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MMO Gaming Addiction – Step away from the screen!

by Mac Laton – guest contributor

free_to_play_mmo_addictYesterday I killed a character in a video game.  This was not just any character.  It was my character, an evil robot named KarboN from a silly space ship game that I play for free online.

I have played this game on a daily basis for over 2 and 1/2 years with very few exceptions, usually family emergencies that required me to be somewhere where there was no internet connection.  I was one of the top players in this online game.

What kind of game was this that required my daily attention ?  This type of gaming that I was participating is called a MMO or Massivley Multiplayer Online game.

This type of video gaming consists of players logging into a common server to participate in real time video games.  These servers contain continuous virtual worlds where the players interact with each other and can talk through in-game chat systems.  Players real world identities are also hidden behind an avatar called a “toon” that a player selects, customizes, and names them self.

A player can choose to play on their server as a solo player or in groups of players called clans.  Most games label clans by different names such as wings, corps, guilds, etc.  Playing in a clan is usually a much more productive style of play because you can organize activities and tackle difficult tasks as a team.  A solo player splits none of his rewards with others, a clan divides up their rewards benefiting the group as a whole.

There are two business models these type games operate under.  The paid subscription model works by requiring a monthly fee to be paid to play that can be waived if a player makes a large amount of in game currency.  This keeps some players working hard in the game so they can play for free.  WoW (World of Warcraft) and EVE online use this model.

The free to play model works by using micro transactions to pay for items in the game.  These items can be earned by working in game or “grinding” for in game currency but it takes up a lot of time to be able to earn these types of items as opposed to buying them outright.  The free to play model was the type I happened to play.

Grinding for online currency usually involves mining for resources and playing against NPC (non player characters) along with doing assignments called “dailies” to make in game currency.  This is tedious and time consuming.

The main objective for a player in any of these games is to become good at PvP (player versus player).  PvP is the most challenging and most rewarding aspect of these games because you get to test your skills against other real people in real time.  This becomes extra fun when you do it as a group with your clan. It is addicting, literally.

This is also where the free to play games make most of their money.

addictive pvp gamingWhen you are beaten badly at PvP because your character (called a toon) is not equipped as well as your opponent, it is impossible to go out and grind out some better gear.  You can however become a “wallet warrior” and whip out your credit card to level up your toon and return to the arena to win.

You then look at the social aspect of the game, you have real world group dynamics going on.  Players become friends and help each other or become enemies that hate each other.  They try to impress their clan mates and get embarrassed by their enemies.  Some want to become great leaders, some want to be the best gladiators.  No matter what the motivations may be, it is the social interaction of PvP playing that makes the game provider the largest amounts of revenue.

In the game I played I saw this taken to extremes several times.  A friend of mine spent his rent money on special in game chat messages when he was having a public argument that lasted several hours.  I saw another player drop almost 40k (yes that’s right, forty thousand dollars people) when she was really jealous of two other player’s relationship.  People try to impress each other romantically, or just try to prove what a bad-ass they are.  Mixed in with these social interactions are little financial transactions.

Sometimes these free to play online games become a real problem for a player.  They spend too much money on micro transactions and mess up their finances. In order to not spend money they become “grinders” who spend all of their free time doing mundane in game tasks trying to earn in game currency.  This messes up their family and social lives.

The more time or money that is spent by a player, they become more and more invested in their character.  You get burnt out but you don’t want to leave because you have social interaction in the game and have let it suffer everywhere else.

This is where I was at until yesterday.  Just really burned out on playing but continuing to do so any way.

Fortunately, it was not anything bad in my life that caused me to kill off my toon.  It was in fact something really wonderful.

I had been single for the past four years after going through a terrible divorce.  I found someone I knew I wanted to build an incredibly strong relationship with.  I also knew that this type of gaming could be a harmful distraction in that building process.

I took responsibility and cut this game out of my life.

Killing off an online gaming character is quite easy and has no withdrawal symptoms when done correctly.

First, you go to the games forum site an post a nice message to say farewell to your friends.  You can even leave a forwarding address where they can get up with you in the real world.  Here is mine:

Next you change your password for the gaming account to something you can’t remember.  I did this by typing out about 20 random characters then copying and pasting into the form fields.  Then hit save changes.

You then just click the confirmation link and you are done.  Locked out in a pretty much permanent way.

I’m looking forward to taking on some real world responsibility and building a really wonderful real world relationship.

I know it is going to be way more fun than building a ship in a video game.

I’m stepping away from the screen, and you know what?  It feels great.

If life is a game, I am playing to win.

Here are some resources on gaming addiction:

WebMD: Video game addiction no fun

On-Line Gamers Anonymous

CNN: 5 Warning signs of gaming addiction

Don’t be shy, leave a comment.

-Mac Laton

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