I have quit WOW. I am not a World of Warcraft player any more. If you don’t know what World of Warcraft is, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_of_Warcraft for starters.
Before I move further, let me give you some information about myself. I am a well educated person with a nice career, and a decent social life. I am a software engineer, and a semi-pro musician as well. I have a girlfriend too.
Therefore; I provide a live evidence to negate the argument “World of Warcraft players have no life”. Even if you do have a life, you may become a player – and get addicted as well. Have I ever been addicted? I wouldn’t say that, I was more of a casual player. I never had enough time to spend on the game anyway. However; in the past three years of my WoW life, I seem to be able to spend enough time to make three epic Level 80 characters. This means; I have spent a serious amount of my free time playing World of Warcraft. The fact that the time was dispersed over the years doesn’t change the fact that it was spent.
Before you start judging me about spending time on some video game, consider how much time you spend watching TV, reading useless newspaper columns, chatting about insignificant subjects, or similiar stuff. Video games are yet another way of killing time passively. The time spent there is actually a precious time out of my real life. However; was the time spent for something good? Or was it just wasted for nothing?
Well, that’s a good question with no correct answer. WoW can teach and provide beautiful things, but it has a dark side as well. I guess that the same applies to many online games; but in our case, I’m focusing on WoW.
One of the things you can learn from WoW is to appreciate diversity and teamwork. WoW gives each player the chance to select a different class, and different players need to work together to achieve greater goals. This is a nice example of the fact that different people may have different roles in life. Supporting the same idea; WoW also gives players the chance of being members of guilds – which could roughly correspond to sports teams or corporate companies in real life. Having a different class and race, each member of the the guild contribute in a unique way to achieve greater goals. Sounds simple, but may teach young people a lesson or two while entertaining them.
The balance between different classes of WoW is usually a topic of great discussions. Ask every single player, and he/she will tell you that one of the other classes within WoW is overpowered. But the fact that there is a balance of rock – scissors – paper in WoW is widely accepted. This means; every class can kill some other class very easily, and get killed by another class very easily as well. This approach keeps the game interesting and may teach young people that the weakness in one situation may turn into a strength in another. Losing in some scenarions doesn’t necessarily mean being incompetent in general.
The distinction between specialization and generalization is another aspect of the game. Many characters may be specialized through talents and gear to specialize and become the best in one role (healing, tanking, damage dealing, etc); or they can become hybrids and fulfill multiple roles at the cost of not being as good as specialists in the roles they may take. However, to be accepted to teams aiming at the high end contents of the game, you usually need to become a specialist and focus on one aspect. Hybrids are generally support classes or play more casually. This also corresponds to the fact that high end teams (like bands, companies, sports teams, etc) aiming at the best achievements in real life would be looking for the best people out there – which usually are specialists. If you divide your time into multiple professions, you probably won’t be as successful as someone who focuses on one single profession within the same time span – ceteris paribus.
I’m sure that I can find one more real life lesson or two if I think hard enough. However; I believe that you got the general idea. Now, let’s move on to the dark side of WoW.
First, I want to crunch some numbers. As of 2008, WoW has more than 10.000.000 subscribers worldwide. Each subscriber needs to pay a monthly fee of 14.95$; which corresponds to a shiny minimum income of 149.500.000$ right into the pocket of Blizzard every month. Yeah, this is huge. And income from initial game purchases, toys, merchandise, additional virtual services, etc is not calculated at all. To keep the cash flow running, Blizzard must keep the game interesting and the players addicted. This is something Blizzard was able to sustain since the very early times of WoW. They buff classes over others, invent new mounts, provide additional challenges, ruin the epic Warcraft lore, destroy former homelands – they do whatever it takes to keep people connected to the game. Let’s inspect some sample elements of Blizzard’s way of keeping people pay the monthly fee.
First of all, WoW has a “Carrot on stick” approach. When you start to play with a character for the first time (level 1), you have simple tasks to achieve. But since your character is weak and you don’t know your character very well, your tasks give you (as human) a moderate challenge. As you advance in levels, your character grows strong and you know your character better. Therefore, harder tasks in higher levels give you (as human) the same moderate challange. You make bigger damage, you kill larger monsters, you overcome more complicated difficulties – however, they give you (as human) the same moderate challenge. You strive for better gear and better stats in hope of having an overpowered character. However; no matter how strong you get, former tasks will be too easy for you and new tasks will be a little too challenging – pushing you to strive for even better gear and stats. This is a never ending loop, keeping ever unsatisfied players online and turning them into loyal debitors.
WoW is full of time sinks as well. Taxis (flying mounts) are slow, arenas and battlegrounds have long preparation times, characters run very slowly without mounts. Facing such time sinks, players end up spending more time in the game without playing – which means, paying more on the long run. Blizzard provided WoW players some tools to (apparently) help players minimize the effects of some sinks. You can get your mount earlier for faster movement, and some heirloom items provide you more experience for faster level progression. However, this is also part of a larger strategy. The path to the max level (80) is too long now. Without having such time savers, a player wouldn’t consider rolling a new character; and without having alternative characters, players would get bored of the game sooner or later. Therefore; the time savers are actually money makers as well.
Another element of the dark side of WoW is; it consumes time which should supposedly be spent on real life. Of course; we are humans and we need our free time to break away from the daily life sometimes. We go to the movies, watch TV, play football, have chat, read books, etc. There is no reason why WoW shouldn’t be another subject of entertainment. However; it is so addictive (even for adults) that it can easily become preferred over other real life elements – school, friends, hobbies, even spouses and families. How do I know that? I witnessed it, believe it or not.
Spending real life money on WoW is also another issue. Virtual WoW goods and services are sold by third party companies. Although Blizzard announces from time to time that trading virtual goods (like gold) and services (like power leveling) is against the game policy, people keep spending hard earned cash on virtual junk. Which is, obviously, not the best economic decision ever.
The last (but not least) point I’m going to mention is the mental and emotional masturbation that WoW provides. Yes, “masturbation” – did that word offend you? Yeah right, as if you never did it. Anyway… According to the famous APA motivation theory, people have three motivational incentives: Achievement, Power and Affiliation. Following that theory, WoW virtually provides all of those elements in a relatively easy way. In terms of achievement; all you need to do is to push some buttons in the correct order and you can kill a very large monster – for which you can fool yourself about having a great achievement. Isn’t that mental masturbation? In terms of power, all you need to do is to play the game long enough and you will get great stats and gear to kill other players or monsters more easily – for which you can fool yourself about being very strong. Isn’t that mental masturbation? In terms of affiliation, all you need to do is to join a guild, lead some raids and spam the trade channel or something – you will eventually have some virtual people who have never seen or met you before, but think that you are cool – for which you can fool yourself about being a cool person. Isn’t that mental masturbation? You know that it is, and it may lead you to a point where you prefer WoW over real life for APA which you maybe never experienced in real life at all. But the truth is, which you also know deep down inside, achievements in WoW doesn’t really mean that you have achieved something important at all.
At later stages, your character may even give you a false identity. If you find yourself running around in real life fooling yourself that you are a paladin or warlock, you may have a slight problem in your psychological balance.
In summary, WoW can be a source of great entertainment to have a blast with (preferably real life) friends, and teach young people a thing or two. But it also has a dark side – it may become addictive very easily, and start to do intangible harm.
So what’s it going to be? Should we praise WoW, or mark it as a tool of the devil? The answer is very subjective and personal. However; since alcohol can also be fun but addictive and dangerous at the same time, I would like to share a Surah of the holy Quraan about alcohol as my conclusion:
“They ask Thee concerning Wine and Gambling, Say: In them is great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit.” (Surah Al-Baqarah:219)