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There is a dark side to MMORPGs that players are oftentimes unwilling to confront - the prevalence of addiction.

A significant number of respondents considered themselves to be addicted to the game. Female players below the age of 23 were more likely than male players of the same age range to consider themselves addicted to the game.

The effect of addiction can also be felt by the number of players who have tried to quit but were unsuccessful. About 10% of EQ and DAOC players, and about 20% of UO players, have tried to quit but were unsuccessful. It is unclear whether the rate of failure decreases with age because older players are more successful when they try to quit, or because they are less likely to try to quit to begin with. The former is probably the correct interpretation.

Some players brush this issue aside and trivialize it, arguing that gaming addiction cannot be as serious as substance addiction. Some players deny their own addiction by claiming "it's just a game", but stories such as the following force both players and observers to rethink the seriousness of gaming addiction.

         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 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.
         I found that I could no longer clearly express anger or emotional pain. Ever seen a toddler throw a temper tantrum? I had no self-worth, whatsoever. I was embarrassed and riddled with guilt that I had spent 12 months playing EQ and had cut myself off from the world for it. I still cannot manage my anger and the self-worth looks about like swiss cheese. I am violent when I am angry. VIOLENT. I was not like this before I invested a chunk of my life in this game.
Got a job, made some money, saved a lot of money. In May 2001, I bought a computer, bought EQ and started messing around with it again. I ran into an old EQ friend in game, the old camaraderie rekindled, he ended up on a plane and flew out to meet me in July 2001. In August, we married. I moved to Kansas to be with him and have not regretted anything for a second.
         So what's going on with EQ? In July, I paid $50 to have my main character transferred to the server my husband and friends inhabit and as per "The Rules", I lost her gear in the transfer. I poked around at the game for a couple of months and just wasn't having any fun. I had little decent gear, so I felt like a retard. My character had been level 56 for a year at that point, so I was uncomfortable with that aspect of it also. The groove was just not there. I iced the account for a few months, just did not play at all. The game has always worked the same for me: shit starts happening when you find the groove. When you find old friends and start killing together, when you find a good, comfortable guild, when you start having FUN again, you've found the groove.
         I went poking around for the groove in April 2002 and I freaking found it again. I can't escape the fun, it's lurking around every corner. I'm playing a whopping 10-20 hours a week, I am proud to report. The husband is the ONLY reason I do not play more than that. It is a battle of wills to fight off the groove. I just simply don't play, I turn my shoulder on it and wait for the weekend, but the urge is just freaking killer. I can't walk back into it and I know it.
         I hope you're getting some real stuff, I hope to God you're getting more than standard fluffy responses. I don't know why I want people to understand the shadier side of this game, I certainly don't want MMORPGs banned or made the scapegoat for suicides. This is a real addiction and I could point at any number of people who are either dealing with the addiction first-hand or dealing with it as a loved-one. I have friends in this game who NEVER took a break, they've been playing this game for 2 and 3 years straight. They come home from work and log on and play until 3am, wake up 3 hours later and go to work. I'm guilty of the same and I'd do it again if I gave myself the chance. [f, 25, EQ]

A male player describes a different kind of incident that made him realize how serious his addiction was.

         It happened while playing the game EverQuest. I had been working over this one quest over the few weeks a lot, like many hours a day. When I had gathered the required ingredients for the item that I would need for the next stage (for those that have played EQ it was the shawl quest) I went to see the guy that gave out the quest. When I finally got there, I started putting those stuff into the trade window, (it was the last shawl quest, would've gotten me 7th shawl) and hit trade. Only thing I got was a reply from some other NPC that said like: "Thanks, though I don't have any use for these".
         My first reaction was this weird feeling, I felt like empty like when someone dumps you or etc. I just stared at the screen my mouth open and couldn't realize what had happened. Soon I understood and petitioned as is the way in EQ when you need help, but the GMs refused to help me and that is when I got so mad I had never before been. All that time wasted and I would have to re-do the whole quest would I want the 7th shawl. I shut down the computer, stood up in the manner that my chair fell and walked over to my door and started hitting it in fury. It had many holes after than and I had also scored few hits on the concrete wall next to it.
          I had to see a doctor for my hand and had it fixed. Few knuckles had splintered into pieces and they glued it up, was a month or so before I could use my right hand again. I realized then that how addictive this game can be and how much it has influence on our feelings, I'm sure nothing in real life could get me so angry as I was then, when I started counting the hours I've spent with it I made a decision that I will stop playing, and now as I write this, I no longer play EQ and though I still visit my old guilds message boards, check the latest news in EQ and feel tempted to start again, I am happy I quit, it's quite different out in the real life and much better than anything the game could offer. [m, 26, EQ]

Many players get defensive when outsiders make accusations against MMORPGs, and this is because many MMORPG players witnessed how D&D was unfairly blamed for Satanism, sexual perversions, insanity, witchcraft and murder among other things in the late 80's. But the reality is that gaming addiction is a very real issue that should be taken very seriously, and this issue alone makes it difficult to write MMORPGs off as "just a game".

Copyright, July 2002, by Nicholas Yee.
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