“When players of massive multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs) talk about “”death penalties””, they refer to the resources they lose when the character they are playing dies. Usually this can be anything from invested time, items they acquired in long play sessions or their virtual currency. Recent games, like World of Warcraft (WoW) avoid that penalty in order to make the game “”more fun””. Unfortunately it’s not as easy to remove real casualties that result from those games – from suicides of addicted players to parents who neglect their children F95ZONE to the point they starve while they are playing World of Warcraft.
Not all stories of excessive play end that bad, but the extent of the problem is being underestimated. Those high profile cases are certainly the saddest examples of what can result from excessive play. But in regards to the people who are affected by serious online gaming addiction, they represent only the tip of the iceberg. What goes unnoticed are the thousands of stories of players who get involved in an online game to the point that they seriously neglect or even abandon school, work, friends and families. There are no statistics on the depressions that result from extensive immersion in virtual worlds. There are no statistics showing how many careers have been destroyed this way. There are no statistics showing how many divorces this has caused.
As one of the oldest MMORPGs, Everquest is still very popular with around 450,000 subscribers. A Google search for “”everquest addiction”” returns 234,000 results. But it gets worse: Final Fantasy XI currently has 650,000 players and it’s still growing fast. Number of results returned for “”final fantasy xi addiction””? 2,140,000. That’s 10 pages for every single gamer. While not all of them are directly related to cases of addiction, it certainly shows the importance of the issue. If for every player of a game, ten feel compelled to discuss a possible addiction, it’s a phenomenon that has to be taken seriously.
There are also signs in the offline world that this problem is existing and growing. In July 2006, the first detox center for gaming addicts in Europe opens in Amsterdam. More than 20 players have already been enlisted in the 8 weeks program. They range from 13 to 30 years of age, showing that this is not something that only happens to teenagers. In Canada and the US there are already multiple clinics and even in China a facility has opened already.
Families and friends of affected players are often at a loss as to how they can help them. Addicted players will often react disinterested or even aggressive when confronted with their behavior. They become socially isolated, no longer accessible to persons that used to be close to them and tend to loose interest in anything that happens outside of their game worlds. A successful anti-addiction strategy thus has to come from within.
One possible solution was unintentionally described over a hundred years ago: “”There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it “” Oscar Wilde might have got it dead on for online gamers. Constantly struggling in their virtual world to get better equipment, more money and a higher level and looking for a way to advance faster, online gamers are usually trapped in a vicious cycle. But what happens if those challenges become obsolete? If they simply achieve those goals without effort? What if you can cheat?
Single player games have cheat codes, allowing you to bypass any difficulties of a game with a few “”code words””. Everyone who used a cheat code in a game knows, that from there on the hours of entertainment are numbered. It is simply no longer of interest to invest your time since all achievements have become meaningless. Fortunately for addicted players, this also holds true for online games. Only, there are no cheat codes. What there is though, are unintentional flaws, glitches and bugs in the games. If you know them, you can skip difficult parts, get rewards with ease and cut down on the time investment significantly. Swimming in virtual currency after a few mouse clicks tends to remove the incentive to ever spend hours again, trying to get it.