My World of Warcraft story is probably pretty similar to yours. The details may be different, but the underlying events are the same. I bought the game shortly after release, making the regrettable decision to save money and not get the collector’s edition (because, well, who knows how long this shit’ll be around, right?) My now-wife went with me to Fry’s Electronics that night, so I could just-really-quick-I-promise pick it up on our way out to dinner. Had she known what the next five years would look like, she might have pulled a Vanilla Sky and driven us off a cliff, but she didn’t even know what Warcraft was (other than something that sounded FAR nerdier than any of the other games I played.)
Fast forward 4 years. I had put on around thirty pounds, was the main tank of a raiding guild pushing through Black Temple, and was playing the game more than 80 hours a week. It may have been a different raid instance for you, it may have been the Grand Marshal / High Warlord grind, it might have even been achievement hunting in the late game; the game always ends up in the same place. It’s the last thing you think about before you go to bed and the first thing you think about when you wake up. I would wake up hours before my wife to get in some farming before the sun came up and I would stay up long past her to get into another Gruul pug for a shot at my shield (I ended up tanking well into Sunwell using the shield from Karazhan, my ugly black badge of shame.)
This went on for another 2-3 years. I quit for a month here and there, the pressure of life threatening to pop my little bubble like I had been dropped in the Mariana Trench. I got married, moved, and got a new job. Warcraft was still there, raid strats and recount graphs always scrolling just behind my eyes. Wrath of the Lich King came and went, bringing with it a string of one shot guilds that never quite did it for me. I didn’t stay anywhere for more than a few months, always finding myself repeating the same cycle: burn bright then burn out. Find a new guild. Raid hard. Get tired. Obsess over guild applications for weeks. Steal away in the middle of the night, never to be seen again.
It was Cataclysm that finally broke the cycle. It might have been the changes to healing (I was maining a Resto Shaman at the time) or the fact that early content was bitterly difficult for us transients, but for once the drive wasn’t there. I started playing other games, simpler and less obtrusive games. I lost myself in Super Meat Boy for hours at a time, my wife laughing at my various exhortations of misery as sack of meat after sack of meat exploded due to my gross ineptitude. No more Ventrilo, no more wait-baby-just-gotta-finish-this-heroic-then-I’ll-take-out-the-trash, no more neglecting piles of student work to add another few pages to our discussion about Heroic Anub strats.
I hired a personal trainer and started going to the gym. I stopped eating fast food. I lost my Warcraft weight and then some, finally dropping down to the weight on my drivers license that was a lie even when I got it at 16. I started writing and reading again. Life was looking up.
There were only 2 times I seriously slipped up. The first time was during the spring break after Cataclysm had launched. I had no plans and a friend of mine asked if I was still playing, which was all the invitation I needed to spend the whole week in my pajamas getting my Paladin up to speed. I installed the game in secret, doing everything I could to prevent my wife from even glancing over to my computer and noticing the little golden W in the system tray. It wasn’t until I was staring down the barrel of the final Sunday that I realized what I had done, the gravity of the situation slamming into me like a truck. Groggy and practically non-responsive I crawled out of my pit, combed my hair, and did my best Don Draper impersonation.
The other time was when my wife went away for a few days nary a week after we returned from our honeymoon. Alone and on my summer break, I broke open one of the MANY bottles of wine we had left over from our wedding and pondered my options. She was going to be gone for the better part of a week and, left unsupervised, there was nothing stopping me from playing until my hands bled and my bladder gave out. Plus, shit, we were legal now. Warcraft wasn’t on the list of reasons for divorce or annulment, was it? I was on my second bottle of wine by the time the installer cleared the red and entered the playable range. I got as far as level 3 before passing out at my computer. When I woke up with the login music thundering in my ears, I knew what I had done. I uninstalled the game less than 10 hours after installing it.
Addiction runs in my family. Most of my relatives are alcoholics, whether they admit it to themselves or not. A small group have drug problems. An even smaller group gets regular treatment for them. I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life, rarely have more than a dozen drinks spread out over a month, and haven’t really “done” drugs since college. I always thought I had dodged that genetic bullet, avoided the kind of self-destructive destiny that has paralyzed most of my family.
As is always the case, everybody else knew that Warcraft was my cross to bear except for me. “I can quit anytime.” I would cry out to the heavens, uninstalling the client with as much fury as one can bring to bear on a piece of software. And I would quit…for a while. But then my wife would notice that I was strangely absent minded, never really engaged in our conversations. I would start encouraging her to reconnect with her friends, telling her that she totally could stay out all night with the girls. All the while, I was secretly hitting that shit like a fiend. To the untrained eye, it probably looked like I had some action on the side, and I’m sure my wife fielded more than one question about it on those nights out, rolling her eyes as she told them about Silvia, my level 85 Paladin.
It was worst, ironically, during one of my longer dry spells from WoW. I was playing Star Wars: The Old Republic at the time, heavily invested in being a raid leader for my guild. I stopped going to the gym in favor of playing with my predominantly East Coast guild, rushing home so that I could be online by 4pm PST. I was sinking 4-5 hours a day into the game without actually playing it all that often, embroiled in officer meeting after officer meeting. The starry eyed look that normally came with a relapse was gone, replaced with harried muttering and mussed hair as the game started to occupy my every thought in a completely different way than before. Responsibility and duty overcame me and, again, I left in the middle of the night, never to be seen again.
SWTOR’s failure was all I needed to justify going back to WoW. It was summer break and I dove right back into the most grind heavy task in the game: archaeology. I set my sights on the rare Tol’vir mount and dumped 10 hours a day into flying around Kalimdor digging up useless shit. I stopped writing in this blog, I stopped attempting to maintain my healthy eating, and I stopped wearing pants. Just stopped, entirely. If I had to leave the house, I could only be bothered to put on a pair of shorts whose cleanliness would’ve been dubious to a street urchin. By the time I realized something was wrong, the impending release of Panderia had a vice grip on the pleasure centers of my brain, playing me like a puppet. Screenshots sent me into fits of giggling, my primary purpose in life being to plan out my Brewmaster Monk with the precision and grace of a man who hadn’t showered in a week.
I got him to level 82. Work started up before the expansion pack dropped, so my daily playtime fell to around 4-5 hours a day, but I did whatever it took to scrape that time out of my day. It was after a combined total of around a day and a half of gametime that I suddenly came out the other end of my “hobby.”
I’d like to say that it happened during a moment of soulful reflection. That I wiped away the steam from the mirror after a shower and finally looked at the man I had become. That I had pondered my monstrous condition during a rose colored run along the beach at dusk. No, the life of an addict is rarely that dramatic (and when it is, it’s usually more Coen Brothers than Robert Zemeckis.) Instead it happened while I was bitching on the internet about how Blizzard fucked me by forcing me to compete with other players for kills because of the new Cross-realm Zones. I was complaining about have to play with other people in a multiplayer game. On the internet.
This was person I had become, the person who was successful at World of Warcraft, who ran an operations group in SWTOR, who caught himself staring at his character screen like a weight lifter stares at their biceps. This was who I was when I was playing WoW.
They say addiction doesn’t have to do with quantity but with consequences. It’s not how much you drink, but what you know will happen when you do drink. The guy who gets drunk knowing full well that he’ll have to drive himself home, or the kid who gets high and misses his Algebra final but swears he never touches the stuff usually. I’ve never let my life completely fall apart, I’ve never pissed in a Mountain Dew bottle or let a relationship rot away like a vestigial limb, but I’ve missed countless opportunities to improve myself both mentally and physically as a result of my playing. Every time I boot up that installer, I know what the next few months of my life will look like. I can see the hours spent slack jawed and blurry eyed, the world going on outside my drawn blinds.
So I uninstalled the game, cancelled my account, and took all my WoW blogs out of my reading rotation, just like I’ve done many times before. I try not to think about the $90 I just spent on the Mists of Panderia Collector’s Edition despite struggling to pay my bills this month as a mistake, but just as another reason why I have to make this decision.
I don’t like the person I am when I’m playing WoW. Hopefully this is the realization that finally gets me to stop.