Although I am allegedly an adult now, I have to be honest: I love video games. I have been playing them since my parents bought our first computer when I was 5 (a QL Sinclair, no less, for those who remember it), and got my first Nintendo Entertainment System a year later, and a Sega Genesis a few years after that. I even vaguely recall playing the Atari 2600 when I was really small. I grew up on Super Mario Brothers, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Civilization. In high school, I played MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons), the textual predecessor to today's Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs).
Given my lifelong enjoyment of games, I always thought of myself as a bit of a 'gamer'. Sure, there are people more into gaming than me, but I have years of experience. Sometimes I even wondered if I were wasting too much of my time playing games. I could be doing other things, after all: reading, studying, working, taking walks in the park. Staring at a computer screen moving a fake character around killing fake creatures with a fake weapon probably isn't the most productive way to spend my time.
A few years ago, I picked up what was, and still is, deemed to be the jewel of the MMORPG catalog: World of Warcraft. With over 8 million subscribers across the world, dozens of servers, and a brand new expansion pack that has revitalized some of its content, WoW, for short, has become a genuine worldwide phenomenon. I began playing WoW shortly after it was released: I made a character, did some quests, and killed some giant bugs. It's fun, and I still play it.
It was also World of Warcraft that made me realize that I am not, in any real sense of the word, a serious 'gamer'.
Part of World of Warcraft's appeal is its success in attracting hardcore and casual gamers alike. Unlike most MMORPGs, dying in World of Warcraft doesn't cost you an arm and a leg: a few minutes to get to your body and a few coins to repair your damaged equipment, and you're no worse for the wear. WoW also encourages players to not play by giving double experience points to players who don't log in, enabling players who can't dedicate half their waking hours to the game a reasonable chance to get into some of the more advanced (and often more fun) content.
Nonetheless, World of Warcraft has a large hardcore fan base. Some of the most serious gamers play for hours―sometimes even days―on end, barely stopping to eat, drink, sleep, or take care of personal hygiene. A player in South Korea even died of exhaustion last year after a marathon gaming session where he spent his days and nights in a PC café playing World of Warcraft, hardly sleeping, and living off instant noodles.
That is, of course, an extreme case. But after reading through conversations on forums of World of Warcraft players, looking at guild websites, and seeing many of them online, I have to wonder: is the game even fun anymore? Many of the top-notch WoW players are obsessed with the cold, hard numbers that run the engine of the game, rather than the actual entertainment aspect of it. Getting the highest percentage of damage reduction from a set of armor, finding the best combination of weapons and trinkets to deal the most damage, finding or writing macros to automate many functions in the game, organizing huge raids that take hours to complete, spending large chunks of time 'grinding' solely to gain levels or money, trying to become the strongest guild or the best player, or some other objectives that more resemble a military operation than an enjoyable pastime.
Don't get me wrong―I am not knocking people who do enjoy that type of thing. I'm sure many get genuine satisfaction from those aspects of the game. I have noticed, however, that to some players, World of Warcraft seems more like an obligation―a job―instead of a few hours of fantasy.
If they saw me online, many of these players would probably be quick to label me a 'n00b', a rather annoying and generally derogatory term for a 'newbie', someone who is just beginning to play and doesn't know the ins, outs, and secrets of the game. After all, I actually read the dialog of the non-player characters (NPCs) when they hand me a quest. I take my time strolling through the wilderness of the game, looking at the scenery of new areas, admiring the detailed artwork that went into many of the creatures and trying to enjoy the atmosphere of the immersive world. In two and a half years of playing World of Warcraft, my highest character is level 47. By contrast, many of the top players have several characters at level 60 or level 70.
Could I zip my character up several levels if I wanted to? Sure. If I decided to put in the time and dedicated myself to getting my character to level 70, I'm sure I could do it. But truth be told, I don't want to. I am happy strolling through my World of Warcraft 'life', admiring the scenery, and just having fun. As with so many things, even in real life, it is the journey, much more than the destination, that is worthwhile.
When I first read about World of Warcraft targeting casual gamers, I ignored it. I always assumed it didn't apply to me. When I heard the Nintendo Wii was targeting casual gamers, and the Playstation 3 was for the hardcore crowd, I was ready to drop the 800 bucks for Sony's hardware powerhouse. Today, I own a Wii, and love it. I play World of Warcraft, and with my puny, level 47 character, have a blast for the few hours a week I use it.
I'm not going to preach tired clichés like 'turn off TV, turn on life'. There's nothing wrong with having fun, be it throwing a ball around, reading a fiction book, watching a movie― or, playing a video game. But that's just it: it should be fun. If it's not, what's the point? I already have a job. The last thing I need is a second one.