Thursday, October 27, 2011

Giving gaming a bad name

Newsweek has an article with the usual examples of online gaming addiction killing people. That sort of article with always the same examples must have gone through every newspaper and magazine over the last years. For most rational people it should be clear that the chance to die from online gaming addiction is about the same as dying from TV addiction, and several orders of magnitude below the chance of dying from alcohol or drug addiction. But "addiction" makes such a nice word for headlines.

Unfortunately this sort of sensationalist journalism finds easy targets in the so-called "hardcore" players. MMO Melting Pot reported this week that the first Ragnaros HC kill came after 500 wipes, and that even after knowing how it is done most guilds need about 400 pulls before they down Ragnaros. But while MMO Melting Pot asks whether that is good game design (easy question: no, it certainly isn't), I'm wondering about the much more difficult question whether that sort of "hardcore" playing still is sane, or whether such behavior can rightfully be called "addicted".

There is certainly a problem that hardcore gamers are causing to the perception of people playing games in general. Every documentary about gaming (not to mention South Park) shows the unwashed guy living in his mother's basement playing WoW raids excessively while swearing profanities in his headset. We gamers know that this is a caricature, but in the end the perception hurts us all. We get to hear: "Oh, you play video games as a hobby? I've seen a film about that, isn't that rather unhealthy?"

What do you respond to that? That watching TV for 3 days probably isn't healthy either, even if it gets you a world record? Or do you launch the long-winded defence that the overwhelming majority of people playing video games plays them for less hours a day than the average American watches TV, and that a few crazies playing much more aren't representative for the rest of us? Sometimes I wonder if the Chinese aren't wiser than we are, when they impose limits on online gaming. Until then the hardcore gamers are going to be an easy mark for journalists writing about gaming addiction, and will continue to give gaming a bad name.

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