Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Move over drugs and gambling here comes a new addiction

Over the years it has been interesting to see the different changes in alternative reality addictions. There have always been people with addictive personalities who would have gambling, drugs, or eating disorders. Not much attention was paid to people who would escape reality through different mediums. At first it was books. These people would loose themselves in stories. They were not thought of as addicts; just people who like to read a lot. No real harm in that right. Well then we had people loose themselves in TV to the point where that was all they would do, sit and watch TV. Some people began to identify themselves with TV or Movie characters. Soon games were invented to accommodate people who wanted to play the different characters.

Some were board games; others were role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, some computer games and Live Action Role Playing like the Society of Creative Anachronism. The board games were ok, not that addictive. Games like Dungeons and Dragons let you control your world, who you were and what you did. This became an escape for many people. People were given a chance to be what they wanted to be, fit in with a group and socialize. This was very attractive to people, and people still meet today and play. The games were limited by when people could all get together and the time they could put into it, and how good the Dungeon Master was. Sure some people met every weekend and played for a day or two. However most people did not play quite that much as it was not so easy to accommodate everyone’s real life schedule.

The computer games like Heroes of Might and Magic were great. You could play by yourself anytime, or play with friends using the hot seat function and some of the games would let you play with others online. You had set games or campaigns to play or could create your own maps. This eliminated the need for Dungeon Masters, and you usually did not have to put as much work into your character development as it was usually programmed into the game. This made it much easer for the average person to play, you did not have to be interested in learning all the rules and character traits you needed when playing things like Dungeons and Dragons and you did not have to work around other people’s schedules. People would start a game and play for days, sometimes leaving for work only to come home to play some more. It was easy to see that people could be and did become addicted to playing. However people would often move from one game to another and it was the playing that was actually addictive.

There was some socializing possible with the computer games but not much. Some people drifted to things like the SCA (the Society of Creative Anachronism) and Vampire: The Masquerade, live action role playing groups where you could go to an event on a weekend, and leave your real life behind for a few hours. You would create a persona and live that and interact with others all “playing” the same game as you. You could be a knight, a lady, a Viking, a vampire, a fairy or any number of beings depending on the parameters of the group. For some people their personas became their lives and their real life became what they did to pay for it. It literally took over their lives. All their friends where in the group and all their social activities revolved around their persona. It let them have a life they liked better then the one they have.

Now comes the online massive multiplayer role playing (MMRPG) or fantasy games like EverQuest. You can play anytime and anyplace in the world. You can create an avatar to be anything with any type of personality and look. You can be who or what you want to be. As there is social interaction, you are playing with real people you can have friends and more. You have been handed the perfect world where you can be anything that you want to be and everything you are not in the real world. Why would you ever want to leave it? People are replacing their everyday life with ones they can create online. These online role playing games (RPG’s) can be harmful in that some people become so addicted they loose touch with reality. There have been studies done on online game addictions with some scary results. Some people have actually played themselves to death. There have been three well-documented deaths caused directly by exhaustion from playing games for long periods. In South Korea, Lee Seung Seop died after playing Starcraft for over 50 hours. In Jinzhou, China, Xu Yan died after playing online games for over 15 days during the Lunar New Year holiday and an unnamed 30 year-old died in Guangzhou, China after playing for 3 days straight. There is a great article by David Becker called “When games stop being fun” that tells about how addictive these games have become.

I would like to point out that some people tend to find a way to escape their lives and become addicted to that alternative reality, be it an online game or something else. If it was not EverQuest it would be something else. People will always find a way to escape to have something better then what they actually have and be the person they dream to be even if it is not real. I don’t place the blame on the people who create the online massive multiplayer role play or fantasy games, there has to be something to attract people back so it is designed to be addictive to a point. A person with an addictive personality will find something to be addicted to. It just seems that more and more people are loosing themselves in the different games. Though I am sure they see it more as finding themselves. There is nothing wrong with enjoying gaming or escaping reality for a bit as long as we have a balance between everyday life and escaping to the fantasy life.