Before I question some of the hyperbole floating around the mainstream media over the ‘World of Warcraft is like crack’ story, I have to make a disclosure. I do play World of Warcraft and am in fact a Level 80 Fire Mage. Snigger all you want, but there’s dozens, if not hundreds of you reading this that play WoW too, and you love it. More on that later.
The latest iteration of the ‘WoW as Crack’ story, finally picked up by the mainstream Australian media, is that a UK-based psychiatrist is asking WoW’s creator Blizzard Software to cough up some money to assist counsellors who want to get to know the game better. The theory is, once they understand what it is they’re dealing with, they can tailor interventions better. As a health professional myself, it actually makes a lot of sense. Without knowing the environment a person with a problematic behaviour interacts with, it’s difficult to fathom their motivations or triggers for what they are doing. Blizzard Software, not surprisingly, haven’t made a comment on the issue. They’re not about to trumpet the need for counselors to be embedded within their game, even though there have been some significant individual examples pop up here and there.
Some would argue Blizzard, or any game creator, aren’t under any obligation to assist the proportion of their clientele who play at harmful levels. Others will claim there’s as much a duty of care as say a tobacco company may have to its customers. The reality probably sits somewhere in the middle. It wouldn’t hurt Blizzard to fork out a few thousand dollars to assist health professionals trying to get their head around why a teenager or adult wants to spend 16 hours a day undertaking raids or quests. As a corporate citizen it’d give Blizzard some credibility and let them influence the agenda of how big the issue really is. As a proportion of its more than 11 million users who pay US$12.99 per month, truly addicted users would only make up a tiny percentage. Add to that those who compulsively play (there’s a difference) and you have a bigger population but still far from the majority. There’s no doubt there are people whose lives are seriously damaged by addiction to massive multiplayer games – it’s just that they’re well and truly outnumbered by those who’ve found a whole new social outlet or those exploring the learning opportunities.
Which brings me back to those of you who play WoW: next time you log in, type “/played” in your chat window and be dismayed or amazed at how many days you’ve been a Troll Shaman. I put in around 25 days of time per year in WoW, which probably makes me borderline compulsive. That said, I’ve substituted 2-3 hours per day of Australian Idol and Rove for an activity that requires strategy, socialisation and hand/eye coordination. How is that undesirable behaviour?