About 50% of MMORPG players would consider themselves addicted to the game. Some have tried to quit but failed. Others become angry or irritated when they are unable to play. While there is no clear line between healthy and obsessive game-play, it is clear that problematic usage is not uncommon.

I call myself an addict, because I share the same symptoms as someone who's addicted to smoking, or alcohol, or some other substance. I think about EQ while I'm not playing, I get stressed when I have to go 24 hrs without logging on for a fix, and I wasn't able to quit when I tried. If that's not an addiction, I don't know what is. [m, 22]

There are a variety of mechanisms in MMORPGs that may encourage obsessive usage. MMORPGs employ well-known behavioral conditioning principles from psychology that reinforce repetitive actions through an elaborate system of scheduled rewards. In effect, the game rewards players to perform increasingly tedious tasks and seduces the player to “play” industriously. These environments also encourage making friends or joining guilds that then become sources of social obligations.

While it’s easy to point at game mechanics in explaining problematic usage, this approach is flawed because it completely dismisses the fact that MMORPGs appeal only to certain video gamers. To many FPS gamers, MMORPGs are too repetitive and slow to be fun. Fundamentally, any explanation of problematic usage has to take into account the players themselves. And once we do, we begin to see how MMORPGs may be seductive because they relieve many common psychological stresses. For example, players with low self-esteem gain a tangible sense of power in these environments. Players who feel they are undervalued or have no control in the real world can become take on valuable or instrumental roles. It is in fact the ability of MMORPGs to empower users through its mechanisms that drive problematic usage.

At the same time, we should also be more critical about the implications of labeling media forms as "addictive". Why is it that say that gamers can become addicted to online games when we don't question the average American who watches 28 hours of TV a week? Why is it that video gamer deaths get on the 7 o'clock news when people die all the time when they play golf or while watching TV?

See Also:

- The Seduction of Achievement in MMORPGs
- Problematic Usage: some reasons why I think the word "addiction" frames the issue incorrectly and some survey findings that show that problematic usage is just as much about the player as it is about the game.

The Daedalus Gateway - The Psychology of MMORPGs

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