Guilt and Loathing in MMOs

I’m the type of person who, regardless of purpose or intention, finds it almost impossible to refrain from analysing every small detail of any task I’m given or set out to do. Hand me a bag of potato chips and I’ll find some way to follow a absurd and unnecessary  line of logic, down to the point of ridiculousness, where I will begin thinking about the very atoms that make up the sodium within the chips, for example. It’s not something I’m proud of; nor is it something I can categorise as entirely negative. More often than not, I’m reduced to a state of mild to moderate anhedonia. Conversely, and much more rarely, I can manipulate this obsessive, analytical need of of mine and will end up stumbling on a reason that will enrich my experience. 

At least, that’s exactly what happened, albeit somewhat late, when I was recently reminiscing about my time with MMOs that held my attention for an intense and brief time, but failed to keep me hooked beyond that. 

The initial response after ‘coming down’ from a decent binge from MMOs for most people is one of regret and denial. Denial of the quality of the game and denial of the worth of the time spent playing the game. You’ll find most ex-World of Warcraft players will give you the aforementioned type of response, often comparing the experience to that of a bad drug, in jest of course (hopefully). 

Actual anti-WoW propoganda from the 50s

Please know that I’m not advocating drugs when I say this; however, the typical reformed drug user will very rarely actually condemn the high itself. The problem is always with the various side effects of said drug. Stretching the metaphor even more, in the case of MMOs, this may include the copious amounts of time playing, possible hygienic neglect, missed social events, and so on and so forth. 

Star Wars: The Old Republic once took up a good two weeks of my life, and although the thought of playing it now seems completely unappealing to me, I can’t condemn the game entirely as a waste of time. I was sick at the time, and if it weren’t for ToR, I probably would have sat around moping about how I could be having fun but wasn’t. For those two weeks, my social life altered somewhat (not disappeared) and the time I did spend with friends was mainly through ToR, whether it be in a LAN setting or simply online. 

Guilt and Loathing in MMOs
My WoW character doesn’t really do much else these days…

Sure, I spent countless hours in that time period levelling a character that meant nothing at the end of the day and trying to earn enough credits to get the best gear that is utterly useless to me now, but what point is there in looking back and beating up on myself over the the time most would call ‘wasted’? 
Perhaps more important is the question: How is this different to every other game created? 

I am far better off looking back on that experience fondly and remembering the great moments the game surprised me, thinking of the great development decisions that were implemented, and how for the time that I was in the Star Wars Universe, just how immersed I was.

Guilt and Loathing in MMOs
Optimism at its best

It’s easy to look back on experiences we have with MMOs like this and remember all the ‘side effects’. Conversely, it’s much harder (for most of us ‘reformed’ types anyhow) to recall all of those great experiences we had playing. When that magic wears off and it no longer provides the immense joy that it used to–I felt like I’d discovered a whole new level of gaming bliss when I first discovered WoW–we’re left with nothing but nostalgic attachment. Not to mention, when you find yourself with a great deal of extra time to do things, such as see friends, spend time with family or even simply play a new game you’ve been putting off, those new experiences are a great, unfamiliar and subsequently enriching. You’ll undoubtedly find yourself exclaiming, ‘Why the hell didn’t I do this before!’

The reason you didn’t do it before was because you weren’t getting your fill of fun, excitement, entertainment, or whatever it was, in the form of that MMO that you were immersed in, as opposed to the examples in the previous paragraph.

Whether this is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thing, is really not for anyone to say. Equally valid arguments can be for either side.  From my hippy-arse perspective though, and for the sake of legitimising this as an ‘opinion piece’, I say: Do whatever makes you happy. As long as you are happy with your decisions and they do not harm yourself or those around you. Besides the inevitable and pointless generalisations and natural ‘nerd’ and ‘gamer’ stigma you’re bound to receive, what anyone else says is basically meaningless. 

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