All things in moderation. Except this rant.

Wotcha everyone,

Thanks BBC.  You’ve just pointed out that addiction to online gaming is bad.  In such a way that makes me want to go and buy Wrath of the Lich King RIGHT NOW and play it ALL NIGHT.  Just to spite you.  Yes, you, BBC.

I think it’s the just-one-step-from-hysteria tone of articles commenting on online gaming addiction that annoys me most.  And now here is a justification blog.

Yes.  Online games are addictive.  Yes, they really are.

I know this.  I freely admit I’m addicted to them.  I will not even try and append any disclaimer “buts” to that statement.  “Hello everyone.  My name is Hawley, and I’m an addict”.  Single player games just don’t offer the same draw for me, and I do play them for a few hours most nights.  And during the day, if I can.  I have also seen friends start playing them, become addicted, and lose their social lives to online gaming.

Yes, our health can suffer.  For every hour spent fighting my way around Praag, I’m wasting an hour I that I could have used training for the London Marathon.  Or practicing to climb the North Face of the Eiger.

Yes, there is a lack of personal contact.  I’m spending my time looking at a screen, instead of engaging in actual, honest-to-goodness face-to-face conversation with actual, honest-to-goodness people.

Yes, I’m removed from the community at large.  I could be spending time working within my local community, volunteering for charities, and generally helping little old ladies cross the road, but, well, you see, the forces of Destruction need holding back, you see.  And if I don’t do it (whilst getting to level 40) then who will?

But then again, if all the people who weren’t addicted to online gaming were off training for marathons, conversing politely to all and sundry, and filling their spare time volunteering for their local charity, then the world wouldn’t just be a better place, it would be unrecognisable.  We’re just following their lead.

And please, can we also point out that there are a lot more, far more harmful addictions out there.  Because, let’s face it, *anything* can be addictive, given the right person.

I could sit here and go through a list of everything, in order of how dangerously harmful they are to the addict, and those around them.  But there’s no point, is there?  We all know what they are, so why should I waste all of our time going through them, and making this seem like a guiltily defensive moan.

No, this is an aggressive rant.  Why is it that online gaming, and World of Warcraft in particular, is hauled over the coals whenever something happens in online gaming?  Why does it always have to be reported in the same semi-hysterical way?

Why is it that games are the bane of modern civilisation, the root of all of our modern evils?

Is it because we’re WASTING OUR LIVES™ by playing them?  Okay, that’s a valid point.  But then again, I spent three years commuting four hours plus per day to get to work and back.  Four hours.  That’s 20 hours a week.  Almost a whole day every week spent sat on a train, or waiting for one that would never come.  But no-one told me that was wasted time.  No!  Being at the mercy of the British rail system was a good thing, because it was spent going to and from work!  But I tell you what, it felt like I was wasting my life at the time, and I still feel that way 5 years later.

Besides, I spent much of that time reading books, and everyone knows that reading books is good.  Don’t we?  We shouldn’t collapse in front of the television every night, we should do something constructive, something edifying, something worthwhile, like reading a book.

What?  Are they taking the piss?  When I was a wee whipper-snapper, before the internet, and before mainstream gaming, I lived my life in books.  If I wasn’t told to do something by my parents, they would find me with my nose in a book.  Anytime, anywhere, there I was with a book.  To the point that they got worried.  Yes, worried.  They deliberated on whether they should take books off me, or just hope and trust I would be “all right”.  If only books had had their positive, wholesome and uplifting image then, my home life would have been much easier!

I’ve spent a lot of time reading books.  I still do.  And not one has changed my life.  I may have learned some things, I might have discovered how different people thought during different periods to our own time, I might even have vicariously lived the exciting and varied life of the author through their writing.  But no, I have received none of the enrichment that seems to be promised by reading actual treeware nowadays.

No, the point here is that whenever Online Gaming hit’s the press, someone somewhere decides to bring out the same semi-hysterical Online Gaming is Addictive! story, and present it in the same way that they no doubt inform people that “MY HAIR IS ON FIRE!  MY HAIR IS ON FIRE!”.  Yes, we can see that your hair is on fire.  Thanks.

Is it that online gaming doesn’t make for the same exciting sexed-up news that makes the mainstream viewer or reader sit up and take notice?  Are we living in the sort of society where the average person is too busy checking their crampons to look up unless the geeks are shown to be dangerous geeks?  And in a way that all the studies that show that gaming can help improve cognitive thinking, social skills, and hand-eye co-ordination stories won’t?

We all choose the way we want to spend our leisure time.  And anything that makes us feel happier, empowered, or powerful can turn us into an addict.  Those happy joy-joy feelings make us want more happy joy-joy feelings.  Anything taken to excess can negatively impact on our lives, and our personal well-being.  And one of the wonderful, amazing things about people is that we’re all different, and as such, can take different things to different extremes.

People drop out of the mainstream all the time, and a lot of the time, what they’ve done isn’t the real reason for dropping out.  The student who drops out of university can blame World of Warcraft all he likes, but it’s quite possible that if it hadn’t been getting phat lewtz and epixxx that got in the way of his degree, it would have been something else; I remember trading essay-writing time for Warcraft 2.  Not because I was addicted to Warcraft 2, but because I really would have done anything rather than write that sodding essay.  Warcraft 2 was just the easiest, shiniest escape route.  And didn’t involve canoeing up the Amazon.

Geeks are an easy target, after all.  We don’t have “normal” hobbies.  We’re playing a game, and by doing that, we’re doing something that many people just don’t understand.  They don’t understand the attraction, they don’t understand how it works, and most of all, they just don’t understand how we can be so passionate about it all.  And, like most people confronted with something they don’t understand, they mock it.  And it doesn’t help that many geeky hobbies are inherently silly; I know, I do most of them.  But then, after ridiculing our hobby, John Normal goes back to shouting at 22 grown men in tribal colours chasing a ball around a field.  And refers to his tribe of choice as “we”.  “We” won.  “We” lost.  Despite the fact that all Mr Normal did was shout ineffectually from the crowd of John and Janes.

I’m geek and proud.  I don’t hide my geeky nature; I revel in it.  I stopped bothering to hide it a long time ago, and when people mock me, I’ll mock back.  I’ll also try and educate those who don’t understand.  But it doesn’t help when the people who bother to listen have already been informed by the media that we’re all raging addicts with no ability to differentiate between a fake world and the real one.  That we’re all ready to shiv each other up for stealing something that never existed in the first place.  That we’ll never leave our games to go and do something else.  Something involving real people.

Stop it.  Just stop it.

According to the media, gamers buying Wrath of the Lich King at midnight so they can go home and play it immediately are damaging themselves.  Their addiction is wrong.  But parents taking their kids to the midnight launch of a Harry Potter book at a bookshop is perfectly fine, it appears.  And something to be celebrated.  And I’m sure NOT ONE of those kids went home and immediately started reading when they should have been sleeping.  No.  Not one.  All tucked up in bed, sharpish.  Their parents too.

Please, can we have a more balanced view?  One that says we may be daft, but we’re mostly harmless?  That some of us are addicted, but not in the way that means we’ll be mugging old grannies and stealing your toaster to sell for subscriptions?  And that most of us aren’t addicts?  Please?  Do us a favour, and don’t make us have to justify our hobbies to our parents, as they try and hold an intervention?


Quicker, easier, more seductive?

Wotcha everyone,

I was scanning the BBC website for news today (as one does), when this article caught my eye.  Take a moment to read it, and then see if you start thinking what I was thinking by the end of it.

Yeah, I was wondering why university libraries make people go all blurry too.

But, after giggling a little along the lines of “Huh!  Students these days, eh?  Not like my day, when universities were called “Workin’ in t’mine”.  Bunch of idle layabouts, if you ask me!”, I started to wonder.   No, not about the blurry people again, but about online gaming.

Yes.  Online gaming and performance enhancing drugs.  Think about it.

Online gaming has become big business; no longer is it the preserve of the geekiest of gamers.  Yes, I remember you taking the piss repeatedly, gaming magazines.  Elves and Orcs weren’t as cool and sexy as Mr Doom Marine and all his FPS chums:  Well, not any more, it seems.  We’re cool, and there are multiple millions of us playing all around the world.

We’re Massively Multiplayer now.  But that doesn’t stop people from trying to be the best.  It’s in human nature to want to strive, to succeed.  The desire to do well, to win, to be the best of the best is strong.  And online gamers are no exception to the rule.

Many players look for something more.  An “edge”.  From the humble addon that either improves a part of the interface, or makes things easier, through macros and mods, all the way to exploits, hacks, cheats, and bots.  No, I’m not implying that all gamers use, or would consider using, the seedier end of that scale.  But the accusations are always being thrown about that exploits are being used by [insert name or group here].  Or worse.

Add gold-buying (well, *someone* has to be buying the gold, otherwise it wouldn’t be financially viable to pay someone to farm all that gold, never mind make a profit on the subscription) and power-levelling “services”, and you get a whole new set of “edges” that people can use.

But cheats and exploits get you banned.  Hacks and bots get you banned, and can also get your pc virused.  And buying gold and levels can have your credit card used to buy various dodgy people new 50″ plasma screens, or your accounts (both bank and game) raided for all your goodies.  The pitfalls are many.

However…  Here comes a pill-sized solution.  Something that will sharpen your smarts, allowing you to do the right thing at the right time.  It will make you more sociable; you can go from follower to leader.  It will make you concentrate better over longer periods, allowing you to raid at the top of your game, all raid.

And it’s cheap.  Could this be the death of the gold-seller?  Why buy gold, when you can pop a pill, and farm all night?  Not only is the pill cheaper, but you get to keep the cool drops, and the xp!  Women will marvel at your staying power, and men will want to be you.  No, wait, that’s a different sort of pill…  But the possibility is that despite the various legitimate attempts at stopping gold-sellers and farmers (Go BanHammer, Go!), we could be looking at their demise coming due to the influx of online pharmacies.

So, here we are.  Little pill, big advantage.  It’s something that I would NEVER, EVER advocate the use of.  I don’t even take paracetamol for a bad headache, so why would I take something that has the potential to fuck me up?  For a game?

But is it the new edge gamers want?  Gamers aren’t above a little light self-medication.  Admit it.  You’ve never played when hopped up on caffeine?  Gamer Coffee can be the stuff of legend, as is Jolt Cola.  And you’ve never downed Red Bull when mid-raid?  Wasn’t taurine, active ingredient of Red Bull, trialled as a combat drug somewhere?  Or is that another of my urban legends?  Is there *that* much of a leap from smart drinks, to smart drugs?

Hmm.  What do you think?