I have a thing for addiction.
Based off the number of hits, the articles on my weblog which have touched the most folks deal with forms of technology addiction. The consistent theme I read in articles which refer to NADD and RII is, “Whew, there are others out there like me.”
The articles themselves attempt to paint a semi-humorous picture about behaviors which, when exhibited by someone nearby, would give you cause for concern.
You: “What ARE you doing?”
Me: “Yeah, well, I’m just being myself in a world where keeping pace with technology involves the development of productive neurosises.”
You: “But you’re acting like a freak.”
My professional career is built on a foundation of me being a freak. This weblog is often defined by articles which explain, in great detail, how I manage to continue being a freak. This article will only make me more of a freak.
Been playing Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. A lot. By the time I finish this article, I’m hoping to have taken a Night Elf Hunter to Level 60. My guess is this will involve approximately 17 days or 408 hours of online play time. That’s time where I’ve been doing nothing but staring at the screen and telling a pile of polygons what to do.
I think my Warcraft addiction has been mild compared to others. I’m guessing 17 days (spread over many months) to get to level 60 is nowhere near the record. I’ve pissed off my family at times due to lack of attention, but I don’t think I’ve every played past 2am. I don’t dream about Warcraft and after my first week of playing, I don’t have deep urges to get back to the game.
I did play a ton during the holidays. I do check-in before work to take a look-see at the Auction House. I am active in my guild and I have purchased an item for my Night Elf because, well, it looks good.
If you’ve never played Warcraft, the previous three paragraphs didn’t mean much to you, but I bet you’ve heard of it. I also bet you have an opinion regarding Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (“MMORPG“) games and I’m betting it’s a slightly negative opinion.
Let’s start with that.
Those Fucking Geeks
I didn’t touch online role-playing until Warcraft. If you’re not familiar with the space, all you need to know is they’ve been around in various popular forms since the late 90s. World of Warcraft is the 800 pound gorilla in the space with roughly 6 million subscribers. Think about that for a moment. WOW has more subscribers than there are residents in Los Angeles… with a San Jose thrown in for good measure.
My reasons for trying the game were two-fold. First, I’m a follower of buzz and Warcraft’s popularity had tripped the buzz switch. The presence of a well-supported Mac client helped. My second reason wasn’t as simple. See, as the popularity of MMORPG has risen, I’d found myself ridiculing those who were playing. “What’s the point, it’s not real” “Don’t you guys have lives?” “Nerds!”
I’d heard that ridicule before.
The Silicon Valley thinks fondly of the mid-to-late 80s because those were the golden years. The Mac was revolutionizing the perception of desktop computing. The PC, in it’s various formsm was making great strides at playing catch-up with it’s open architecture and impressive cadre of developers. The computing revolution was on, but my mid- 80s typing class was full of typewriters and folks silently chuckled when I started the class typing 95 words a minute.
Yeah, I was the guy who already had an Apple ][ and moved onto a PC. I was the guy who got called out of my World History class because the principal’s new Mac had a problem. I knew that Pascal was more elegant than BASIC, but I couldn’t tell you why.
“Don’t you have a life?”
At home, my desk was filled with dot matrix print outs of BBS numbers to call. My passwords were scribbled in pencil all over the place. When I wasn’t endlessly dialing busy numbers, my computer sat there running the PBBS software. Dragon Flight was the name of the place.
“What’s the point, it’s not real”
The first point of this article is not to convince you that playing World of Warcraft is tantamount to the strategic advantage a deep appreciation of computers gave me during the 1980s, my first point is simple.
Ridicule is spoken fear fueled by ignorance.
When I found myself internally judging others using the same mind set used on me twenty years ago, I ran out and bought a copy of Warcraft the same day. My seemingly innocent jests regarding those passionate Warcraft folks was based on the fact I had no clue what this MMORPG thing was about, so I fell back on the easiest defense to ignorance… ridicule.
Fuck that. Been a freak before. Willing to do it again.
When you first fire up World of Warcraft, you are presented with a set of choices. Alliance (good guys) or Horde (bad guys)? Boy or girl? Ok, what type of character? Night Elf? Druid? Human? Great. Now, what’s your profession? Hunter? Priest? Warrior? Ok, lastly, let’s define how you look. Long hair? Short or long hair? Fierce face or dopey?
The amount of control Blizzard has given players to construct their characters is phenomenal. And intentional.
My barber shocked the hell out of me last week when he told me was playing Horde Priest. Who the hell cares if Joi Ito and his buddies have replaced their non-existent golf game with long sessions in Molten Core? Those guys are nerds. MY FRACKING BARBER IS A HORDE PRIEST PEOPLE.
His comment: “Yeah, so… I playing a healer because, you know, I’m really a healer at heart. I like to take care of people.”
My unspoken thought: “Yeah, but, you’re undead.”
Warcraft is the first online game which can legitimately say they allow you create a compelling virtual self. I knew they’d done this when I spent my hard earned gold on a helmet that gave my character no real value other than it looked good. I knew they’d done this when my barber and I were discussing the pros and cons of soloing versus grouping.
The lesson is this. Ever so slowly, the value of a virtual self grows. We’re nowhere near the world of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, but neither are in the world were the concept of a virtual self is a niche nerd concept. Yeah, Warcraft is rebranded Dungeons and Dragons and folks will continue to play the ridicule card, but Blizzard has demonstrated you can build a complex, long lasting virtual world that world can be enjoyed by anyone.
Someone, I don’t know who, will take the lessons of World of Warcraft and they’ll build the Next Thing which will have even broader appeal. They’ll stay far away from the worst acronym ever, MMORPG, and they’ll help make the idea of virtual selves in virtual worlds as common as your email account. You get to choose where you stand regarding this inevitable development… with knowledge or with ignorance.