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Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the Delayed Gratification. (Spoilers, sorry.)

So World of Warcraft celebrated it’s 10-year anniversary last year and is closing in on its 11th birthday this November. I played from 2005 ‘til 2011 near-constantly, and from 2011 ‘til recently in several-month bursts, because every time I quit the little voice in my head would say, “But Mitchell… What’s going on with WoW these days? Maybe you should resub for a little and see what state it’s in, who’s still playing. C’mon.”

My point being that my subscription payment listing could buy a small used car at this stage. I’ve been clean for a while now, but there’s a good reason everyone uses terminology they’d usually reserve for addicts. Video game addiction is currently somewhere between “internet slang” (omg I’m so OCD!) and “Dr. Phil TV special”, but I’d suggest it’ll fall into the same hole with marijuana and killing homeless people for sport. Y’know, the old stereotype of daily users, saying, “It’s not chemically addictive! I’m not addicted! I can stop anytime I want to!” while simultaneously ripping a bong or caving in a vagrant’s skull with a 9-iron.

 
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“Why not both?” – Tiny Mexican Girl

In defense of the above, it’s not addiction in the nicotine/ethanol/methamphetamines sense of the word, but I think you’d be bonkers to deny that people game away their days for many of the same reasons people smoke and drink away their days. In part for the catharsis, in part for the social aspect, and in part for the hit of feel-good chemicals our body learns to crave. The departure from the comparison here comes from the possibility for moderation. As the saying goes, there are no ex-alcoholics. Just alcoholics that don’t drink. Weed, gaming and unhealthy food are much easier to enjoy without abusing than, say, meth.

The way online gaming pulled me in was instant gratification. For very little effort, a bean-counter will roll up incrementally, telling you “Good job! You’ve completed a task!”, punctuated by a big yellow glow and a pretty sound effect, and the reward centres in your brain light up and a nice hit of dopamine keeps you moving forward to the next quest zone, subscription period, and expansion.

 
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“Oh boy! Only 96 levels to go!” – Me, probably.

It’s pretty harmless for a critical thinking-enabled adult to sit quietly in the evening and wind down with some cheap entertainment, the trouble is when the youngest amongst us pick up a keyboard and mouse and miss out on important developmental milestones while hiding behind an online avatar. Kids that hang out on the internet instead of learning important social skills are literally the entire reason Tumblr exists. These people don’t misunderstand social cues because of a disability, they misunderstand social cues because they’ve been removed from walking, talking society for years in an insulated community of equally socially oblivious nerds…

… Like me. I picked up World of Warcraft when I was 11, and basically poured the next 5 years into it as a method of escaping my home life and academic responsibilities, and it’s only the last 18 months I’ve been putting in the effort to start to catch up on the development I missed. But the most difficult aspect to overcome so far has been the instant gratification. The dopamine hit from doing very-nearly-nothing. In-game the doses come from performing comparatively fun tasks, and if you don’t wanna do something, you just go around it or pick a new quest that sounds more interesting.

When it comes to real life, there isn’t a leveling system or a reminder every 30 minutes that you’re doing well and achieving things, and sloughing through the shit is the definition of adulthood, no matter how much you don’t want to go to school today. There’s a reason people keep developing apps to turn your life into an RPG. Every word in that sentence is an individual hyperlink to a different app. Jeepers.

David Wong, Writer and Doomsayer for Cracked.com, described the breakdown in expectations really well a couple of years ago when he compared it to Sticker Shock. You go into a store chasing a washing machine or a TV and you have a rough idea that you’re gonna spend maybe 250 bucks, but then you get in there and some poor Harvey Norman employee has to explain that 250 bucks buys you an old-fashioned wooden washboard and the derisive laughter of your loved ones, and if you’re gonna get a new-fangled electric one you’re looking at 900 bucks and a handjob for the display model. That “Jesus tapdancing CHRIST! You’re kidding?!” moment is every day when you grew up with Blizzard telling you how wonderful you are for pressing Fireball.

“Effort shock” hits most people to some degree. People made unhappy by thinking they should have more than they do for the amount that they work make up the vast majority of the population, but I think it’s worse for people who don’t have a point of reference for effort -Vs- reward in the real world. Indulging too heavily in distractions like video games kind of turn off that real-life learning curve. People who are given time to adjust will generally do better than people facing an 85º incline.

 
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Cruisy early years, childhood, social interaction, high school, part time jobs, university, real work. It’s an opportunity to cruise past all of the parts that make up the training montage you imagine everyone else in society went through to learn how to function. The trouble is that the planet doesn’t stop spinning, and so one day you look up from the monitor, and suddenly there are people expecting you to do something productive with your time now that you’re out of high school and need to contribute to society. Bastards.

 
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Work, Work.”

I think that overindulgence was relatively commonplace amongst people my age – listless teenagers living in a golden decade for both MMOs and internet connections (the swap from dial-up to broadband was like getting a particularly spirited blowy from an angel). I know plenty of my friends had to catch up since turning 18, and realising video games don’t pay the rent. I’m still working on it to this day. I’m even starting to learn that the delayed gratification of a job well done is a distinctly more fulfilling feeling than the instant gratification of yelling “Ding!” in Guild Chat.

I guess we’re all getting a bit older and a bit blasé about MMOs, so hopefully it’s not too late to collect our things, make our apologies and run. Run so far. Never stop running. Fuck the wasted hours, the missed classes, the unapologetic moneygrubbing, the lowest-common-denominator marketing campaigns, and the people who keep coming back. It’s time to emerge bleary-eyed and blinking into the world – and hopefully not screw it all up.

Now all we have to do is keep Clash of Clans & Candy Crush from ruining the next generation.

“They ultimately earned $892 million [in 2013] (compared to $101 million in 2012).[21] The most recent fiscal year statistics show that Supercell earned $1.7 billion in 2014, led by its three primary games (Clash of Clans, Hay Day, and Boom Beach).”

Shit.

Mitchell Fowler
Mitchell "Mugz" Fowler is a guy who lives in Broome, Western Australia, who plays video games very badly, then swears at them. You can read some of that swearing here. When not playing video games, Mugz can be found unapologetically holding down and bloodily ripping off Yahtzee Croshaw.
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