Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My escape from video game addiction

My guess is that half of you are saying "when were you ever a video game addict?" while the other half are saying "what do you mean 'escape?'" I like video games. I grew up on King's Quest and Space Quest from Sierra. My favorite games were/are the Final Fantasy series. In college I picked up Half-life and Starcraft. I eventually broke down and got a Wii in graduate school. The game flavor I currently enjoy is that of tower defense games such as Plants vs. Zombies.

One type of game I have religiously stayed away from is the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). Strangely enough, I actually played the first one of these to come to the market: The Realm. Well, "first" depends on your definitions, but it was definitely groundbreaking and one of the first in the genre as we recognize it today. It was put out by Sierra. Since I enjoyed Kings Quest I decided to install the demo and see what it was all about. I played it for a while and then never played another MMORPG again. That was my escape from video game addiction.

At the time I did not think much of it. In fact, I think the decision was mostly financial (I didn't want to pay the subscription fee). I do remember noting that the game would be dangerous for me since it did not have a clear end point. The newest Final Fantasy game may take a while to beat, but eventually you have done pretty much everything. There are even a finite number of side quests. Those games also do not have any of the social compulsion found in MMORPGs. I have a personality that would get sucked into these MMORPGs and have a hard time coming out.

This is not to say that I do not play video games. I do play video games. However, I mostly play off-line. During my freshman year of college I played a bit of Starcraft and Half-life on-line, but I stunk. Although there can be some concept of teams in those games, that is primarily individual play so there are not the social pressures normally associated with MMORPGs. Not to say that those pressures do not exist outside MMORPGs. Counter Strike wasn't really big yet (Half-life had just barely come out), but I had a roommate during my senior year that played Ghost Recon nearly 24/7 as part of an elite team.

A "gaming" addiction can also form from much more benign "games." I have given up all fantasy sports other than Tournament Challenge for March Madness. I found that reading the stats, forming a team, and hands-off battles games felt very similar to a role-playing game. Although each season had an end, during the season there is no end to how often you can tweak your team. This meant I could endlessly crunch numbers and sink time into it. Not good, so I decided to stop playing. The difference with March Madness is that players just pick the brackets once and then the rest is hands-off.

Why bring all this up? I was listening to The Internet Safety Podcast a few weeks ago and the host, BYU's Dr. Knutson, interviewed Brad Dorrance of ExGamer.net. Brad's website has been down, but he is also affiliated with online gamers anonymous. They talked about game addiction and made a number of great points. I like Dr. Knutson's podcasts in general, although he sometimes interviews in order to solidify his positions instead of in order to gather information. You can get some idea about his positions from the Ensign article he co-wrote, Just a Game?. I find myself agreeing with him most/all of the time, and when I think I don't agree I often realize he's right when I think about it later. He seems to be in line with Elder Bednar's counsel. Can't go wrong with that.

Subscribe to The Internet Safety Podcast. Read about gaming addiction in social science, psychology, and theology. Chances are very good that you will have to deal with this at some time to some degree, either directly or indirectly. Now please excuse me while I try to get to some deeper dungeons in MAngband. j/k