joi wrote about a girl in china who died while playing a days-long session of world of warcraft. i started to write a comment, and it just kept growing until i decided that it had become a post in itself. joi wrote:
With 4.5M users there are bound to be deaths in the World of Warcraft and gauging by the relationships I’m building with fellow gamers I can definitely see how an online funeral would be a very big deal. I often see players playing until they pass out, especially when they are questing in a group where their participation is required for the group to hold together as a team. (I’ve passed out a few times as well.) There is also a lot of pressure to catch up if you drop behind a group of friends in order to play your role in the quests.
However, I don’t see this as a reason to bash these games. Clearly the addictive nature of these games are a risk from a productivity and health perspective, but I think that the sense of responsibility and teamwork that is built by the games exceeds this cost.
i question whether it is the game itself that has an addictive nature. it certainly attracts players that have a bent towards obsessive and compulsive behaviors; clearly, someone who does anything to the point of dying or otherwise adversely affecting their health has a pathological condition that is not being managed effectively.
you could argue that games in general are addictive. when i was a kid, i ALWAYS wanted one more game (chess, cards, board games, video games), until finally the adults would send me off to bed. it isn’t the chess pieces or the rules that are addictive, it is the drive to play, to learn how other people think and compete, to engage people socially in different contexts, and of course to get the rush associated with winning. that drive is something that everyone has, to varying degrees.
physical chemical addictions are pretty straightforward. a person takes a substance habitually, and if they stop taking the substance they experience some sort of withdrawal or discomfort (for example, a hangover). psychological addictions, and obsessive compulsive behaviors in general, are a more complex situation, precisely because everyone has them to some degree. organizing other people into working teams, persistently hammering at something until you get it right, acquiring valuable assets and trading them in markets, delaying physical sustenance or sleep until a goal or objective can be accomplished; am i describing the behavior of a successful online gamer or a successful entreprenuer?
it’s a question of degree. there are plenty of examples of people who are obsessive about business, are extremely succcessful at it, to the sacrifice of everything else, i.e. health, family etc. and that’s the case with warcraft as well. they are both in pursuit of fictional, commonly agreed upon valuable items, whether it is warcraft gold or fiat currency (and there is a foreign exchange market between the two). the problem isn’t the business or the game but the psychological imbalance or disorder of the person who can see nothing other than a fixative goal.
i believe that warcraft can be a great educational game. making play out of skills, tasks, and intellectual frameworks that in real life are scary or forbidding to most people is what the best games are about. spending hours learning about marketplaces, competition, cooperation, negotiation, leadership, working within a team, etc. can only benefit society as a whole in my opinion. there are always going to be those who will overdo it, and those people are types who overdo most things they do. society encourages extreme behavior in many cases, especially when the behavior is associated with the pursuit of money. people have commented that for someone to die in pursuit of a goal in a game is incredibly tragic and pointless. to me it seems very closely tied to deaths from work-related stress, heart attacks, and suicide.
maybe warcraft and games like it will have the effect of mitigating some of these societal ills. if people are able to learn and practice new social and financial skills in a less pressured and threatening environment, and experience failures and setbacks without losing everything, they may be able to deal with real life situations with better perspective. of course, it’s always possible that someone will take away the message that they should hack someone apart with a sword and teabag the corpse. that’s the product of a diseased mind, and not the game.