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Online Gaming Addiction: Fact or Fiction? The Truth Behind What We're Really Addicted To

"My Side of the Story," from the pen of a so-called Online Gaming Addict.

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In January 2007, about a week after World of Warcraft's expansion pack "Burning Crusade" came out, I started playing the game. I'd had a gaming computer built, bought the game, and settled in to find out what all this was about. Partly I did so because I like games, but I had become quickly bored with first person shooter style games.

Like many, I got my start with Nintendo's Mario Brothers, and the other Nintendo games.

Although, in truth it all started with Atari and Pong. (Yes, I am that old. In fact, I am a 56 year old Grandmother of 7) I guess some might call Mario Brothers the equivalent of a "gateway drug" for gamers, although I think that's rather like calling Koolaid a gateway to alcohol. I eventually graduated to Baldur's Gate, Oblivion, Elder Scrolls, Fable, Neverwinter Nights l & ll, and others, which I will admit I never finished. Although, I did play and finish all of the Myst games, (I also love puzzles). I mean, there really wasn't much left to do once you'd beaten the game. Not that it mattered since I got bored too soon anyway. Ok, I admit it, I also played, loved and finished Harvest Moon.

My first real experience with meeting other people online started about 15 years ago.

Since video games bored me for the most part, I spent my online time in forums. At first I lurked a lot, being too shy to actually post anything, and then I found a home, a place where there were people from all walks of life who's thoughts, opinions, and beliefs were similar to mine. I had discovered a community on the Lycos community boards. I was there every night after work and any other time I wasn't busy with Real Life issues. I became a regular. Then I posted the beginnings of a fantasy storyline for all community members to contribute to. Two years, and 4000 replies to that post later, Lycos announced it was deleting all it's communities. I was devastated, as were the friends I'd come to know and love there.

I wandered around the internet for awhile, sampling different communities, but nothing was like the one we built on Lycos. In the mean time I discovered an online game called Sleuth, now known as Sleuth: Noir.  It's not a graphics style interactive game like an MMORPG. It's more of a puzzle game (I loved it!) where you figure out "whodunit?" BUT! It had (has) a forum community and also had (has) "guilds" with private forums. I met two people there who would change my life. One dove into our storyline head first and we co-wrote backstory and continuing story for our sleuth characters for over 2 years. The other introduced me to D&D and his group of players who met online once a week to play. History segue: I test-played a similar style game in the late '80s.

In the mean time, my marriage was on the rocks. The worse it got, the more time I spent online. My now ex-husband would come into my room and say: "Who are you talking to? Who're you seeing? What are you doing? Why are you on there so much?"

"Who are you talking to? Who're you seeing? What are you doing? Why are you on there so much?"

He was accusing me of having online affairs for the most part and often threatened to break my computer. The marriage had been verbally and emotionally abusive almost from the beginning, with such accusations being a large part of his almost nightly drunken tirade. By April of 2006, after 14 years of marriage, I'd had more than enough, and now, thanks to the encouragement and love of the friends I'd made online, I had the courage to do what was necessary. In June I announced my decision to file for divorce.

I also went back to school that fall. I had been working for a counseling agency and decided to get my BS in Psychology.

Then I met the boyfriend who introduced me to World of Warcraft. He was a long time gamer and computer expert, and had even worked in the gaming industry, having written parts for a couple of popular games. I decided my Psychology thesis would be about Online Gaming and Addiction. Once I had done a hefty amount of research, I decided that the title would be "Online Gaming Addiction: Fact or Fiction?" Much of what I was reading was very one-sided, with sociologists and psychologists as well as worried parents and spouses being the only sources of information. With, of course, the occasional input from those who were convinced or had convinced themselves they were addicted. A common theme seemed to be the professionals looking for another "issue" to deal with and get research funds for. Yes, there was some genuine addiction out there, but the majority of what I found was questionable.

So, just what are we really addicted to?

I'll paste here a portion of a comment I made on another article:

"To begin with, the premise that gaming is addicting is flawed. It assumes that all addicts are addicted to playing the game itself. This is untrue. What many, if not most, are addicted to is the community. We, as humanity, have broadened our world from the "village based' society that we have been accustomed to for millennia, to a global one. With jets that can fly us anywhere in the world in a matter of hours, or the internet that can transport us to visit with friends half a world away in moments, we've withdrawn in many ways into our comfort zones. That zone now being our living rooms, dens, basements, bedrooms, et cetera, where we might safely reach out to others without being judged for being too tall, too short, too fat,too skinny, too ugly, too beautiful, too young, too old, of color, of a different sexual orientation, being of a different religion, and so forth. In the gaming world, NO ONE judges you for ANY of that. The only thing you 'judged' on is your skill in the game and your 'actions/words'."

 

 

Some people, (like my son), say, "You don't know the person you're gaming with. You haven't met them face to face."

 

I couldn't disagree more. I know these people. I know their hearts. I may never see their faces, but I know more about them than their families and friends in real life, in many cases. Why? Because they don't have to face my (or anyone else's) rejection of who they really are based on society's mores, and I don't have to face it, either. I'm a 56 year old woman who is fat, disabled by a potentially fatal illness, (read: potentially. I'm not going anywhere any time soon), married to a man I met in the game I play who is 19 years younger than I, and I am a mother and grandmother. Some of the people I play with know this about me. Not very many, but some. Most know a lot of it, but not all and then there are a few who even have my phone number.

You want to know what I'm addicted to? As much as I love the game, it's not WoW.

 

I've heard those words from so many of the players I've talked to. They are my own words as well. Some players left the game for months or years, only to come back, wondering if "so 'n so" was still around, etc. It's the people I've met while playing. The people I commiserate with, BS with, help, teach, learn from. It's the people who tell me how much they appreciate my efforts. The people who say that they LIKE me. And I like them. I care about them. I worry about them if I don't hear from them for a day or so, and they about me, though usually we let each other know if one of us will be absent for a time. What I'm addicted to is the community. My village. My clan. If it weren't for them, I wouldn't still be playing after 7 years and I wouldn't be planning to still be playing 40 years from now.

 

I'm not addicted to the game. I'm addicted to the players. The game is just a fun diversion.

 

Originally Published Feb. 5th 2014

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Wife, Mother, Grandmother, Gamer (since Pong), Computer builder, Avid Reader, Writer, Musician, Rockhound, Universalist, Counselor, Herbalist, and... more »

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Comments
  • 60
    Fathoms_4209 7 months ago
    Featured Columnist
    It's interesting to read, because my experience with video games for nearly 30 years is very much the opposite.

    I've always viewed games as a solo activity, something exclusively for me, that makes me feel better, that acts as a stress-reliever. My accomplishments are due to my efforts alone; it's just me against a non-sentient being, and that's how I liked it.

    I think maybe it's just because I'd had enough of people in school and out in the world, and I'd rather not have them in my entertainment, too. LOL

    Therefore, I've never seen this hobby as social. I'll play games with my girlfriend here and there (not a gamer at all, but she's coming around) but for the most part, I never play online. At the same time, I think that gaming has done similar things for you and me; those positives just took different forms, that's all. Our lives have been improved by games, but in very distinct ways.

    ...sadly, this is not the kind of intriguing topic that gets into the mainstream media. No, it's just "another WoW addict kills his cat" or some such insanity.
    Last edited 7 months ago
  • 5
    Elizabeth T 7 months ago
    Featured Contributor
    There are many many like you, Fathoms, my son amongst them, who prefer the solo style of gaming. There are those in WoW who prefer to run solo and only occasionally interact with other players. I think that's one of the benefits of an MMORPG. The game gives you a choice. There ARE some aspects of MMORPGs that cannot be done unless you work within a group, but the game itself is easily playable for the solo person. Especially since you don't have to "win" the game, just keep leveling up to the current cap, then grind reputation for better gear or other activities until the next xpac.

    Yes, our lives have been improved by them, regardless of our play style and preferences. For me, it brought me out of my shell, or cave, and keeps me interacting with people. I've always had a tendency to be rather draconic and crawl away into my cave, reading books, researching, writing, etc., ignoring the Real World and it's people who already think me strange and/or weird.

    Perhaps this is a subject for another post, lol ;)
  • 60
    Fathoms_4209 7 months ago
    Featured Columnist
    Yeah, it's a complicated subject. :)

    Me, I'm an old-school RPG fan, so I need a story, characters, different worlds, different combat mechanics, etc. I always was able to lose myself in everything from Final Fantasy to Suikoden to Legend of Dragoon, because each was a distinct, unique world with new characters and plots to learn about.

    I'm surprised your son prefers solo, actually. I always thought that in this day and age, when multiplayer really does rule the roost, kids are just starting off playing with others. It wasn't even an option (besides sitting next to a friend on a couch, very occasionally) when I was a kid. It's cool that he enjoys the single-player entertainment, though; I never want that to disappear, so tell him to keep supporting solo play! :)
    Last edited 7 months ago
  • 5
    Elizabeth T 7 months ago
    Featured Contributor
    People often don't realize that my youngest child is within 3 weeks of being 34 years old. (Gawd, that admission makes ME feel old!)

    His early game playing was with the Nintendo and playing solo, or taking turns playing with a friend. Most of the time he played solo as his friends would wander off in boredom after awhile while awaiting their turns. The games were a way to help control severe adhd. I could sit for hours and watch him play, but my hands were too clumsy to play those games well, tho I tried and kept trying.

    And he does, :)
  • 41
    Coatedpolecat 7 months ago
    Featured Correspondent
    Great read! Cheers!
  • 10
    Samuel Smith 7 months ago
    Featured Contributor
    Hugely in depth article and extremely well written.

    Now onto my opinion which is basically agreeing you with 100%, it doesn't matter what the game is or if I'm just standing around, it's the fact that you've got a whole community of people that already share one interest with you, the ice is already broken.
  • 5
    Elizabeth T 7 months ago
    Featured Contributor
    Thank you, Samuel. :)

    Yes, it is easier to build a community when you already share one interest in common. I will say though, that it isn't enough on it's own. It is, however, a great beginning :D

    Your comments are much appreciated for their insight.