Living in digital worlds

As a long time MMORPG player, I have noticed many things in my days of playing.  I find that you only really reflect on these finer points about games, after you have both played, and quit, many of them. What I have noticed most is the behavior of people within the games, their attitudes toward people who have quit the games, and also, their feelings about all other MMO’s, except the one they currently play.  If humans are good at rationalization, then MMO players are masters of it.

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Currently, I do not play any online games.  I suppose this fact alone has helped give me perspective on this matter.  Another thing which gives me perspective is the fact that many of my friends do still play these games, all different games, and I can see their opinions of each other, and each others games, very clearly and unbiased.

Rationalization 1, I play an MMO because…

If I didn’t, I would just be doing <insert other waste of time activity> instead.  This is the best way MMO players can make themselves feel better about it.  The truth is though, when is the last time you stayed up until 4 am watching re-runs of Seinfeld, or decided to not go out with your friends on a saturday night so you could read a book?  Chances are, you didn’t.  If you are a hardcore gamer though, you might have.  Maybe you blew off going out with some friends so you could attend that raid, or maybe you stayed up until 4am chatting and you were late for work the next day.  I know I did, on many occasions.

Every MMO player has their own excuse about why its okay to spend more hours per week playing a game, then they do at work.  In reality, is it bad to play an MMO?  No, I don’t think so, but I do think it can be bad, if you are able to rationalize your playtime to a point where it gets out of control.

Rationalization 2, Social aspects

Let’s face it, MMO’s are built around being social, and as such you make “friends” in the games.  The problem is, people come and go.  People join and quit.  The people you make friends with in the game are only your friends because of the game, with a few exceptions.  

If you play an MMO, and you are a part of a group who plays together, for years and years, and one day you suddenly quit, expect to be written off.  It is much the same for heroin addicts.  Surround yourself with those who make you feel better about your addiction, not worse.  Do not expect to keep any sort of meaningful contact with people who you meet inside an MMO, unless they also quit.  

The problem is that, most people are unwilling to form any sorts of real relationships with others inside the game, because we all know in the back of our minds that one of us will quit, eventually.  The servers will be turned off, eventually, and at that point, more often then not, the relationship ceases to exist.

When you invest time into a game, you feel like you are building something.  A reputation, a base of friends, camaraderie.  The truth of the matter is, the people in the game only care about you in so much as you are beneficial to them in the game, beyond this, there is nothing.  It is shallow.

I played World of Warcraft for almost 3 years.  I built and hosted (and still host) my guilds Website, I manage and deal with the billing for their Ventrilo server, but I no longer play the game.  Occasionally I will log in to say hello.  What I find is that, no one, not the players I spent so much time playing with, nor the players who have joined the guild since I quit, could give a shit less about me anymore.  It doesn’t bother me, but I find it interesting.

I suppose the heroin analogy applies again, if you quit heroin, would your old heroin addict buddies want to hang around you?  The answer is no.  As I have experienced a similar result in my real life (not related to heroin), where I quit participating in an “activity” all of my friends still wanted to participate in, and they no longer wanted my company, after I quit.

Why is this?  Rationalization would suggest that, people do not want to be made to feel that they are less good then someone else.  People do not like to feel like they are doing the wrong thing.  It is easiest for our emotional immune system to simply surround ourselves by people who agree with us, and approve of our behavior, then it is to surround ourselves with people who disapprove, and by consequence, make us feel like we are less good then they are.

Rationalization 3, All other MMOs suck, except mine

This is a great one.  Amongst the population of any MMO game you play, the entire population will agree to hate every other game that comes about.  Especially if a really good game is expected to come out and “kill” your game of choice.  Moreover, the people who decide to play the games you don’t play, are stupid, noob, assholes.

I believe this is a similar rationalization amongst gamers.  We want to believe we are playing the best game, which carries the most recognition.  We want to believe our time which is being spent so carefully, is being spent in the best possible way.  We don’t want to think that there is a better game out there, that we could be playing instead.  So it is best to just write all other games off, and ignore them.

The majority of people play WoW, and it has over 10 million players.  No other fantasy MMO out there can even touch that sort of player base, and as such, every player, who plays any other MMO which is not WoW, hates WoW.  Not only do they hate wow, but they hate the “noobs” who play WoW.

Rationalization in general

Aside from MMO games, people rationalize everything, in every aspect of their lives.  We may not even realize it.  Most people think a rationalization is something like, “I can do <this thing which I know I shouldn’t do> because <some stupid reason here>”, but it is not all that cut and dry. 

Rationalization impacts every aspect of who we are.  We choose our friends based on how much they agree with us.  When we buy an expensive item, we avoid the negative reviews of it in favor of the positive ones.  If we do poorly on an IQ test, we find reasons to prove the test was invalid.

It is part of our emotional immune system.  Much like our physical immune system, our brain tries to protect us from unhappiness, and it acts in much the same was as the physical does.  Our physical immune system kills bad things, but it knows enough to recognize not to kill our own cells.  An under-active immune system leads to disease, and an overactive one leads to auto-immune disorders.  The brain works in much the same way.  It allows us to feel the pain of events which we can learn from, and become stronger from, but prevents us from feeling unhappiness in our every day lives.  An under-active system leads to depression, where an overactive one leads to an attitude of eliteness: “I am right and everyone else is wrong”.  

I think its a pretty interesting concept, and the more you are aware of it, the more you notice it.

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