I used to play World of Warcraft. I thought it was great fun, but something drove me away, and this article on WoW addiction helped me see what it was.
It really is a rich, well-made, enjoyable game, with lots of challenging stuff and fun stuff. I’d probably still be subscribed and playing it if it were tailored to what they called “casuals”, and if that elitist distinction between “casual” and “hardcore” players hadn’t emerged. I would be rolling my eyes at the accusation that Warcrack was addictive — just manage your life, people! — except that I was seeing more and more artificial goal-setting that was intended to suck players into an addictive vortex.
“I don’t particularly harbor any strong feelings of resentment towards the game itself,” said Nick Peake, who dropped out of college while addicted. “Obviously it is acknowledged to a certain extent as an ‘addictive’ piece of entertainment, but I think to view it purely in those terms belies what an extraordinarily immersive and lovingly crafted game it really is, and risks it being viewed as entirely analogous with other aspects of addiction and gaming, such as the ongoing lootbox/microtransactions debate within the industry in recent years.”
There are parts of World of Warcraft, then and now, that seem, at best, irresponsible. Achievements that could only be earned by spending spectacular amounts of hours playing, designed knowing it would force players to stretch and contort their lives, day in and day out.
But it’s also true that many of the people I talked to who became addicted to World of Warcraft also had trouble with other addictions. The game’s impact wasn’t unique.
Making a great game would mean, to me, that I could log on on a weekend evening and play happily for a few hours. I would still be subscribed if that were a possibility, and Blizzard would be making just as much money from me. It’s a subscription service, so they get the same amount of cash whether I log in once or twice a month, vs. whether I log in daily and grind for 18 hours straight.
I gave up on it when I realized it was catering to the latter crowd, for some unfathomable reason. There were all these setups where you were expected to jump through a bunch of hoops — and it was pretty much the same hoops every day — in order to get some meaningless title or a fancy geegaw or even some indispensable gear that would allow you to keep up with the Joneses.
I even remember the precise moment the game died for me. There was some widget I learned about that I could win by following some mission some panda bear would give me, and all I had to do was talk to it every day for months and months, and it would be mine. I realized that that wasn’t exciting, or fun, or challenging — it was just tedious and repetitive. It sunk in that a lot of the game at that point was just repetition and boring grinds, so I said “Fuck you, panda bear” and unsubscribed instead.
I guess some people get a sense of accomplishment from doing the same thing over and over for tiny rewards, so good for them, they’re well prepared for a life under capitalism. It wasn’t what I was looking for in a fantasy role playing game, though.