Sunday, December 6, 2009

WoW Social Fallacy?, or "Judging Crosses a Line"

A while back, a friend linked a list of 5 Geek Social Fallacies. Read one or two, then come back. I'll wait.

. . .

Done? K.

WoW Social Fallacy #A: Judging Crosses a Line

This is a theory, but I think I have a leg to stand on so bear with me.
  1. I doubt any of us can say we haven't experienced some level of "need" to indulge in the game more than we should.
  2. I believe that nobody can force gaming cutbacks on anyone else. You have to let it happen naturally, when the player is ready.
As Warcraft players, we have all experienced that uncomfortable sensation where outsiders judge us based on the time we sink into WoW.

This shared experience bonds us together, but it also puts up walls. We protect each other from attacks on our choices, not just to spare our colleagues the discomfort (though that's part of it) but because we share something else -- a vague sense of collective guilt. Whenever someone attacks one of us, a small part of each player says "I've done that. I've been there."

So when we defend the choices others make in terms of the game, we in fact defend ourselves and the choices we've made. We go on the defensive simply because we've all put WoW ahead of things before. And if we don't defend our fellow players, we fail to defend ourselves.

It's a collective mindset, whereby condemning the play style of someone else means we have to face our own failures, or even the possibility of failure. I remember recoiling even from the idea that I played too much WoW. It didn't matter if it was true or not -- I didn't want to think about it because I liked playing as much as I did.

This mindset turns into a problem when we go so far as to deny clear evidence that something is wrong.

When we give in to this fallacy, we keep the real problems from being addressed. Because a player may have a good reason or even good excuses for their play time, we give them the benefit of the doubt that their relationship with the game is healthy. To disagree is a betrayal.

This mindset protects the real addicts along with the normal players, making it that much harder to identify and help those who actually need it, so that we end up enabling the people we're trying to protect. We end up calling their addiction a life choice, when addiction by definition takes away choice to become compulsion.

What can we do?

Be aware. Look out for the warning signs of addiction and don't be squeamish about discussing your concerns with caring friends and guildmates if you think someone has a problem. A kid spending his summers online isn't a red flag, but an adult with responsibilities should also have a gaming schedule that is interrupted by those responsibilities. When real life responsibilities seem to disappear in favor of gaming, you may be looking at someone with an addiction.

Is this everyone?

Personally, I think we've all been a little addicted to the game. It's powerful like that. But the majority of players have been able to balance it more or less comfortably with their own lives. So the question here isn't about our right to judge other player's lifestyles or choices but to present the radical idea that it's okay to make a judgment call if you think someone is hurting themselves. You could be wrong, sure. And it'll tick them off. But are we really so worried about offending people that we refuse to say anything if we think they're struggling?

I think we have, for a long time, said "It's not my problem if someone else has an addiction. In fact, the addicted players are the most useful. They have all the crafting recipes, the best dps, the most impressive achievements... what's not to love about a WoW addiction?"

Is that line of thinking worth it? I had a guildie two years back who played constantly while his girlfriend housed him. He made her physically feed him while he played, but he had an awesome in-game attitude, and another guildie mentioned getting him back in IVV once he found his own place (after his girlfriend kicked him out for being a mooch). I put my foot down that I didn't want someone who would treat his girlfriend like that in our guild, no matter how good of a guildie he was.

The following things, and maybe it's just me, should never be sacrificed for a hobby:
  • Relationships.
  • Health.
  • Happiness.
  • Dreams.
Some people are willing to give those up and will fight to keep their WoW. We consider it a life choice. And it is their choice. If a player wants to break off ties with everyone who cares about them and pursue excellence in the game to the exclusion of other life goals, it's none of our business.

The question is whether or not it will make them happy. Sometimes the answer is yes. But if the answer is no, why do we enable it? Why do we say it's okay when it's not? Why do we call self-destruction "their decision" but refuse to even try to persuade them from it?

Part of me says it's because we're all a little addicted to the game, a mass community of addicts enabling each other. Another part says we just don't care. It's too much hassle, too much thought, too much emotion, and what's the point when we benefit from addiction? We want to get rid of the drama queens and psychos, but nobody ever talks about asking the guy who holds the guild together through hours upon hours of daily work if he wants to take a break and get his real world dreams on track.

I think people who need to pull back will do it when something changes for them. Losing a job, emo gquitting . . . or maybe a friend who gently asks if constant gaming is the life they want to live.

They might say yes, and you can drop it. But they might also surprise you and say no.

And because I think individual humans are worth trying to help, I believe we should ask. Even if it makes us uncomfortable or makes others angry, I think people matter enough to take the plunge, dare the drama, and ask the question.

"Do you need help?"


This isn't about telling people who play too much WoW that they have no life. It's not even about putting down gaming as a life choice. I said after husband and I canceled our accounts:
WoW became our only hobby. And while that's not in itself unhealthy, there are things you realize you miss if you take the time to think back.
Being intense or even hardcore about the game isn't in itself bad. Making it a lifestyle isn't even bad. But signs of addiction shouldn't be written off due to culture or age or even personality, and that's the point I'm trying to make.


  1. I love you. You always have really interesting points and you're very intelligent. I love reading your blog. <3

  2. Excellent and well-stated article.

    I definitely tend to refrain from criticizing people who play WoW... in any capacity. I always think to myself "I'm just as bad" or "I know someone who's just as bad... or worse" and therefore restrain myself from pointing out that some people take aspects of the game to unhealthy extremes. The only people I'm willing to openly criticize are those who allow the game to become so "real" to them that they act like jerks toward other people because of it.

    Sadly, the comments you make about addiction and sheltering (enabling) can be applied to most everything in life -- including work, church and all forms of recreation. The only thing I can't see someone overdosing on is time with their spouse, kids and other family (like parents, grandparents, etc).

  3. Are you writing this to justify to yourself why you stopped playing?

    Are you writing this to proof yourself that you were not addicted so you can start again to play with full determination in a month when you resubscribe?

    Not trying to insult or judge you but to me it sounds a little bit like a smoker who stops smoking for a month just to proof that he can stop any time and therefore is not addicted and then continues to smoke. :)

  4. Sounds to me like someone who saw the mixed bag of reactions to Little Grey completing all achievements, just coincidentally, at the point in her WoW experience that she's taking a re-balancing hiatus. That's thought provoking. And this is how writers often think. Pen in hand, so to speak. If I can mix metaphors. And medium.

  5. Little Gray gave me a catalyst for the post (oddly, a friend in my guild made a convincing cultural argument for him), and my current gaming status has led to a new perspective. I still see things the way I did, but now through a different lens.

    I'm already planning on going back to the game, but not until January (to support husband). I've found I waste as much time on other hobbies as I did WoW, but I'll want to cut back on how much WoW I try to take on. I'm most looking forward to the new PUG system, and I think I want to take advantage of that instead of working on pets and mounts and raiding. I was never willing to go totally casual when I felt the urge because of peer pressure (isn't it great to have raid leaders in your immediate social circle?), but now I'm going to work a lot harder at making it more of a hobby alongside other hobbies.

    Also, my brother mentioned I should probably not post on Birdfall on my hiatus b/c it makes it less of a vacation. He's probably right. :/


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