the end of the article....

"While I understand your arguments for and against online gaming, the one number I have been questioning is the 23 hour / week that you cite based on Nick Yee's research. From what people typically report about their own game play (total hours) and from my own experience, playing "casually" which in the MMORPG worlds means playing 3-4 hours every weeknight and most of the weekend can easily add up to 35+ hours a week. And that's not even considered "addictive" by the the average MMORPGer! It's reasonable to ask someone stay within the limits of 29 hours but what would that do if it's not being adhered to? It's easy to stay the extra hour or 3 once you're immersed in the online game, and it is exactly for that reason why TV and online games are hard to compare - TV doesn't depend on you, TV doesn't punish you for turning it off, and TV doesn't offer an alternate (idealistic) existence.

Also, I'm not quite sure if you read my story (March 17, 2004 post), but I don't believe that playing together is going to improve the relationship but more likely to polarize existing issues and differences. It's not unlike deciding to spend more time watching TV together - then again, perhaps I'm wrong, and watching more TV together has saved a relationship.

Anyways, I think it's always something worthy of discussion. I know that after playing for so many years, I made a few choices that leave me with very little time or desire to forge a parallel virtual existence. I still love fantasy, sci-fi and role-playing but I do it in my own terms now. With MMORPGs, I felt like I had lost that control."

He's emailed me back the following (posted with his permission):

"My girlfriend and I have been successful in incorporating MMOs into our relationship. During the long distance phase of our relationship, we used World of Warcraft as a way of keeping in touch with each other. (I actually wrote something about this at:
When she moved out to San Antonio, our playing time diminished considerably.

Playing together did highlight different aspects of our personalities. I am an extrovert, and she is much more introverted. I love the interactive, social aspect of the world, and she's just as happy to play stand-alone role-playing games. In a way, the game helped us to recognize these differences early in the relationship.

I think a crucial difference is that my girlfriend and I have not been caught up in the higher-level end-game content. At some point, in the mid 40s, we both just walked away from the game altogether. We've jointly experimented with other MMOs (e.g. SWG), but have not made a huge time commitment. I'm currently enjoying EQ II, but am too busy to get caught up completely.

You make a great point when you question Nick Yee's findings about the average playing time. His methodology is quite solid, but it is possible that there are other factors at work. One possibility is that people tend to under-report their addictive behaviors. However, on an anonymous public survey, there seems to be less of a reason to do so. Plus, among the most intense players, there seems to be real pride in the amount of time they've devoted to the game.

A second possibility is that our impressions of the MMO universe are affected by the people with whom we interact in the virtual world. Since I tend to play at the lower to middle levels, my perception is that most people are able to contain their addiction. If one plays at the higher end of the game, it is more likely that they would encounter gamers who display problematic behaviors.

The tragic thing is that Blizzard and SOE must have access to data that would shed light on the situation."

Followed by some of my own blabbering back to him:
"I ended up separating from my husband after 8 years together. I don't blame MMORPGs for that at all since the differences and underlying issues were there from the start but it certainly didn't help since we both went onto our own separate (online) lives as soon as he got me playing....

I think you and your girlfriend did the "natural" thing when playing time decreased when she moved out to San Antonio. Have you ever wondered what would have happened if that did not happen and if you two were playing everyday side-by-side instead? Then again, you are playing the game together - it would be interesting to do a survey seeing how many partners play together and how many have their own separate groups and guilds - I'd be curious to see if those who have separate online friends / guilds are more likely to split up in the long run!

You are very accurate about your interpretations, especially with about mid- versus high-level play. High-level play is a very different experience and far more immersive than mid-level / raid-less play.

Oh, another reason why Nick Yee's average weekly play amount is so low is that - well, it IS an average... I would be curious to see the individual numbers reported or at least see the standard deviation (actually, it might be reported?). Without a low standard deviation it is possible that responses were polarized (i.e., half of the people reported 10 or less hours per week; half of the people reported 30+ hours per week). Anyways, I will have to get back there and have a look at the statistics.

It is really too bad that Blizzard and SOE aren't open to making their data available - in an anonymous / double-bind manner. So much could be learned from the raw data."

I think there is one thing we both agree on: Regardless how tough/insensitive/painful it is to some, these issues have to be talked about in order to allow any conclusion or improvement to be reached. There are definitely angry people on both sides of the fence. The truth is that these fences shouldn't be there in the first place because this isn't about personal opinions.

It's about personal rights and responsibilities. It's about self discovery and the pursuit of happiness. And it's about respect for others and caring for loved ones.


Blogger Portia said...

"Researchers Florence Chee and Richard Smith argue that the term “addiction” is often used to stigmatize pleasurable behaviors that seem unacceptable to mainstream society."

As illustrated by this quote, the gist of your article seems to be to argue that online games are not really addictive, and to compare them to television viewing, as if they were both wholly innocuous behaviors. These are points that have been made many times before. In my own blog, I talk about the TV viewing habits of the average American, and posit that TV is perhaps the most prevalent addiction today.

Whether TV, online games, shopping, overeating, gambling, pornography, etc. are truly "addictions" or if they are just examples of compulsive behavior is merely a question of semantics. As with "real" addictions, alcoholism for example, the only important issue is whether the behavior has negative implications for the "user" and those surrounding them. The crucial difference between an alcoholic and a social drinker is that the alcoholic not only cannot stop drinking, but is also damaging his or her body and relationships. The same is true of gamers. There is withdrawl for some people when they stop gaming. Some gamers are damaging their health through lack of exercise, poor nutrition, repetitive strain injuries, lack of sleep, etc. They are damaging their relationships and losing jobs. There is no way of knowing the long term effects on the brain of heavy gaming.

As for the conclusion you make in your article, namely that reasonable gaming aught to be equivalent to the average amount of time Americans spend watching TV, or roughly 29 hours a week, I must ask what makes you think that 29 hours a week of TV is healthy or desirable? It seems like a heck of a lot of TV (or gaming) to me. A better goal for both TV and gaming may be to limit it to the amount of time you can reasonably spare while commiting yourself to living a full, rich life. As J says often, it's all about balance.

Dec 17, 2005, 10:25:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Portia,

My point was that some behaviors are more socially acceptable than others. Gaming most nights of the week is often termed an addiction, while watching television most nights of the week is considered to be a perfectly ordinary activity.

For some people, on-line games can be very destructive. The article cites figures from Nick Yee showing that 8% of MMO gamers spend more than 40 hours a week on-line. The article also talks about factors which contribute to the intense appeal of these games, and provides several examples of problematic gaming.

However, in this politically charged climate, video-games are regularly blamed for negative social behaviors. My point is that we need to look at the broader context framing the addiction. The article suggests that "companions of addicted gamers would be well advised to seek to understand the emotional payoff that their loved one receives from the game."

For example, you mentioned in your blog that your slide to addiction "was caused by depression, anxiety, and resulting low self-esteem." The game offered a way of avoiding these problems, but it was not the source of these problems.

Some people are deeply addicted to online games. The stories on J's site, and the account on your web log are a moving testament to the reality of gaming addiction.

Encouraging an addicted gamer to scale down to 23 or 29 hours a week could be one way of gradually nudging them toward more moderate behaviors. This is analogous to the "moderation management" program that is used with alcoholics.

As you and J. both note, it's all about balance.

Congratulations on your new job, and on taking your life back.


Dec 18, 2005, 9:45:00 AM

Anonymous zodon said...

40 hours is a high number even for addicted players. Recently EQ started the eqplayers site where you could see the amount that each person had logged, the highest that I saw was around 500 days played over 6 years which averages to 40 hours a week. Alot of this time has to be afk, in bazaar overnight etc.

Dec 20, 2005, 1:40:00 PM


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