WoW Detox

I hadn’t come across this before, until my good friend Rusty linked me to it. WoW Detox is a postboard for people who are quitting / have quit / are trying to quit World of Warcraft. It’s a simple site – just a place to tell the world why you left Azeroth. But some of it makes for very touching reading:

I keep asking myself this question. If I’m not having fun, why am I here? I feel burnt out with it and have cancelled my subscription so just a few days left to play. After that I’ll only be reading WowDetox not forums. Wish me luck, I’ll need it.

Or:

I’ve been w/oW (without WoW) for two or three weeks now; it’s definitely not easy. Every other day I think of ways to start playing again, reasons to justify it. In the end, I look at where I was three years ago in life, and I’m nowhere different really, other than about 30lbs heavier.

Prove it’s not an addiction by just walking away. Just walk away. It’ll be hard but it’ll be worth it.

Or this:

I can’t do it I can’t quit! I can’t fight it! It’s taking me from my mother my family my friends from everybody! I can’t take it anymore I can’t uninstall it!

You can approach it with schadenfreude or compassion, but either way there are some very real, very intense human emotions on display here. It’s testament to the skill of the Blizzard game designers: they’ve really made an experience so compelling that people will go to great lengths to play it – even to the detriment of their friends and family.

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28 thoughts on “WoW Detox

  1. I’m not sure how long the site has been up, but it’s wortyh noting that there were almost 30,000 entries to choose from to fing your quotes.

    I almost never rule out doing something just because it’s a bad idea, but WoW is on my list… along with Heroin, American Idol, and (relapsing into) Nutella.

    Playing with friends online is great, but sometimes you have to play in the real world too.

  2. Good points, Rusty. I keep saying this about technology: technology is value neutral. No technology is inhernetly good, or inherently bad, but people who use that technology can use it for both ends.

    The one thing you can say about technology is that it is powerful; and with more power around, more people’s lives get affected – for good or for ill. I’d say that for the vast majority of people who play WoW, the game adds some excitement, adventure, and perhaps a bit of online socializing into their leisure time. That’s leisure time that would otherwise likely be taken up sitting around watching TV, which isn’t neccessarily better.

  3. Value neutral. I think I agree. We need to remember, however, that technology is created for specific purposes. The ‘net itself is one of the poorest examples of this, but WoW was created specifically to get people to play enough of it that Blizzard makes money. They do this by making the game social and fun, but the core concept is “pay to play.”

    Weapons run the same way. An “Akira-“style anti-personel laser can only be used to kill justly or unjustly, not as a communications tool. Detterence is the oonly counter argument to this idea that I can think of, but the same logic applies; deter in the name of justice, or oppress using the threat of turning your enemies into sloppy human salami. Either way, the stance is an agressive one.

    I suppose my question is, “is WoW inherently bad, considering it’s new tech” or is it just another game that, like slots, dice and counter-strike before it, is only as good or bad as it’s players?

  4. Rusty, I think you’re channeling some Aristotelian metaphysics here: seems like you’re saying that the Final Cause of a technology affects its moral potential. I hadn’t thought of this, but it’s really an excellent point.

    I do disagree with the detail – an Akira anti-personnel laser could be used for communication. For instance, you could use it to write an SOS message in a reinforced concrete floor, so the SAR teams find you. But you’re right: no matter the use of that particular piece of tech, its stance – its Final Cause – is aggressive: it reaches out to affect the world around it in a particular lasery way. Its moral value depends on who or what you are affecting at that particular moment, but it is always an aggressive piece of tech.

    So, to rephrase your question, what’s the Final Cause of WoW – the purpose for which it was designed?

    I think that it’s reasonable to assume that the game’s designers were out to make the best game possible. And that means creating tantalizing, compelling, rewarding challenges, coated in an appropriate fiction.

    The tantalizing, compelling bit exposes a core feature of good games: they’re all, in a sense, addictive. That’s because on one level, games are systems designed to encourage skill development. We like this, because we like the rush of achievement and affirmation we get when we master a new skill – the satisfying dopamine release that comes with the thought “YES! I did it! I pwned face!”

    So you could say that from the game design perspective, WoW is an extremely good example of a satisfaction/affirmation machine. I’d say this comes close to being its Final Cause. I also think this is a good thing: much TV, for instance, does the opposite. TV and its associated ads can make you feel dissatisfied with the supposedly boring life you lead and supposedly deformed body you inhabit. In contrast, a little affirmation and satisfaction at the end of the day isn’t bad.

    The danger comes if you lead a life starved of satisfaction and affirmation in the first place. Then, you’re in trouble. These feelings are so basic and essential that if you’re deprived of them, you’ll latch on to any source that you come across and never let go. Heroin provides these feelngs. So does crack. It’s a testament to how badly people want these feelings that they’re willing to mainline smack to get them.

    WoW is like crack, only not so strong, and more socially accepted. (Geek jokes aside, imagine the reaction if you were at the pub and mentioned that you smoke crack in your spare time. Not the same reaction you’d get if you said you play WoW.) So it’s a hazard for people who have an affirmation/satisfaction deficit, because of course the more you play, the more your offline life will suck, so you’re stuck in a vicious circle.

    So I don’t think WoW is inherently bad. I don’t play it myself, and I don’t plan to any time soon. I do, however, think that it is a powerful piece of technology. Like other powerful pieces of technology – drugs, weapons – is needs to be handled and used with care and some thought as to its hazards.

  5. Hmm… well, the hazards are what concern me, too. We don’t need to worry about the thousands (millions?) of players who are able to use WoW responsibly, the same way we don’t sweat people who use Oxycontin to legitimately regulate pain. The problem is the individuals who abuse substances or technology to fill the kind of personal void you described in your last post.

    The issue, in my mind, is responsibility for the product. It took the US decades to make cigarette manufacturesrs to start paying for their externalities; when will the same thing happen to WoW? Will it ever? Are the negative side effects bad enough to warrant intervention?

    …and, of course, is the industry capable of policing itself? Blizzard seems to be trying:

    http://us.blizzard.com/support/article.xml?articleId=20484

    though I don’t know how well this actually works. It also doesn’t take care of gamers past the age of majority who have every right to inflict WoW upon themselves to the point of complete social withdrawl.

    My point, I suppose, is not that WoW is inherently bad but that it’s inherently risky, the same way you’re more likely to harm yourself drinking as a hobby than you are playing frisbee. Would it be a dangerous or responsible precedent to legislate the inclusion of “warning, can become addictive” stickers on the fron of WoW retail boxes?

    Actually, this is a great photoshop contest idea. Mine would say, “warning: may cause loot addictions, side effects can include the desire to grin l33t mobs,” or maybe have a picture of a grimy dude with no girlfriend and a 0.7gpa that said, “this could be you.”

  6. oh, and your “final cause” summary was very nice. That’s exactly what I meant. Shame on me for being so far removed from my last McGill philosophy class…

  7. Warnings on WoW boxes? What, you mean like this?

    Seriously, though, I’m not neccessarily in favour of addiction-type warnings on computer games. But I do think that it’s usually wrong to put the words ‘just a’ in front of ‘game’. Just like it’s usually wrong to say ‘it’s just a book’ or ‘it’s just a painting.’ These are all significant cultural artefacts with intellectual power. Those who ignore that power do so at their peril.

    Games are powerful and dangerous, in the same way that books can be powerful and dangerous. Perhaps mores so, in certain ways. I think that people need to wake up to this fact.

    Technology isn’t good or bad – but specific technological artefacts are more powerful or less powerful. The more power you have, the more you can affect people’s lives – for good or ill. Normally in society we recognize that the more powerful a thing is, the more it has to be regulated and respected. That’s why there are laws surrounding gun ownership, for instance. But just as important as the laws, I’d say, is the social conception of a particular bit of tech. Powerful tech needs to be treated with respect. If you were at the pub and took your .44 out and put it on the table along with everyone’s mobile phones, you’d get a reaction that had little to do with the law – even in Texas, where you’re allowed to pack heat. People just recognize that a .44 is a powerful thing, and it needs to be treated in a particular way; kept away from kids, for example, stored securely away from the ammo, not brandished in people’s faces, etc.

    Social norms in this category are slowly evolving around gaming. I don’t think that people should fear MMOG’s like WoW, and keep them locked up, or only allow people to play with a special MMOG license from the government. I’m just saying that people need to treat these games like what they are – powerful pieces of technology, not frivolous playthings.

    I wonder what Pale Horse and Tanith think of all this?

  8. Dammn. That took me 20 minutes to write.

    in brief:

    I don’t know if recognizing the power of something like WoW is enough. The game’s final cause was certainly to be good, but what is it good at?

    pessimistically, it is a gigantic operant conditioning chamber (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skinner_box) designed to reward players quickly at the front end, then gradually reduce the frequency of positive reinforcement until the gamer is spending days grinding epic mobs to get that last piece of tier 4. Why design a game like this? Because it makes Blizzard $15/month x 6 million accounts. That is a much more efficient business model than producing one new stand-alone game every three years, and one reason why the industry already relies heavily on sequels.

    Until we get better at taking some kind of corporate or social responsibility for stuff like WoW, I choose not to run that particular kind of maze.

  9. What does Tanith think of all this? Well, for one, he thinks that Tripp made an interesting comment some weeks back about commenting on games one hasn’t played. He thinks that so far Rusty and Tripp have waxing philosophic on a subject that they don’t know much about. He thinks that’s pretty interesting in and of itself.

    I played WoW for over a year. I encouraged Pale Horse to start playing (on a related note, I’m also the reason that Molotov plays EvE – that game was my MMO of choice before WoW). In my time playing, I believe that I ran the gamut of in-game experiences: the giddy excitement of levelling up, exhulting in a first-time raid boss kill, the agony of a total party wipe at 1%, forming a strong guild and making friends, watching the guild fall apart and people turning their backs on each other. I was among the first wave of players to enter Outlands, the new world opened up in The Burning Crusade expansion. In the end I experienced the burn-out mentioned in the Tripp’s first Detox quote. That’s why I stopped playing, and it’s why I won’t be starting again.

    So what is WoW?. It’s fun and engaging, a perfect example of easy-to-learn-but-difficult-to-master gameplay. It provides options for almost any kind of play style. It’s got great production values, and there’s a vast world full of stuff that is often totally awesome. Racing against the clock to save a brave Paladin from an evil Vampire Baron; flying into a bustling magical metropolis on your personal dragon; descending into the heart of a volcano to kill the God of Fire. Thank you sir, may I have another?

    It is also a major source of revenue for Vivendi/Blizzard. As Rusty neatly explains above, players are rewarded fast and often starting out, and then the delay before you get the Next Big Thing gets longer and longer the further along the you get. The game exploits the same basic impulse that Pokemon tapped into: the drive to collect and complete. This keeps players on the hook, looking for that last item drop that will make them supreme … until the next patch.

    Obviously, anyone can chose not to play like that. You can simply say, “I’m not going to make raiding a part-time job, I’m just going to do my own thing and have a good time and if I don’t get any epic items, that’s fine.” That even works, to a point. But when you’re back in town, surrounded by raiders dressed in robes infused with the power of slain Gods, carrying swords wreathed in crackling lightning and talking about their latest Great Feat, the temptation to join in on that level of play is tremendous, inidious, even.

    Ultimately, WoW is kind of like a bad girlfriend. Plenty of fun to start, but gradually demanding more and more of your time and effort until finally, if you want to get anywhere at all, there’s almost no room for anything else. For the Obsessive-Compulsive crowd, WoW is manna from heaven. Those looking for a more balanced gaming lifestyle generally have to look elsewhere.

    Even so, I wouldn’t say that WoW is itself bad or evil. Rather, I think that WoW’s particular rules tend to bring out bad habits or tendencies in people. You might argue that WoW is therefore bad, but I’d disagree. Natural disasters are undeniably bad, but they often bring out the best in people: generosity, self-sacrfice, sympathy, kindness. That doesn’t mean that earthquakes and tsunamis are desireable. It’s just that people often respond to such events in ways that are undeniably good.
    In the same way, how people choose to respond to WoW doesn’t necessarily reflect back on the game itself.

  10. What does Tanith think of all this? Well, for one, he thinks that Tripp made an interesting comment some weeks back about commenting on games one hasn’t played.

    Indeed, tou-shay, sir. You’re quite right – though, in my defense, I should mention that this is exactly why I wanted you and Pale Horse in on this discussion – Rusty and I aren’t really in the know.

    Thank you for joining us and telling us what the fuck we’re talking about! 🙂

  11. I can only speak from my own experience. WoW is a strange beast, one that treats each person differently. I got bored and left forever after 14 months or so, but as Detox shows, many thousands are still hooked years and years later. My snarky commentary aside, Tripp and Rusty have correctly intuited WoW’s tremendous importance (no mere plaything, indeed!) without ever venturing into the character creation screen.

  12. Well, you can tell a lot about a stone from the size of the ripples it leaves in a pond after someone throws it in – without ever seeing the stone. That’s kind of the same concept Rusty and I are working from here – one main focus of our discussion is the social effects of WoW, which are plainly discernible to non-players.

    But I am quite aware that we’re still only talking with half the picture. Tanith, as someone who has played the game extensively, do you think there should be some sort of regulation in place? Should there be Ennerdination warnings on the packages? Or is this just silly?

  13. That’s a really good question. It’s evident that many people who play WoW do so obsessively, sometimes to the point of negatively impacting other aspects of their lives. Clearly some people have taken what is theoretically supposed to be a fun diversion and placed unreasonable importance on it, in the process engaging in behaviour that is potentially harmful psychologically, emotionally and (in extreme cases) physically. I understand why this is a source of concern and can appreciate a desire to do something about it.

    However, I have hard time imagining how one would go about regulating WoW and similar experiences. WoW players hate having their experience interrupted. Every week, the servers are shut down in the wee hours of Tuesday or (in Europe) Wednesday morning. These “reset” periods are used for regular maintenance and they are also the time when new content patches are applied. I can tell you that regardless of class, faction, level or any other factor, all WoW players are united in the swift and relentless bitching that results if the maintenance period lasts even a minute longer than projected. If maintenance is scheduled to end at 06:00, then you can be sure that at 06:00:01 hundreds of people are clicking “Connect” and cursing if it doesn’t work. Here’s another example:

    One of the features of WoW is the concept of “Rest”. When you log out of WoW with your character at an Inn or in a major city, then that character will accumulate Rest. The longer you stay logged out of that character, the more Rested s/he becomes. When you finally do log back in and return to adventuring, you will get double experience points every time you kill a monster, until your Rested state ends – at which point you earn experience at the normal rate. The Rest system exists to give a break to players who can’t play all the time: even if you can only log in once or twice a week, when you do play, you’ll have plenty of Rest, and so you will still be able to advance at a good rate.

    When Rest was originally introduced, however, it was much more involved: You earned bonus experience when Rested, but as you continued to play your character would eventually feel Normal, then Tired and finally Exhausted (the exact terms were probably different – I wasn’t actually playing when this was first introduced, but read about it at Blizzard.com). When your state fell below Normal, you actually took an experience penalty. The idea was to encourage players to engage in non-combat activity, like chilling in towns and villages or sitting around campfires with their friends, or (gasp!) logging out and doing something else. Needless to say, the reaction to this concept was a million nerds crying out in anger. How dare Blizzard introduce a mechanic that penalized players for spending all their free time in Azeroth? Where did they get off limiting the amount of time paying customers spent on a service? Blah, blah, blah.

    Why do I mention this? Because I think that the people who would benefit most from any kind of regulation don’t want it. If some kind of system is put in place that prevents them from playing WoW for 30+ hours a week then they’ll take their 50 cents a day and go play something else that doesn’t infringe on their right to ignore their spouses and children between the hours of 7pm and 1 am, Monday through Saturday. So I think that any kind of regulation would be a waste of time, effort and money. Warning labels don’t keep M-rated games out of the hands of children, so I seriously doubt that they would be of any use or help with OCD MMO players. Honestly, I don’t know if a solution even exists, beyond each player taking responsibility for himself.

  14. Well, it’s a difficult problem, it’s true. But I think you’ve suggested a solution in your own post: game design. The rest system, as originally designed, seems to be the perfect example of designing a play experience with natural end-points and break-points. If the players are paying by the month, there’s no reason not to encourage them to take some time offline now and again, through game design.

    They can even be playing while they do it: imagine if you got XP for actually meeting guildmates in meatspace and LARPing out some plot points? LARPing jokes aside, I actually think this could be a really good idea.

    Let’s say you’re a low-level n00b on a fetch-the-magic-item mission. You’re supposed to bring the object back to a contact played by a real person. The game has paired you with him because it knows you live within 10 km of each other. And you both get bonus XP if you do your haggling over the reward in meatspace. Take your haggling session with the mage to the local inn – er, Denny’s, and you both get 1000 bonus XP or whatever. You’d have to come up with a way of verifying that the meatspace stuff happened, but I’m sure there’s a way. Having both people show up at a ‘WoW Centre’ would be one way.

    ‘Course, we’ll all be playing these games on our mobile phones within 5 years, so I suppose that getting away from the PC is going to be easier typed than done. But even then, MMO’s have a bright future: just check out Charlie Stross’ Halting State and you’ll see what I mean.

  15. On the flip side of the meatspace xp suggestion is the completely terrifying possibility that it could ONLY occur at Denny’s. Think about it. WoW could force you to use certain RL products in order to gain maximum benefit in a game you pay them to play. It’s like a crucible of corporate joy. If anyone from Enron ever read this post, they’ll probably start crying for the sheer capitalist purity of it.

    also;

    “Warning labels don’t keep M-rated games out of the hands of children, so I seriously doubt that they would be of any use or help with OCD MMO players. Honestly, I don’t know if a solution even exists, beyond each player taking responsibility for himself.”

    This is a good point, but if history has proven anything, it’s that people are often not very good at taking responsibility themselves. If you’re cynical, the entire point of religion is to scare humans into thinking that, at some point, they will be held accountable for what they do – which often flies in the face of logic like; “Gulstaff is over there, he has a nice cloak, no one is watching, so I can kill him for the cloak with this sword.”

    Somewhat ironically, WoW players do things like that all the time – often killing the same monster over and over again for weeks, just to get the cloak. I believe that it is the responsibility of governments, visionaries and prominent thinkers to help those of us less well mentally-endowed regulate our behaviour so that we don’t harm everyone else.

    In the age of the nuclear family, it’s very hard to see the impact of your actions. At one point a clan would have kept you honest, but I doubt the guy who runs Phillip Morris losses much sleep over his products. He’s too busy making money, and he needs the government to slap warning labels on his products so (some) parents can make good decisions about whether or not to let their kids smoke.

    Is asking for a warning label on a video game any more outlandish?

  16. …Not that I’m equating WoW to smoking, which is both physically and psychologically addictive, where WoW seems only to be the latter. Nor is WoW going to give you lung cancer.

    I’m just curious where regulation will come from in the digital age. Will it come at all? If it doesn’t, is that a good thing? Warning labels on WoW wouldn’t have much effect, but it would make the issue serious…

  17. OK – for the record, I’m NOT in favour of warning labels on video game packages. You might as well start slapping warnings on Dan Brown books (addictive too) and the Internet.

    I do think that WoW is addictive – it’s designed to be. That’s a neccessary feature of a successful game. But I don’t think that WoW is the kind of addictive experience that needs to be regulated. Rusty, you say that at one point a clan would have kept you honest. Well, social norms and mores are not altogether dead, even in our post-industrial society. And people tend to frown on anyone who pursues a single occupation so intensively that they lose their family.

    What’s more, in WoW and other MMOs there actually are clans (guilds, tribes, corps, factions etc.), which can provide a tight social circle to encourage almost any kind of behaviour.

    That’s why I think the Denny’s model is a good one. It’s not a terrifying idea, Rusty – it’s a business model. The game is free, but if you visit real-world locations and perform game-related tasks there, you get a big XP bonus. Net effect: the harder-core gamer you are, the more you need to get out in to the open air and do stuff face-to-face with real people. A game designer could supplement this by creating a faction-dependent XP system: guild-mates accrue XP individually, as normal. But every guild-mate also gets an XP buff proportional to the total XP accummulated by all members of the guild. So every time a guild member levels up, everyone in the guild gets a little XP buff. Of course, new players level up faster than experienced ones. So this could really encourage people to help junior members climb the ranks quickly. And if the fastest way to do that is to go out and meet people in monkeyspace, then people will get into the habit of doing that. Game design can encourage almost any behaviour if it’s done right.

    This system encourages face-to-face interaction, provides a new non-pirateable revenue stream for the game publisher (by charging admission to the real-world locations), and encourages clan cooperation and cohesion.

    Of course, I’ve never played WoW, but for the record I have played EvE Online, and I see no a priori reason why this shouldn’t work there. You could set up ‘EvE Bars’ in stripmalls across the country. I realize that this penalizes people who can’t make it to the physical locations, but perhaps you could get around that by working out a system where player groups can set up their own real-world game stations. Anyhow, it’s a thought.

    I wonder what Tanith and Molotov think of that?

  18. …dijointed reply:

    1. There should be warning on Dan Brown novels. Like, “warning: this book may cause you to think you’re intelligent” or “warning: SUCKS.”

    2. How can a WoW clan regulate your usage? That’s like assuming the people outside with you on a smoke break will help you quit smoking.

    3. I agree the meatspace thing is not inherently terrifying – the ARGs you posted on 514 a few months back are ample proof of this – but that it is open, like everything else here, to abuse.

    4. The group exp thing is another interesting idea, but wouldn’t necessarily work in WoW the way the game currently exists; people would cluster in big clans just for the sake of leveling up faster.

    5. I agree that games can encourage people to do almost anything, but short of Wii Fit, I’m not sure they can send people that far away from the keyboard consitently. Again, ARGs seem to be an exception. This will all change, of course, when we’re playing WoW on our cell phones.

    6. In the end I agree; WoW doesn’t need warning labels. At some point, though, mustn’t something come out that will?

    7. yeah… PH? Molotov?

  19. I can see two major obstacles to Tripp’s XP-for-Real-Life-interaction concept:

    1) Significant outlay of capital would be required, to build physical locations and/or to put in place a system that would track and validate player activity to award XP. Blizzard or CCP could do that … or they could just keep putting all that money into their pockets.

    2) The XP that could potentially be gained from going out and meeting people would have to be at least equivalent to the XP that could be gained from spending the same amount of time in front of your monitor grinding Owlbears. In fact, it would probably have to be greater because when you’re out meeting XxXLeggolazXxX face-to-face you have no chance of getting any rare treasure from slain monsters (the real treasure here – actual human contact – doesn’t provide stats bonuses table and so isn’t much of an incentive to the typical OCD MMO player).

    I nevertheless think the basic idea is pretty slick.

  20. Just chipping in at the end here. My name is Minkette and I am an MMO addict. First it was puzzle pirates, then SF0.org, then WoW. Of these three online community games the only one I’m actually proud to broadcast my affiliation to in general public is SFZero. The differences are

    1) No animated avatar, no computer generated world to explore, you are you and in the real world.
    2) The ‘Tasks’ are things you have to do in the real world and report back on. You get XP for completing the task as well as XP from votes from fellow players.

    Arguably this game is free to play and doesn’t make any money and so is more of a forum game with the trappings of an MMO. There are guilds and specialist skills and leveling up et al, but no pretty graphics. The reason I LOVE this game is that you get XP for going out and doing those things you wouldn’t have the drive to do otherwise. Like meet new people, sing on public transport or put on a live radio play on the tube (I got 290 XP for that last one) 😉

  21. Ive found a new site recently that brings together all the addictions cries/please/testimonials to one place.
    world of warcraft, guild wars, facebook, shopping etc
    these days business’ are catching on to how people can get really addicted to their product and they try to capitalize on it. trust me when i say this cause i work for a gaming company and we brain storm this kinda stuff everyday

    http://www.detoxinsider.com
    check it out.
    Youll probably find something thats relevant in your life in there

  22. Heya i am for the first time here. I found this board and I find
    It really useful & it helped me out a lot. I hope to give something back and help
    others like you helped me.

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