My obsession with Multi-Player Online Role-playing
Games began about 4 years ago in a text-based MUD, "Dragon
Realms." Fortunately and proudly, I have been "Serpent
Queen Danciy Dynae" of the "Family of Silver Serpents,
[FSS]" throughout those intriguing years. With each day that
passed in my "fantasy world," I learned. I learned I could
develop and preserve some of my most treasured friendships in a
game. I learned, very quickly, maintaining a "family"
online could at times consume as many hours during a day as "real"
life activities. I learned, spending 8-12 hours online each day
could very easily be considered the "norm." And most importantly,
I learned, my guild/family would make my gaming experience one of
the most addicting and exhilarating habits I have. Additionally,
I have a fascination with sociology and psychology. So, I asked
many other players why they thought MMORPG's were so addictive.
Oddly, no one ever knows and there certainly is no "one"
right answer. We must enjoy our mouse flying across the room, the
lack of desire to go outside, or the constant game thoughts throughout
the daily humdrum offline.
Hmm..Is it an addiction?
To better understand our virtual environment
- known as Massive Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Games - we can
incorporate the idea used by John Suler, PhD. and apply modern day
psychology. What causes MMORPG's addictions? And, is there always
a pathological problem (i.e. altered or caused by disease) or can
there be positive aspects to being "addicted?"
"You Should Know"
There is no official psychological or psychiatric
diagnosis of an "Internet" addiction. The most recent
edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
(DSM-IV) - which sets the standards for classifying types of mental
illness - does not include such category. When compared to different
addictions, Internet addiction is most closely related to Pathological
Psychologists agree people become preoccupied
with an object, individual, or activity because it satiates a need.
In the 1960s, Humanistic Psychologist, Abraham Maslow, proposed
the wide variety of human motives according to a hierarchy of needs,
in which basic needs must be met before other needs are aroused.
Hence, when we manage to gratify a level of needs reasonably well,
this gratification triggers needs at the next level. Using Maslow's
hierarchy I will attempt to formulate some significance of these
MMORPG's that are so enticing, consuming, and fantastic.
"Did you say Sex?"
Sigmund Freud tenaciously claimed that sex
was the primary human drive. Moreover, Maslow places it at the primal
level of his hierarchical pyramid (along with the needs hunger,
thirst and physical safety). It's indisputable; sex is a basic biological
need that demands awareness. Because virtual relationships can be
so incredibly anonymous players feel expressively safe. They can
act out fantasies by transforming their personas and gender identities,
can easily escape any situation, and for those who choose, it's
about as "safe-sex" as you can get. In most instances
the good ole term "flirting" works nicely.
The uniformed public believes these relationships
to be vague and insincere. I find that my online relationships can
feel very real, intimate and as special as any single real life
relationship. Some people are enticed by the opportunity to experiment
with their sexual inclination - a process that can be very normal
and healthy, oh and lots of safe fun. The fact that real life implicit
social boundaries are missing from online relationships enables
players to easily seek out acceptance. Others may search for in-game
relationships out of solitude, dependency, antagonism, or an insatiable
emptiness. People become engrossed with sex for the same reasons
people become obsessed in any context. Furthermore, the basic needs
being met in game are the same as in the real world. These relationships
trigger the next stage of Maslow's Hierarchy.
"Yes, I Know You!"
One reason many people return day after day
to their virtual world is the vast interaction with diverse people.
On the second level of Maslow's hierarchy is the need for interpersonal
acceptance-from family, friends, and in intimate relationships.
Likewise, as humans we instinctively desire to be near those that
know and understand us.
In game a mixture of social needs can be
fulfilled. Sight, sound, and real emotion can all be experienced.
Weddings, picnics and wars all take place. You make enemies, best
friends, and test your social abilities on a daily basis.
Ironically, social frustrations can promote addiction in some players.
If you want people to know your name - you have to keep playing.
The more time you spend in character, the more powerful you become,
the more people get to know you, the more you are considered a member
of a family / guild. For many players, it is precisely those social
goals that compel them to keep coming back.
Men have stated they thrive from the power and respect drawn from
the ability of being able to slash, kill, stab, and / or blow up
their enemies. On the other hand, women are drawn to the uninhibited,
safe and anonymous relationships. Players that have made real, lasting
relationships disagree wholeheartedly with the uninformed public's
belief that online relationships are insincere.
"Now I Scribe!"
On the next level of Maslow's hierarchy is the need for gaining
of order and self-esteem. Computers in general are addictive because
they perform tasks in a highly efficient and rewarding manner. Likewise,
online games rely on a very addictive cycle. Many gamers agree MMORPG's
contain inducing, aesthetic, and reinforcing features which promote
Virtual worlds usually have abilities one must master in order to
reach his/her next rank. Learning these skills satisfies a basic
need of understanding. With each new level new abilities and unknown
powers intensifies a player's need to master new bolder experiences.
Attempting to master the technical and/or social environment, while
occupying MMORPG's, follows a normal, healthy process. However,
for players driven to compensate for feelings of failure, inadequacy,
and helplessness, or to overcome desperate needs for love - the
obsession with game life can become a valid addiction.
"And I am Queen!"
Finally, at the top of Maslow's pyramid remains the need for "self-actualization."
The basis of self-actualization involves working towards the development
of oneself to full potential. Maslow declared, "What a man
can be, he must be."
Are players self-actualizing while role-playing? Players unquestionably
feel they are developing fulfilling relationships with one another.
They reach full potential by mastering the social and technical
aspects in their fantasy world. And players are relating to others
and themselves unlike ever before possible. So, are they attaining
Maslow's healthy personality?
When asked, both male and female gamers express they are more open
and communicative while in character. Players desire and care for
their characters well being just as they do in real life aspects.
Is this perception less meaningful than what we experience in "real"
"Well am I addicted?"
According to Maslow, people will be frustrated if they are unable
to use their talents fully or pursue their true desires. Addictions
can be healthy or unhealthy. Both positive and negative features
can be found embedded in addiction. However, in truly pathological
addictions, the bad outweighs the good, resulting in personal and
People are addicted to innumerable possibilities - drugs, eating,
gambling, money, sex, etc. You name it; someone loves it too much.
(Note however, that pathological addictions usually derive from
childhood issues or deficiencies.)
Many players frequently joke about their "addiction" and
this may be a good sign. Showing they have some awareness and perspective
of what they are doing. One common feature of hardcore addiction
is an almost unrelenting, solid denial that there is a problem.
Nevertheless, addiction is a serious matter, regardless of its nature.
When a player begins to flunk out of school, lose a job or is divorced
by a spouse because they cannot resist their virtual land, they
are pathologically addicted. Viktor Brenner, of Marquette University,
advises that personality disorders, family problems, quality of
life, and disfigurements be further explored.
So, what does all this mean to us daily gamers? Are we being negatively
affected by fantasy worlds? Many psychologists believe so. Looking
at Internet addiction as an escape from real life, most people will
view it as negative. However, I am finding that the more time we
spend on line, the less implicit and explicit societal boundaries
hinder us, and the more in tuned with ourselves we become. Maybe
the fact that in game relationships make obsolete most real life
boundaries is a superior progressive step. Or, perhaps we are becoming
less addicted to real life and therefore a threat to those who view
our virtual worlds as phony.
In the same sense, Astronauts discover unknown
boundaries and anomalies daily. They are searching and conquering
worlds that most of us can not begin to grasp. I wonder whether
these astronauts might easily be persuaded to spend more time in
their space world and less time in the real world.
In my opinion this is what our generation
of MMORPG players are doing. We are discovering new limits and boundaries
in humanity never before probed. People from all over the world
come together and share thoughts, dreams, and inhibitions. For those
who are reluctant to try our virtual lands, I feel sorry. I sense
they are missing an opportunity to experience
human interactions in a very innocent, uninhibited, unique, fulfilling
and moreover, REAL world.
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