[Every Saturday, Gamer Limit will post an editorial as part of our weekly routine!]
Every once in a while we will hear a news story about some poor, ignorant soul getting sucked into the false reality of online gaming. These people choose the pixelated world over the real one and, in doing so, can often ruin friendships, relationships, and ultimately, their own lives.
Role-playing games, to a lesser extent, provide the same vast escapism as most massively multiplayer online games. While their longevity may not be as perpetual as MMOs, their effect on the player can be just as exhausting and just as detrimental.
I used to go to a school with a guy in the grade above me; let’s call him “Joe.” Joe was your typical senior student: intelligent, friendly, and a casual gamer. He ended up getting ridiculously good marks on completion of his final year, and went off to the big smoke to study IT at university.
Fast-forward several years and my housemate casually brings up Joe in a conversation. I was never a close friend of Joe, and we lost touch after he moved to Brisbane. My housemate asked me whether I’d heard about what happened to Joe recently. I hadn’t.
When Joe moved to Brisbane, he decided to be sensible by moving in with his girlfriend, forgoing the typical “party house” for a unit within walking distance to the campus. The first couple of years of his degree were straightforward: great results and perfect attendance were the norm. However, by the third year, Joe had become more and more reserved. He had discovered a little title by the name of World of Warcraft and had taken to playing it for days at a time, neglecting both his work and relationship obligations.
To cut a long story short, my housemate informed me that Joe’s dad had died unexpectedly the week prior. Joe hadn’t attended the funeral.
Now, I wasn’t familiar with Joe’s family life or whether he and his father were on good terms, but I did know that his girlfriend had left him several months earlier due to his growing addiction with World of Warcraft. From an outside perspective, it seemed that an extremely intelligent guy was making some pretty horrible decisions.
Second Life has become just as much a fascination as World of Warcraft, with millions of gamers worldwide – both casual and hardcore – logging in for dozens of hours every week. And with the inclusion of human elements that can often mimic real life, albeit in a fantastical sense, it is more than easy to see how Second Life could turn any average gamer into an obsessive one.
One of the more popular cases to come out of the Second Life saga is the story of a woman who claims to have lost her son to the MMO. If you have a bit of time on your hands, have a read through some of the comments; there are plenty of interesting opinions on the subject. While the validity of the mother’s claim may be questionable, we would be fools to think that this sort of thing never happens.
I have been a massive RPG fan for as long as I’ve been a gamer. With the constant growth of gaming throughout the world, I have been able to see things I could only dream of come to life in games.
My first real foray into anything resembling a role-playing game was Lucas Arts’ Day of the Tentacle. I was absolutely thrilled to find that I was given the freedom to open, pick up, and talk to almost anything in the surrounding environment. However, there were only so many things you were able to accomplish, and no matter how hilarious they might have been, my enthusiasm soon dwindled.
Squaresoft did a great job of filling my spare time with Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VII, but it wasn’t until Bioware came into my life that I knew the true meaning of obsessive gaming.
When Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic fell into my lap in late 2003, I truly fell in love with gaming. I didn’t know what to do with myself. There was an entire Star Wars galaxy out there for me to explore, but so few hours left of my weekend to play. Perhaps being in high school for the release of KotOR was a good thing, as I was never allowed to let the fantasy steer me away from my studies.
Jade Empire in 2005 was a different story altogether. I was in my first year of university and relishing the freedom of not “having” to attend classes. I didn’t have enough cash to purchase the game, so instead hired it out – and in the process probably spent more money than it would have cost brand new.
Mass Effect had the same outcome. Even Lionhead (Fable, Fable II) and Bethesda (Morrowind, Oblivion, Fallout 3) got in on the let’s-make-Simon-a-hermit party.
In all honesty, it was me who did the damage, not the games. I let myself get caught up in the false, almost ethereal worlds that were created for me to explore. I was someone else; someone better, more powerful, more loved, more confident than I ever could be in real life, and I was rewarded for that time spent – if only with intangible achievements. RPGs were always an excuse for me not to hang out with friends, to finish an essay, or to keep writing music.
It wasn’t until I started full-time work that I began to appreciate the time spent outside of games. The line between reality and fantasy had blurred so much that I stumbled into a second life without even realizing how much of my days I was spending inside them. Just one more mission; only two more swords until my coin multiplier earns me 10,000 gold.
Sure, for those who have ever been through the same thing, we can laugh about it now. But ask yourself, if that ultimate RPG ever came along, which allowed you to do anything, would you truly be able to play it “casually?”
For myself, I’m eagerly anticipating the release of Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins. But I’m hoping that this time I can utilize the benefit of hindsight, adjusting the game around my life, not my life around the game.