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