Let us define addiction as "a recurring
behavior that is unhealthy or self-destructive which the individual
has difficulty ending" for the purposes of this paper.
Before trying to understand MMORPG addiction, it must first
be demonstrated that this is a phenomenon that is real and
occurs with a certain degree of prevalence. It is not hard
to show that MMORPGs are very compelling and require huge
time investments that many players are willing to give.
It can also be shown that many MMORPG players
would consider themselves addicted to the game, and that it
is fairly difficult to quit playing these games even if one
But just because these games are compelling
and many players diagnose themselves as being addicted to
them, does that immediately translate into an addiction? One
line of evidence is the strong parallel between MMORPG addiction
and substance addiction. Two typical symptoms of substance
addiction are dependence and withdrawal. Individuals who are
dependent on a substance need the substance to sustain a sense
of normality and well-being. Individuals who are dependent
on a substance suffer from withdrawal when they do not take
the substance. Withdrawal is marked by anger, anxiety, irritability,
The following charts show that a small
subset of players suffer from withdrawal symptoms even though
the bulk of players do not, which is what is to be expected.
In the same way that one could be a social drinker and not
be addicted to alcohol, it is clearly the same with MMORPGs.
Just because someone plays an MMORPG does not necessarily
mean that they will become addicted to it. And in the same
way that people can be addicted to alcohol even though not
everyone who drinks is addicted, it is clear that certain
individuals can be addicted to MMORPGs even though not all
MMORPG players are addicted. The following charts also make
clear that the amount of time spent playing is highly correlated
with the likelihood of suffering withdrawal.
The effects of withdrawal are articulated
by several players:
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]
EQ is highly addictive and quitting entirely
is something VERY difficult to do. After all, if you do
quit... everything you worked so hard for (your stats, equipment,
friends) is gone forever since characters are stored solely
on the Verant servers. The only thing you can take with
you is the stories. And those anecdotes will haunt you endlessly
until you give in to the urge to re-immerse yourself in
Norrath just one more time. [m, 27]
A stronger piece of evidence is the
parallel of dependence and the use of MMORPGs to feel better
about oneself. The data also shows that dependence is highly
correlated with hours played per week.
Critics may argue that similar responses could
also have been solicited from individuals who partake in many
healthy hobbies: such as dancing, tennis or skiing. Someone
who loves to play tennis or ski might be irritable and frustrated
if they weren't able to because of weather conditions; and
being on the court or the slopes may produce a kind of satisfaction
that boosts self-esteem. It is only when an individual partakes
in an activity in the face of negative or self-destructive
behavior that the use of the word addiction is appropriate,
and these behaviors are seen in MMORPG players.
The very things in the game that cause extreme
anger and rage in real life are the same reasons I still
play I suppose. For example, after finally "dinging"
into level 54 with one of my characters, I was running into
Fironia Vie and got jumped by a nasty NPC necro that took
my level. It enraged me, but its also the very reason that
even though it was 3 in the morning and I had to be up at
8 for work I played for another 2 hours to get the level
back. That's Evercrack. [m, 25]
The effects of self-destructive behavior
are seen more clearly when players are asked directly whether
their game-play has led to real life problems.
Still, the skeptic may argue that it is hard
to draw a line as to where hobby ends and addiction begins.
However, the point isn't where the line is drawn, but that
there is some point along the spectrum where most people would
agree that the amount of self-destructive behavior that is
caused by game-play is dangerous to the point of being labeled
as an addiction. There are also many anecdotes like the following
which even the most stalwart skeptic would be hard-pressed
to argue as being healthy and normal. (Readers interested
in perusing a large list of anecdotes can find them at the
Widows message board hosted by Yahoo Groups.)
I could take a guess that I was playing about
90+ hours a week. I was living in San Fran at that time.
EBay was paying our rent (for my boyfriend and I). We had
closeted ourselves inside our 1 bedroom apartment for days
at a time. We went out only to buy food and cigarettes.
I called my family on the east coast maybe once a month,
he called his maybe once every 2 weeks. Food consisted of
fast food or anything hand held or anything that could be
cooked in under 20 minutes. We literally saw no one but
each other for months at a time, we didn't bother with friends
or cultivating friendships.
We were kicked out of our apartment in January
2001, we fled back to the east coast, to our families. I
left the dude within weeks of moving back east, losing my
computer and all access to EverQuest. <poof> Having
no crutch and no co-dependent in my life at that point,
I actually attempted socializing again. I called old friends
and hung out with my family. So, I attempt to "normalize".
Interacting with more than 1 person at a time was just impossible.
I could not speak with more than 1 person at a time, if
there were 2+ people in a room, I had to leave it. The noise.....living
with other people, holy christ the noise, I felt as if I
had just come out of a bubble after 12 months and my ears
could suddenly clearly hear everything around me. [f, 23]
The above data shows the spectrum between
healthy and addictive game-play. It is also clear that there
is no one discrete point where a player suddenly becomes addicted.
In fact, the data shows that players can be addicted to these
games to different degrees. The claims that MMORPGs are completely
healthy or completely addictive are both extreme to the point
of absurdity, and are not supported by the empirical data
provided. But why are these games addictive? And why do certain
players become addicted while others do not? The rest of this
presentation tries to answer these questions.