Monday, February 25, 2008

Video Game Addiction

A few weeks ago, I finally broke down and bought WoW. I've been avoiding this for years because I knew I'd love it. I've been playing during most of my free moments ever since. I've been playing video games since I was 12 and have always become quickly obsessed with the game du jour. I think addiction is putting it too strongly and I think putting it in a category with drug and alcohol addiction is problematic at best, but I prefer playing video games as a pastime more than most other options available to me. I have no doubt that people can get sucked in and carried away to such an extent that they neglect other parts of their lives. In that regard, perhaps it resembles a gambling addiction. I find it interesting that certain leisure activities get a negative rap (video games, blogging, D&D) while others (golfing, watching sports on tv) are perfectly acceptable and even encouraged as a way of "networking." I think we as a country have issues with leisure generally. Feel free to spin that off in the comments.

At any rate, I've been thinking about why I enjoy games like WoW so much and the relationships between it and other things I think about on a regular basis, like technology and learning. One thing most gamers don't do (and James Paul Gee talks about this as well) is read the manual. They install the game and start it up and just start doing stuff. In fact, most game manuals don't include a whole lot of information. They give you the basic control information and maybe a quickstart guide. The rest of the information you just have to figure out as you go--and that's part of the fun. For some people, this is incredibly frustrating. They want step by step instructions. I find the way one learns the game by just experiencing it and experimenting with it a much more valuable experience than reading a how to. I do usually turn to the manual to see what I've missed and to match up my experience and see if it guides me in any way regarding the subtleties of the game. Of course, the best place, really, to find out more about the game is the web. This is true of most games these days. Back when I was playing Sierra games (Leisure Suit Larry, Space Quest, King's Quest), eventually you had to call the tip hotline. Now you're a Google or forum search away from help and information.

The added bonus of a game like WoW, of course, is the social component. There are real people to interact with and that adds a whole new dimension and adds to the learning. As an example, I was on a quest and someone came along to help me--people do that all the time, which I think is so cool. In the middle, the person (gendered female in game, but who knows) told me to stop for a minute and not only explained a good strategy, but in doing so taught me something about the game, which I proceeded to learn more about. I thought it was an excellent example of facilitating learning socially without explicit directions. She didn't say, you need to do x, y, and then z. She used the situation to show how things within the game worked with only a little explanation.

I've known all of this in theory for a long time and have experienced it to some extent in gaming, but the more I play WoW, the more I'm seeing the theory in practice. It makes this woman's thesis mean a little more.

I know those of you who have been playing and thinking about these things for years are laughing at me now, but that's okay.