About gaming addiction

For the last 2 weeks, I have been in-game a lot, shooting sleepers, sucking gas, melting rocks and even chased a hauler through a C2, Tigerears-style (just without a killmail, phail).   I was online as much as RL permits and since we are recruiting I also had to pre-screen candidates and conduct interviews with the finalists and my team.

Together, this amounts to actually a lot of time spent in game and my real life noticed.  Although I do keep my daily workout  and don’t think I neglect my RL work just yet, something had to give.  Chores around the house remained undone, other personal projects are on ice.  A slippery slope for many gamers:

WOW addiction is a little like smoking. You can play 60 hours a week for a while without much impact. After a few months the effects are noticed at work and your wife starts to moan much more. After a few years you realise you have put on 3 stone, almost lost your job (if you are lucky) and the family is no longer living with you.

It takes a long while for the effects to be fully apparent (just like smoking). By the time the cancer has taken you though, so much damage has been done that it is too late to repair it.

I last played in August 2011, but not hard-core for maybe a year now, after 5 years of addiction. I still think about WOW daily and the urges to play again are strong at times. I wont screw my life up again though. My WOW cancer is in remission and I wont allow it to come back.

WOW should be banned. To many, it is as dangerous as drugs or alcohol. Sure some can maintain a healthy balance, just like many can have a social smoke or drink without becoming alcoholics. But a very high percentage of wow players are addicted. Log on on christmas day and you will see them all opening their virtual christmas presents in Ironforge rather than enjoying their family.

I so want to play again. I dream of it and fantasize about it. Even after all I know I so really want to play. The game is dangerous and bloody evil.  WoW Detox

Does this apply to EVE Online?

1.  Repetition

World of Warcraft is not the same as EVE Online.  WoW is a much simpler game where challenges are virtually always overcome with better gear rather than more skill (endgame raiding is a little different). The game is known to be highly repetitive and causes burnout since killing the same Kobolt (“You no take candle“) for the 100th time becomes unfunny even to the heavily addicted.  EVE Online also offers repetitive activities as every high security miner, low security gate camper and null security POS basher knows.  But the enormous breadth of the game with a myriad of different playstyles and options prevent this single-task burnout and replaces it with a new challenge on every corner.  I met quite a few “bitter old vets” who admitted that they played the game for years but still don’t know the mechanics of vast aspects of the game.  Try that in WoW or Angry Birds.

2.  Persistent Environment

If you log off in WoW, the game world persists.  All you leave behind are are memories in other player’s brains.  The world does not care whether you are in it or not, whether you vanquished some big demon or defended an outpost.  It truly is a Skinner box in which nothing but perception changes. Eventually, this induces the realisation that all activity is quite literally meaningless.  Even hard-nosed WoW players come to that conclusion and at this point ask themselves why they spent this much time for not generating lasting impact.

EVE Online is totally different here, players shape the environment to a great extent, take sovereignty by various means, acquire resources that are used by others or build objects that change the course of the game.  The much touted “sandbox” system is rather unique and a stroke of (marketing) genius.  Since my interaction have a lasting effect on the game itself and my friends and foes, I can rightly develop a feeling that I have “created” something, built something or destroyed something of value to others.  For example, we settled a new C4 WH which was (still is) a logistical nightmare.  Our new recruits now fly in to the safe POS we set up and find an environment that I helped create – even if I am not online. I am quite proud of that, it was a big achievement with lasting effect on my friend’s ability to enjoy the game.

3.  Reliance and Teamwork

Whereas every move in WoW has gone to de-humanize the game wherever possible (few group quests, dungeon finder, raid finder, BGs for PvP and the total abolition of the guilds as the core unit for trust), EVE Online has gone the opposite way.  Virtually nothing can be achieved by soloing.  Anything above mission running and high-sec mining requires a focussed and trusting team of players working in unison and in different roles.  This demand for teamwork not only creates tighter “friendships” (I wrote plenty about that here and here and here), it also makes the game more “real”.  As the transition between game and reality becomes fuzzy, addiction to the game can easily creep into the real, “real” world.  For example, I find myself chatting on TS or the text chat a lot without actually playing the game.

4.  Beyond the log-in screen

EVE is unique in that it is unashamedly unplayable (ha! literary masterpiece, this!) without the resources created by the players.  Creating and reading these requires a lot of time and energy not actually spent in “space” and therefore they don’t feel like game time at all.  Without bloggers like Jester, PJHarvey, Seismic Stan and many others, crucial information about the game would not flow.  The same is true for the podcasts which not only entertain and inform but also allow to take the game to the gym, the car and the house-cleaning chores.  Immersion is complete.   The game has morphed from a temporal, limited activity to a lifestyle.

So, back to addiction.  The quote on top of this post accuses the game manufacturer being the culprit for his addiction.  Similar to cigarettes, the case can be made that enjoyable products (I take people’s word for it that cigarettes are enjoyable) need to be regulated due their highly addictive nature and detrimental health effects.  And many politicians indeed call for regulations of these games, presumably just as their fathers advocated regulation of TV as the source of all evil.  I can’t do the topic justice today and will write more about this later.  But addiction does creep into one’s life, slowly, enjoyably and carefully.  It does eat the personality of the victim like a cancer and replaces the urges to experience Real Life content with that of the gaming world.  A balanced approach is harder to take when the game itself features triggers which match the player’s own desire for rewards.  For example, I will never be addicted to Angry Birds or World of Warcraft.

EVE Online?  I need to be very careful.

2 responses to “About gaming addiction

  1. For me, as cliche as it sounds, I do feel Eve Online has much more elements of hobby about it than, say, World of Warcraft.

    When I played WoW the most I would really think about out-of-game was how many more random dungeons I needed to do to get new shiny purple item. Maybe sometimes I would be on wowhead looking at new shiny purple things, but that was about it. True, I never went on a Raid so maybe I missed something there. With all this said, I still enjoyed WoW for about 5 years.

    Eve Online has more in common with the motorbike out in my shed that I am rebuilding. With the bike I spend time working out what parts I need, checking eBay for anything useful, looking for places that can paint the parts and finally, planning time where I can actually work on it. The actual time spent working on this bike is the least significant of the above.

    As much as I tell myself Eve is just a game I still find my mind drifting onto ammo production requirements, or skill training queues. And my actual time spent in-game actually doing something is trivial in comparison to the brain-time spent on the game.

    But like any hobby, it will always take a back seat to spending time with my family. I rarely agree to be online at a certain time because I know the chances are I won’t be able to (even when I really, really try to be). Maybe it’s because I don’t have a particularly obsessive personality or something.

    If some people do find Eve so addictive that it gets in the way of their Real Live(tm) is it really the fault of CCP or would these people just find something else if New Eden wasn’t waiting for them?

  2. So I am a person who maintains a very strict separation between gaming and RL. I do not have any RL friends I play with (I know people personally who play EVE, but I wont play with them) I never attend any meetups, engage in RL interaction with other players or appear as RL person online (Hello Mittani, Mintchip, Arydanika etc.). Part of this is because of past experience and training that made me paranoid, part of it is because I have been there, years before online games evolved into versions with graphics. Back then it cost me my relationship and damaged my social life and my health.

    So here I am playing EVE and reading game related stuff late at night and thinking and dreaming about it. Am I addicted? No! I know what gaming addiction feels like, and I can safely say it does not apply here.

    However, this game provides me with something RL can not really satisfy: Flying around in space, facing danger without real consequences, the possibility to build something with others that I could not as easily do RL. (when was the last time you created an independent settlement in some unclaimed region of this planet?) It even creates a Shulamith Firestone utopia where your personal power is disconnected from your gender.

    Does that have the potential for addiction? It sure does!

    As a matter of fact, I would intuitively assume that EVE must be much more addictive, _because_ your actions influence the world. They actually mean more than they do IRL for most people. I can imagine that this might have the potential to become ‘reality replacement’ for some.

    So why is it that WoW seems to be so much more in the spotlight when it comes to gaming addiction?

    A friend of mine – who is not a gamer but got totally hooked on Skyrim – put it more or less like this: It’s in the pacing of the action and the way how it promises you more if only you commit some more time (to level up and get new gear) that stimulates your brain into wanting more of the same.

    EVE doesn’t work like that, it lacks the direct stimulus which lies at the basis of the most straightforward addictions. I consider it much more insiduous, and for many it probably doesn’t even get to the point of addiction. It is still dangerous, like the MUSHes of old.

    WoW might be like crack, once you start, you are hooked quickly. EVE is more like alcohol. You might enjoy it for years as a social activity, and ever so slowly you come to a point where you can’t exist without it anymore.

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