It all started innocently enough with a good friend of mine asking a very simple question.
“Have you ever heard of Everquest?” I had not and he proceeded to tell me what Everquest was, a massive multiplayer online game set in a fantasy world. My first question naturally was “Can you be a necromancer?” and his reply was “Yes”. As soon as I heard this, I went to the store and bought Everquest, the Kunark expansion, and the Shadows of Luclin expansion; installed them and promptly made my first online character: An Erudite Necromancer.
I continued playing Everquest but I felt I needed more then just one character, so I bought a second account with all the expansions available, costing around $100 and played 2 characters at one time (a technique called 2-boxing). At this point Everquest came out with another expansion called Lost Dungeons Of Norrath, which had 3 person instanced dungeons with a specific goal and reward for finishing the goal. Since I wanted to play this myself, I bought a 3rd account with all the expansions, luckily in an “Everquest Complete” package only costing $60. Now, one thing about MMO’s is they had subscription fees in order to play on thier servers, this fee was $15 per month, so I was also paying $45 ($15*3 accounts) per month this entire time.
At this point, I was 3-boxing and grinding dungeons but was growing bored, the excitement was not there anymore so I started looking elsewhere and found World of Warcraft. WoW was a solid game, with a dungeon finder feature which matches you up with random people based on what role you wanted to play. This allowed me to grind dungeons over and over and eventually I would try and become perfect at my role. I would play for 8 to 10 hours on a day I had off, and 4-5 hours on work nights. I got into a guild and did raids, which required promptly showing up at an appointed time and staying for the entire raid time.
Since there is a finite amount of time in a day, in order to make more time for playing MMO’s I had to let other things go. I stopped going out with friends completely, I no longer cooked any meals but instead got the quickest takeout. Exercise was non-existant, as playing these games requires sitting in a chair for many hours at a time. In an MMO you can not simply pause the game and take a break, the game is always on and always in motion, if you leave the keyboard you are wasting someone else’s time because they have to wait for you, or you are missing out on vital fights and experience and possibly loot. In order to progress to non-casual levels in the game, you need to devote heart body and soul to the cause. There is a certain amount of human interaction within the game but it is masked, there is no body language that can be read, no physical interactions, no reading of funny facial expressions and if you didn’t use vent or teamspeak, there was no voices either, just typed chat.
What also ends up happening is a continual looking for something that feels different, which means trying and buying new MMO’s, things like Matrix Online, Age of Conan, City of Heroes; each one a different style, each one a hefty initial cost and a monthly subscription. I would subscribe to 3 or 4 at once and play each of them back to back; sleep was of little importance and for work I did enough to get by.
The cycle is difficult to break and now with the popularity of Free to Play MMO’s, it is much easier to get wrapped into multiple timesinks and think it is O.K. because there is monetary cost up front. What ends up happening is you get tied down to an MMO, invested into it and suddenly it is no longer a game, it is a lifestyle and at that point you can not even see that you are addicted. Breaking this kind of mental addiction is tricky, the harm seems very low; you are in a safe environment usually, you are not doing anything physically risky, it is playing a game and thereby “fun” but the risks are very real.