Hi, my name is Jason, and I’m a MMORPG addict.

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.

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15 Responses to Hi, my name is Jason, and I’m a MMORPG addict.

  1. I walked away from WoW after a similar realization – I found myself thinking about raid strategies and talent build ideas at work. I tried to keep it casual in SWTOR, but then I got swept up again by the raid analysis and the camaraderie. I realized that it was interfering with life and got kind of grumpy – – not sure if you were in the ops group the night where I semi-snapped at Brian over something that was probably fairly trivial.

    I’ve essentially walked away from gaming altogether. I canceled SWTOR, have stayed away from WoW since WotLK, haven’t played GW2 in about 2 weeks, and really don’t miss MMO’S that much. I’m even considering taking the remaining gaming blogs in my reader (like PA Report) out and un subscribing.

    I feel like there should be a support group for this.

    Stay strong, Jason.

    • exhaustport says:

      I completely agree about the support group thing. I think a big reason why a lot of people have untreated MMO addiction is simply because they never really acknowledge that it’s a problem. The at-large social attitudes aren’t there yet. I’ve tried having the conversation with students of mine who regularly get 2-3 hours of sleep because of games like CoD or Runescape (oddly enough, not many of them actually play WoW.) Almost every single one has laughed in my face, the concept of being addicted to a video game was that outlandish to them.

      It’s like the alcoholic who keeps saying “I just want to drink socially, have a glass of wine with dinner and have that be it.” I remember saying to myself again and again “Why can’t I just play this stupid game like everybody else does?” To the vast majority of people, the concept of being addicted to a video game is preposterous (unless they know somebody struggling with it themselves, in which case they’ll probably give you a knowing look but rarely actually validate it.) We have a schema for addiction that includes alcohol and drugs, shopping and sex, gambling and overeating, but not gaming. It could have something to do with the financial side of it, how playing a MMO will (generally) not result in financial devestation in the same way that a drug problem will. You rarely see a MMO addict whose blown through thier bank account buying vanity pets and gold like a drug addict does with coke.

      I know that almost every single tool used by NA and AA are applicable to gaming and that larger programs exist to deal with addiction in general, but until people really take MMO addiction seriously, most people will just think they’re weak willed or stupid, then go right back to grinding valor points.

      Glad to hear you’re doing good though! I know many of us playing SWTOR invested a lot of ourselves in that game, I think the nature of the community surrounding it tended to encourage that. Shit, I even wrote a post on this blog doing that myself. Something about Star Wars inspires fanatical devotion it seems.

      • karstenaichholz says:

        I think one issue is also that it’s genuinely more fun than any conceivable alternatives. As you say – if it were possible to play it at a ‘healthier’ level, it seems like the perfect hobby.

        The problem is also that if someone tries to quit it’s hard to find an acceptable alternative – hobbies, friends, books and movies are fine, but they are often rather poor replacements for the endless feedback-reward loop that an MMORPG offers.

        What I found works best is to switch from an MMORPG to a game of finite scope (online or offline). It offers a temporary replacement for the feedback-reward loop but also peters out at some point, allowing you to take up a different replacement activity that helps you stay distracted.

  2. david says:

    I know this feel bro. It’s like the years of playtime rewired my brain to a degree that I can never move on. It’s so seductive to plan coming back to wow; that song you’re listening to… damn, that would be perfect for your pvp movie. My memories are a nexus of world of warcraft, I’ve simply stored too much information up, like a taxi driver’s brain changes as a result of the mental challenge of holding a city map in your head, my brain is molded and fixed for wow.

    Since late wotlk I’ve gone through a cycle:
    1) Play too much, nothing to do, hate the game, zero studying – failing university, vampire sleeping pattern, dedicated life of a loner to play a game I despise, eventually breaking point is reached, deleting all my items, characters, uninstalling and telling myself I’ll never play again
    2) Read a ton of books, desperately try to fill the hole it my life, discover social skill atrophy – struggle to the degree when it’s simply more enjoyable to be a loner
    3) Pine for wow; subconsciously plot against myself; start looking at wow websites and blogs innocently at first
    4) Plan gradually becomes consciously agreed to, knowing full well you hate it and it will harm your life further
    5) An excuse is found – “I waste all my time anyway on the internet, wow would be no different”; “hey, I could find the motivation to study by alternating 1 hour of study with 1 hour of wow”; “hey, that guy you sorta know from highschool is playing, you could start and be buddies with him!”
    6) Play with euphoria for a week or two, gradually 3.3 and cata crapness start to grate on you, you make tons of alts, you forget to function as an adult, you don’t care about the world, you continue to play more hours every day, your sleeping pattern shifts from roughly normal to completely broken/non-existent
    7) Reality creeps in, you have exams / deadlines that you’re incredibly worried about, but you do nothing about them, only stare at the train as it moves inevitably towards you, you do terribly / scraping through or outright failing
    8) You quit again -> back to 2) – done this cycle like 4 times through late wotlk and cata

    Yes I’m a loser =)
    What would my life have been if I didn’t play 10 hours a day from ages 14-16
    What would my life be if I was strong enough to quit and never come back

    I’m resting at 3) at the moment, I’m not going to mess my-self over though again. I just can’t help craving to read mmo champion, watch peoples streams on twitch, fantasize about starting again. I very regularly dream I’m playing the game, like 5 minutes worth of pvp in warsong gulch fully realised, feeling so real as I sleep. It will probably fade, but your brain is malleable as a child and teenager – as an adult I worry I could be stuck like this, only half a person really.

    • exhaustport says:

      I was lucky, WoW didn’t come out until I was in my twenties and almost finished with college. Had it come out any earlier, I may never have made it out. That’s not to say that my problem wasn’t always there. I dropped a few classes because of Diablo 2, nearly failed one class becauase I was learning how to “snake” in F-Zero GX, and didn’t take a single AP exam in high school thanks to Fallout 2.

      You make a good point about music. I can safely say that there are a few songs / albums that are triggers for me. Muse’s Knights of Cydonia always makes me miss Patchwerk from vanilla Naxx, that wistful draw to the game coming back anytime Black Holes and Revelations comes on my WMP.

      I think for people like us, step 3 is the most dangerous one. I know for myself that the second I check mmo-champion, even just to “stay current with gaming news in general” I’ve started a countdown that’ll see me reinstalling within a month. When you realize that you’ve pushed people away and created this void in your life that’s perfectly WoW-shaped, it’s terrifying.

      Perhaps what we really need is a Google group for kicking the habit. A place where we can all remind each other that we are, in fact, good and interesting people without the game. Talk about the books we’re reading or the hobbies we’re getting back into, the kind of stuff a sponser in AA would do.

      I wish you the best man, keep fighting the good fight and know that you’re not alone in this.

      • If you build it, they will come. I’d hang in a Google group for MMO rehab.

        Oh, and Diablo 2 grinding is solely responsible for my GPA slipping in my sophomore year of undergrad, only to be topped by Guild Wars murdering my senior year grades. Thankfully I resisted the WoW bug until after I graduated college, before it could do major damage to my education.

  3. InsaneGamer says:

    I feel you man,really.
    My life is fucked up too becuz of gaming and i do nothing about it.MMORPG’s are too much fun.damn.
    I’m gonna uninstall too. Prolly throw away my laptop..cuz this shit is doing too much harm.

  4. Envenomed Kiss says:

    Huge necro but I physically ruined a PC due to WoW. I had a job where I could actually play during my downtime and I would play at home. So I was logging up to 20 hours a day. I played so exhaustively I physically melted the network adapter to the motherboard.

  5. Mo says:

    Hey reading this in 2015. Wondering if you started again? Whats your life like today?

  6. Mo says:

    Reading your lines and answers… It’s just like i wrote this blog.
    I deleted, restored, sold, rebought accounts so many times…
    I didn’t piss into bottles or let my life fall apart, too. But i always wanted to reach goals in my life and i think that my gaming habits (especially massive mulitplayer games) are holding myself back. And that always made myself sad. I realized this problem pretty early. Today i am 30 years old. I realized that i played too much before the big mmos were there in games like counterstrike. But it wasnt a big problem back then for myself.

    I even remember refusing to buy WoW when it came out because i KNEW it will pull myself in.
    But about 6 months after release i bought and played it. And it was great. But over time i realized the amount of time i was spending and how many opportunities i miss because of the “fun” i have with these games. And i really have fun. That’s the problem.

    My usual pattern looks like this:
    – Start playing (while having in mind that it’s bad what i do, but i do it anyways because i tell myself to see if i can handle it without fucking up my life too much)
    – After some time i realize how much time i spend in the game and start to feel worse.
    – After more time i start to google for terms like “mmo addiction” “how to quit mmos” , … i read so much about it… B
    – I start to tell myself that i shouldn’t play the game.
    – And after more time i finally come to the conclusion that i stop playing.
    – Then i usually sell my accounts (because that is the ONLY way to get rid of everything). You can let the developers restore your accounts too easily. At the point, when i sell them, i really convinced myself to stop playing. Because this is the ONLY REAL thing to stop playing it. You really have to want it. Just like quit smoking. You have to be honest here.
    – After this step i always feel soooo free and satisfied. It’s always like i got rid of chains which kept me in a jail for a long time.
    – After some time i feel a bit empty in my life…
    – Because i play other games it can happen that i read something new about mmos or wow or whatever… and i start thinking about it. And at this point the whole pattern repeats.

    I don’t know how to leave this pattern. I live this pattern for about 10 years…. It would be awesome if i could just quit playing them forever, but my problem is not an addiction. It is the FUN that comes with these games. I really have so much excitement and fun reaching goals (like getting rank 14 in vanilla wow) i set for myself in these games. But all the time i put into that makes me so sad and exhausted. That’s another thing why i always force myself to stop: When playing so much i feel exhausted, tired and just bad.

    And that’s my big problem: I try to force myself to NOT to do things i have fun with. Here i question myself if it’s the right way to go, to not do things i want to do. Sometimes i get to the point that i stop doing it. And sometimes i get to the point that i should just have the fun in my life and just DO it. That’s my pattern and my problem.

    … Sorry for the wall of text. Maybe we can get in touch and discuss? Just mail me to momitja@gmail.com I would be happy to hear from you!

    • karstenaichholz says:

      You hit on a good point saying that it’s more fun than other things. I can’t think of anything else that pulls me in that strongly and that extensively – simply because it is so much fun.

      In essence you managed to take away your own ability to play games (albeit temporarily), though the motivation to play them and the triggers to remind you about the games are still there.

      I think by trying to switch to other games, you are already following a good approach: It’s hard to give up something so time-intensive that feels so rewarding without having a suitable replacement.

      Is there a ‘competing’ hobby you can pick up as a more permanent alternative? Running works for some as there’s such a thing like a runner’s high – a nice replacement for positive feedback loops from games.

      Depending on your situation in life, working more, doing a side business, going to travel are also potential options.

  7. Pingback: My Experience Dealing With a Severe Video Games Addiction

  8. karstenaichholz says:

    “I don’t like the person I am when I’m playing WoW.” – I think that attitude that lies at the core of being able to quit any addiction. If you resent what you are when you follow that addiction, it’s much easier to quit than if you just resent the consequences of it.

    Jason, I found your post while looking for accounts of people struggling with similar issues as I did. I’ve since then completed my own addiction-journey-write up here: https://www.karstenaichholz.com/life/video-game-addiction/

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