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Some Thoughts On Online Role-Playing Games

May 6, 2008

I’ve seen various articles in the news discussing a rather new issue in the history of mankind – video game addiction.  You hear about people who play video games for 8 or even 10 hours per day (basically every hour they’re not forced to work and do something else).  One of the most addicting types of games is the MMORPG (Massive Multi-player Online Role-Playing Game).

I have had a few excursions into some of these games, and have seen how it happens to people, and why.  I thought I’d sit down and write some of my thoughts on the issue.

I have played several online video games, such as World of Warcraft (the most popular one), Lineage II, and Ragnarok Online.  There are many others, but I have not played them.  I admit these games are very fun, and can be very “addicting”.

From my own experiences with the people I’ve met on these video games, the game is a substitute for their life.  Basically they hate the real world, and escape into a video game, where they find the environment and world much more suitable to live in.

When I say the game is an escape, this is certainly not everyone you meet in these virtual worlds.  Within these online RPGS (Role-Playing games), you find many different types of people.  There are hobbyists, like myself, who log in a few hours per week and play the game.  On the opposite extreme are the “hardcore” players, who turn it into their life.  And there’s just about everyone in between, but there is a very large number of hardcore players, and I’d have to say statistically that most of those you find playing the game are hardcore players.

These hardcore players (from those I’ve met) are mostly young college age individuals who neglect sleep, their school studies, exercise, eating, going to the bathroom, and everything else of reality, and sit in front of their computer screens night and day, playing the game.  I’ve literally met some of these people and cannot believe to hear the kinds of things they do just to get some extra experience points to level their character, or get some item, or weapon, or whatever.

Some of these games capitalize on the addictions, offering special “power-up” items, which allow you to level your characters faster, extra bonuses and equipment, etc., and you buy these things with real money.  These hardcore people will spend all their money on these things, and the game company will make loads of cash off these people’s addiction.  They may spend $12 per month to play the game, then spend $120 on game items.

I don’t really want to focus so much on what you see, as much as I would like to discuss why these addicts escape their real lives into the game.

This list is certainly not all-inclusive, but the main reasons I conjecture as to why people find such appeal to the video game world over their own world would be:

1).  Can be successful without interacting with anyone, or at least without interacting with many people.  Very little commitment.
2).  Socialist environment.  Everything is public property
3).  Adventure and Lack of boundaries.  Not confined to some small domain and asked to stay there.

Success Without Interaction

I grew up with the impression that if you worked hard, you could be successful.  I later learned the hard way that this is not the case.  Oftentimes in the real world you work your hands and knuckles raw, and still cannot make ends meet.  But in the online role-playing game, generally speaking, those who put a lot of hours into the game will be successful.  If they spend their time collecting items, training, etc., they will become powerful, have the best equipment, items, etc.

This I think is a big appeal to why they play the games.  These people have tried to work hard in reality, and have had no reward.  They probably have dreams and a life they would like to live in reality, and chances are, they’re not even asking for much.  But even this small portion they wish to carve out for themselves in the real world is unattainable due to all kinds of circumstances.

The real world demands that people work together in order to be successful.  You cannot make a large amount of money without sharing your vision with a large number of people, raising capital, and organizing a massive project.  All of these steps are difficult.  It’s difficult to get investors to sink money into your project.  It’s difficult to find people who share your vision, or even care about it.  It’s also difficult to organize a business structure where everyone’s happy and things work out how they need to.

The real world demands commitment to projects for a long time.  Businesses may not take off for years, and you have to stick with the same project, constantly trying to find ways to get over the next hurdle.  Employees who come to work for these companies oftentimes commit their lives to the business.  It becomes their “career”.

In online games, all these sorts of difficulties have been conveniently removed.  Games such as World of Warcraft, generally speaking, you can become super-powerful just by putting a lot of hours into the game.  You can level your characters playing all by yourself, and do not need anyone else’s help to do so.  The only time you’ll need to work with others in WoW (World of Warcraft) is when you need to get “epic” equipment.  These can only be attained if you find a group of people to go into the various dungeons within the game, and you must kill the bosses which lurk deep within.  They drop the powerful swords, the scepters, the armor, etc.

Some of these games brag that they require a social aspect, requiring people to work together, but this “working together” pales in comparison to reality.  In reality, you have to raise capital which will provide the resources for your employees for maybe up to two years, while your product is in development.  A team of people have to commit to a single vision for sometimes several years.  And that is working full-hour work weeks, 40 hours per week.

The only social aspect to these online video games is getting a “party”, which is bascially a group of people who will go and do some quest or mission with you.  The most this sort of thing demands from a person is their afternoon, and most of the time, only an hour or two.  People who play these games rarely have schedules, where they are forced to log in the game at a certain time, all show up, and work together.  Sometimes “guild” leaders (a guild is a group of loosely connected players) try to organize various dungeon runs, and try to get people to all log in at a certain time so the group can go do some mission.  Of course, as expected, since there is no way to enforce these sorts of things, the people rarely log in when they’re supposed to.

Countless hours are wasted waiting for people who are supposed to be online.  So and so is to play the priest character, and so and so is supposed to be your “tank” (such as a paladin or knight), but they don’t show up for a few hours, and the rest of the group sits around waiting and waiting and waiting.  (That’s another story in itself).  When I play these games, I always chuckle at this.  When I’m asked to do these things I always log in when I’m supposed to, just because I never lie, and always keep my word.  I’m slow to promise, but swift to fulfill.  I was once asked to log in on an early afternoon to go with a group to do a mission.  It was maybe a 10 man group.  Literally me, and one other girl were the ONLY ones who logged in on time.  The next earliest player to come online was an hour late, and the rest came several hours late.  I think 3 or 4 of them never even showed.

In the real world, I stand in the role of the employer.  People do not pull these stunts in the real world, because they get fired for doing so, and they would lose their home, their car, and wouldn’t even have money to buy groceries if they lost their income.  And as an entrepreneur, I CANNOT allow this sort of behavior.  Too many people are riding on the success of the project.  Some people’s careers depend on getting the product selling.  People move their familes down to work for your company.  They feed their children with the job income source.  You can’t be playing around.  Everyone has to be serious.

But for the most part, very little interaction, commitment, and organization is required for success in the video game world.  This is the appeal to the game, but is harmful to the real world.  All progress in mankind has been as we’ve learned to work together, share a common vision, and make things happen, together.  I find this tendency in these online games harmful because it discourages any sort of real organization and commitment.  People most often stress the escapism aspect of video game addiction, but I think it’s just as harmful for people to seek success by a solo pursuit.

This brings up something I’ve noticed in the online games, which is particularly interesting.  I know a couple who play the game together everyday.  They are boyfriend and girlfriend, and spend their time together by playing the game together.  They are the most successful of all the people I know on that game.  They have more max level characters than anyone I know.  Between the two of them, they have more high level characters than my entire guild, and I’m in a pretty big guild.  They work together everyday, so there is no time wasted looking for groups.  They share all their equipment and skills.  Two people working together efficiently can accomplish the same success as 30 others.  Reality works the same way.

If this same concept were applied by everyone in reality, people would move forward, but commitment scares people.  Whether it be commiting to a relationship, a project, whatever, you’ll always be more succesful in life if you stick to something, and do not waste time.  So many people build a house, tear it down, build another, tear it down, build another.  The most common waste of time is people re-doing the same thing someone else has already done.  If people would share and work together, instead of always trying to do everything themselves, you could move forward.  The real world is such a formidable adversary, working together is imperative, and a requirement for any progress at all.

This brings us to our next topic.

Adventure and Lack of Boundaries

We mentioned just now that commitment scares people.  The video game is just the opposite of commitment.  In the game, you can go anywhere, at any time.

In the real world, traveling to another location requires a car, gas money, insurance, plane tickets, train tickets, etc.  If you leave the country you need passports, have to get permission from all sorts of government agencies, etc.  If you are traveling a long distance, you have to worry about knowing the language, having proper supplies, and even such things as toiletries (toothpaste, deoderant…)

In the MMORPG, there is none of this.  If you’re powerful enough to enter the area, you just go.  Hop on your horse, your flying bird, or whatever, and just go.  No strings, no commitments, just go.

The real world has it’s own way of cramming us in a small box, and telling us, “this is your life.”  We get caught in this routine.  We shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, drive down the same road to the office, work all day, come home tired, go to our little wooden box (our home), lock ourselves in there, maybe watch some TV or a movie, and do the same thing the next day.  Overall, most people see very little of the world.

In my last entry on “American Dream”, I spoke briefly how there are all sorts of invisible boundaries which exist everywhere in the world.  We have state lines, country lines, private property lines…All sorts of invisible ropes roping everything off.  We are confined to our little box, our small little yard, and the very small amount of places which have been deemed “public”, such as parks, stores, etc.  99% of the world is inaccessible to us at all times.  We either don’t have the money, the legal rights, or any of the other means to go places outside of our normal routine.

It doesn’t surprise me that the people who are crammed in their boxes have created a much bigger world within their boxes, where they can once again live, explore, and interact with one another.  It may be a flickering computer screen, but it’s better than nothing.

They are finally able to see a world outside of the limited experiences they’re used to.  People in the real world are oppressed, there’s no doubt about it.  Most people never live their dream.  They get to do very little of what they want to do.  But the game allows them freedom.

You’ll notice none of the successful games have private property.  If one was to institute this it’d be a sure failure.  That’s the reason they’re escaping to the game.  You’ll notice everything in the game is public domain.  You can go anywhere, and do anything.  Generally speaking, everyone is offered the same opportunities for success, and are allowed to go anywhere they’re trained and got the proper equipment for.  And this equipment is accessible to all who will work for it.

What’s even more interesting is that socialists write about this very thing, and want to create a world which is much more like the online RPGs are structured.  I seriously think this video game movement may be an impetus to creating a whole new social world.  I could see these young people growing up playing these games, and then when they’re older, hearing a philosopher, politician, professer, or whoever, giving lectures and speeches trying to put these same sorts of concepts into reality, people would be much more receptive to them.  People are able to actually see socialism in action.  Sure there’s a lot of other problems which reality has, which the video game does not, but there’s a whole lot of similarities as well.

There are many more reasons why people play these games, but I think the reasons presented above are the most important ones.  Now I will move to what I think is most harmful in these video games.

Harmful Aspects To Video Games

The only thing I can say about escaping to video games is this:  The real world is infinite, the video game is finite.

Video games are finite, and you will run out of things to do.  This leads to the build up, scrap, start over, way of life.  You play one video game, master it, get all the levels, do all the quests, get all the equipment, then you beat it.  Eventually you’re done with the game.  You’ve done everything.  A new game needs to come out, and it all starts over.

The real world, however, never ends.  From what I’ve found, it can be difficult to get a hold on at first, but once you begin to master some of its intricacies, and are able to achieve some freedom within it, it is a great place, or at least can be.  On top of this, if you manage your affairs well, life can be a building process.  You never are “done”.  You never have to scrap it all and start over.  You never have to start the next stage of life empty handed.  The skills and knowledge you acquired from one area of life often fuel new pursuits, and help you to achieve even greater success.

The real world is like a project which always has something new.  When you study physics, mathematics, astronomy, or any other science, you find that everything is so deep and intricate.  You can spend your life studying and not even scratch the surface of anything.

Video games, you read a few guides, and you’re familiar with 80% of everything, and the rest of it, you learn within six months.

Developing your real life is much more fulfilling.  Video games have a few classes for you to play, such as priest, paladin, knight, etc.  Real life has literally infinite roles.

The video game is sort of a trade off.  You can achieve success more easily, but you lose access to the infinite portal which life offers.  You put binds on yourself, and confine yourself to that simple video game world.  You take off the real world’s shackles and willingly put on mental shackles of the video game.

But the people who trade their real lives for the game do so because their life is like having a car but no gas to put in it.  Like a bag of microwave pop-corn and no microwave.  Like having a bag of instant oatmeal, but no hot water or bowl to heat it in.

I honestly do believe that people can succeed in the real world.  It’s more difficult, and requires a lot of effort with your mind, but it is possible to live a good life.  It is possible to live in a world which is better than anything you can create in your imagination.  It does seem true to me that we can achieve whatever we set our minds to do.

I know with me, I choose the infinite reality over the video game.  I love physics and philosophy.  I love studying the sciences and figuring things out.  It’s more fulfilling to me than playing video games.  I used to play games all the time.  So did Greg.  We have both talked about it (Greg and I), and nowadays we hardly play games, and are more happy than we’ve ever been.  Reality is complicated, but nobody can be entertained for long by something simple.  Video games are simplified reality, and are less fulfilling.

I think Greg and I’s lives keep getting better day by day because of a two factors:

1).  Everyday we believe things will get better, that we’re going to have a better life, and pursue that life
2).  Repeat step 1, over and over and over, regardless of how things appear at the time, and what comes against us as we pursue step 1.

I have a quote I oftentimes tell people, which is not immediately intuitive: Difficulty is not intrinsic to a task, but is dependent on your approach.

I once watched a handy-man try to put a window in a home.  He struggled and struggled.  Then I watched an expert do the same task effortlessly. There was some trick he had when he put it in, and the window just slid right into place.

There are so many examples of this same principle.  This may show my nerdy side, but lately I’ve been working problems in a Calculus textbook, preparing myself mathematically for hardcore physics research I plan to do here soon.  When I work these problems in the book, I check my answers in a solution guide which came with the book.  Some problems I would crank and crank, and I’d finally get the answer.  I’d think, “Man, that problem was nasty.  That took me 20 minutes.”  Then I’d see the solution guide’s way of doing it, using some technique, and they could do the problem effortlessly.  It was like two steps, and could be done in 30 seconds.

Life is the same way.  If it’s difficult for you to achieve success, most likely it’s how you’re going about life to begin with.  Many of the roads in life are needlessly complicated, and full of wasted energy.  There are countless hampster wheels for us to run on.  So many treadmills for us to waste energy on, yet move us nowhere. Life can leave you tired, distraught, and sore.  We all know this.  You work so hard, and get so little.  But over the years I’ve came to view this entire dynamic differently.

I think life is a test of efficiency.  If you’re struggling, I think life is saying, “Hey, you’re doing something wrong.”  It seems we’re rewarded for using our minds to find good ways to do things, but we are punished oh so severely if we do not use our minds to find better ways to do things.

Recently Greg sent me an article he got from a very successful businessman, who introduced a thing which he calls the 80/20 rule.  He said that if you are to examine your day, in your mind, you’ll find that 80% of your success and the things you love out of life, come from 20% of your actions.  In other words, most of us waste 80% of our time, which isn’t doing anything for us.  A lot of us don’t even enjoy the time we waste.  We sit around bored, watching some reality TV show, with Snoop Dog vacuuming his rug.  We watch stupid movies, which we don’t even enjoy that much.

I see people with weight problems, and then think to myself, “No wonder you have weight problems.”  They eat Taco Bell every other day.  McDonalds, Arby Melts, and fried chicken.  I oftentimes eat steamed vegetables, oat-meal, and cereal.  I also exercise.  I do not have any of the health issues or weight issues these people have either.

Then after these people eat this junk for years, and blimp out, then they go and spend big money on weight loss plans.  What’s funny about this situation is that I don’t spend any more effort than they do, eating the “lighter” foods.  I feel better, look better, and even spend less money than they do on food.  Then I also do not need to spend big money on a weight plan, and do not stress my body with circulation problems.  My arteries are not all plugged up, I have more energy.  I go could on and on.  This is just one example of reality taxing you for being stupid.

People do the same thing financially.  They bury themselves in all kinds of debts, and then they run around in a frenzy, working two jobs, trying to pay the bills.  They work and they work and they work, and all the money just goes to the banks in interest.  Just dumb decisions.

I’m not picking on anyone.  I’m king of dumb decisions.  I used to try to do all my businesses by myself.  I thought, “I’m a pretty talented guy, I can find a way to do this.”  So I’d work and work and work.  I also didn’t get anywhere.  I read in business books that you don’t want to do this.  You always want to write a business plan, get help.  But oh no, I’d get greedy.  I wanted the entire project for myself.  “I can do it!”  (so I told myself).  The wise men kept telling me, “It’s much more wise to have a smaller percentage of a huge pie, than all of nothing.”  But I kept thinking I could do it myself.

If you’re starting your own business and struggling, don’t be dumb like I was.  Learn how to raise angel capital, and venture capital.  Learn how to write business plans, and design systems.  Learn how to hire quality help.  Life will go much more easily.  You’ll make way more money, work way less, and enjoy life way more.  Nothing is more valuable than your time, because in life, we don’t have much to spend.

Never try to do everything yourself, and don’t pursue success in life by yourself.  Learn to work with others.  Learn how to be a leader.  Learn how to organize your projects and make them into reality.

We all too often sit in self-pity, complaining about life being difficult.  But life is not difficult.  Life is not easy.  It all depends on what road you go down, and how you approach each thing life throws at you.

There may be a mountain range in front of you, and so many people get the climbing gear out, and the thick coats.  They plan to climb each mountain with primitive gear, with their bare hands and feet.  You struggle your whole life, nearly die, and only make it half-way through the mountain range.  Another man just takes a little time out, thinks over the situation, builds an airplane, and crosses the entire range in a few hours.  It all depends on your approach.

So in conclusion, never blame others when you’re failing.  If you’re failing, I can almost guaranatee you you’re just not approaching your problems wisely.  Always blaming the government, your community, your family, etc, will only delay your own progress.  Set the gaze of judgment back on yourself.  Don’t hate yourself.  Don’t even blame yourself.  Just look at the situation for what it is.  Try to dispassionately examine everything (I know it’s hard sometimes), but try to say, “Where am I going wrong.”  Find your life kinks, and straighten them out.

If you learn how to judge yourself, while at the same time love yourself, that will take you a long way.  That really is just another way of saying having faith in yourself.

There are a million forces in this world to discourage you.  So many people who tell you that you can’t.  So many things to tell you you’re worthless, and not intelligent.  So many trials who knock you over and tell you you’re not strong enough.  But always remember that you’re not who you are.  You’re whoever you make up your mind to be.

The hardest dynamic to explain in human reality is our moldability and our ability to overcome.  If you can overcome your own mental insecurities, and find that strength deep within you to take on anything the world brings, you will move forward.  I’d say 95% of life is mental.  The other 5% would be knowledge. There are basically two forces:  Those who tell you you’re a static, permanent thing who can’t change the situation, and there are those who encourage, bring stength, and change.  Life is defined by that which can change the situation.  Movement. Energy. Death is when you no longer move.  When you become stagnant.  A rock statue, stuck in some location, waiting to slowly erode away.

I’ll conclude by saying, don’t let the real world intimidate you.  It scares a lot of people off, but all life’s bosses can be beaten.  Just like in the video games, if you learn the strategy guides, you can defeat the problems effortlessly.  When the bosses of life attack, just learn where to stand to dodge the bullets.  I can remember in Super Metroid that if you roll up in a ball in the lower-left corner, one of the bosses can’t even hit you.  Life’s strategy guides come from many sources, but they’re out there, if you search around for them.  Just don’t be surprised if they come in forms you’re not acquainted with.

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Topics: Philosophy, Psychology | 2 Comments »

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