Uncovering the Truth about WoW Addiction
Last week, as I was vox popping the assembled crowds in Leicester Square,
London before the UK's World of Warcraft: Cataclysm launch,
the British Broadcasting Corporation (aka the BBC or just the Beeb)
aired a film on its topical Monday night current affairs programme
Panorama called "Addicted to Gaming".
This half an hour look into gaming culture focused on a number of MMOs
but the chief culprits - and the programme took a very negative, almost
sensationalist stance on the subject of gaming addiction - were
Blizzard Entertainment's StarCraft II and, of course, World
of Warcraft. The programme had, of course, been timed to coincide with
the launch of Cataclysm and the BBC was well aware of the launch,
having run numerous articles in the preceding week while the film
itself included footage from July's London StarCraft II
launch at GAME in Regent's Street.
The film left me with the overall impression that it was there as a
warning, almost as public service to parents and family, that games -
especially WoW - are addicting and, while mainstream, should be treated
in the same way as one would alcohol for an alcoholic or drugs with a
user, as suspicious and potentially dangerous. It also highlighted the
fact that the teenagers in the film had no self control and their
parents did little to limit their game time.
Now I've been playing WoW for four years and there have been
points where I can honestly say I've been addicted but, when
you make your living as a journalist specializing in games,
particularly MMOs, then that's to be expected. Adding to
that, I suffered brain damage as a child and have OCD. This means I
have a predisposition to find almost anything addictive yet because
I'm aware of it, I'm able to control these impulses
and channel them into a constructive career. Most of the time at least.
But it has allowed me to watch as people raced to level 85 this week.
Within three days half my guild had hit the magic number, having
mysteriously become ill on Tuesday morning with a condition I like to
call Skiveitus in order to play. It happens a couple of times a year,
whenever the next must-play game comes out. I have no doubt that many
folks on my server are addicted, it's amazing who you run
into at three in the morning while mining in Vashj'ir but
that doesn't mean that everyone is the same. You
can't tar the entire 12 million souls who adventure in
Azeroth with the same brush as a small selection of people.
You see, Britain has a history of sensationalizing the negative effects
of popular video games, our tabloid newspapers have been doing it since
the nineties whenever a big release comes along or it's a
slow news day. The same applies to other forms of entertainment like
violent films or certain kinds of music and I'm sure, in ten
years time, some other form of entertainment will gain the ire of the
tabloid press. As a gamer and a journalist, the whole thing drives me
Now I'm not saying that WoW isn't addictive, but
it's all about how you play the game. If you're
under the age of maturity, normally 18, then it's up to your
parents to set limits on play time. If you're an adult, then
- in theory, at least - you should be old enough to know when
you're playing the game too much. Blizzard added in parental
controls ages ago and they are now part of Battle.net. This allows them
to limit the hours that can be played, receive reports on account
activity and choose whether voice chat can be used or not. The trick
here is using these facilities and it was obvious the families in the
film didn't even know they existed.
I'm not saying that playing games like WoW and StarCraft II
aren't a problem for some people, from the case studies
featured, it's obvious they are, however, I think the problem
lies in the lack of personal or parental responsibility. Instead the
games these kids play are vilified and turned into scapegoats. If World
of Warcraft is addictive then so are other games, they have exactly the
same chance to be addictive as something like Bejeweled or Minesweeper
or even that old favourite Solitaire.
To remind us of this, the film mentioned other games like Medal of
Honor and Prius Online, even visiting a Korean boot camp for game
addiction. I think gaming addiction exists and needs to be recognized
but just because a small number of people are addicted that
doesn't mean every human being who enjoys games, whether on
or offline, is addicted to them. That's like saying everyone
who enjoys a glass of wine or a frosty beer on a hot day is an
alcoholic. It just doesn't make sense.
And the thing is, documentaries like this don't help. There
was nothing constructive just sensationalism. And right at the end,
there was just one, lone comment from Blizzard in which the company
stated, "Our games are designed to be fun... but like all
forms of entertainment... day-to-day life should always take
precedence. World of Warcraft contains practical tools that assist
players and parents in monitoring playing time." It felt like the
filmmakers only made the effort of contacting Blizzard to justify their
crusade, not to get the company's side of the story or even
to give them the chance to defend themselves.
Christmas and a new game launch are periods when gamers traditionally
play in a more intense manner than they might usually enjoy.
There's time to kill on cold winter days and what better way
to enjoy time off work than with friends, real or virtual. You just
need to be able to tell the difference between this and addiction,
something which the Panorama obviously aren't able to do.
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