Engaging Culture

The Power of Video Games: The World of Warcraft

Remember the video game World of Warcraft? I’d lost track of it, until recently when it came up in a book on addictive technologies. As a reminder, World of Warcraft (WoW) is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game with millions of players from around the world who create avatars that roam across landscapes, fight monsters, complete quests, and interact with other players. In case you thought video games were completely benign, here’s a few interesting stats:

World of Warcraft may be one of the most addictive behavioral experiences on the planet. Almost half of WoW players consider themselves “addicted.”

Popular Science magazine described WoW as the “obvious choice” when searching for the world’s most addictive game.

There are now support groups with thousands of members, and more than a quarter of a million people have taken the World of Warcraft Addiction Test.

In ten years, World of Warcraft has grossed more than 10 billion dollars, and attracted more than one hundred million subscribers. If they formed a nation, it would be the 12th biggest on the earth.

It interferes with sleep because it’s difficult to sleep when you know that your guild-mates in Copenhagen, Tokyo, and Mumbai are on an epic quest without you.

Games like WoW attract millions of teens and young adults, and up to 40% develop addictions. Several years ago a computer programmer and clinical psychologist joined forces to open a gaming and Internet addiction center near Seattle called reSTART.

Are all video games addictive? Obviously not. But there are plenty more like World of Warcraft that have similar horror stories from users. In a world that’s quickly moving toward accepting all technology without caution or discernment, this might be a good reminder to think clearly about the long term impact of your next device, app, or game.

– Statistics taken from the book, “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.”

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  1. well said – programed to addict, just like a lot of the social media we see our kids engrossed in (and me as well sometimes). Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Phil.

    1. I’m not so sure WoW was originally “programmed to addict” – I think it’s something that got added in more and more along the way. Now you can see in its current form it’s a full blown, unapologetic Skinner box. I don’t think it was always like that. It was addicting, but for different reasons and not because they specifically programmed it to be that way.

  2. Hey Phil, I work in media and cover computer and video games, among other things.

    I also played World of WarCraft for a few years but not much anymore these days. Many of my old friends whom I played with around ten (!) years ago stopped playing too, so the whole “addictive personality” moniker is a bit overexaggerated.

    Of course you have people with addictive personalities, but they can get hooked to World of WarCraft as easily as to binging TV shows, reading novels, comic books or consuming other kind of media.

    Actually, I find that games like Candy Crush or other smartphone and tablet games are flying under the radar, but they are not less addictive: when I’m on the bus or train, more likely than not I’m the only one with a book or magazine, the other folks are staring at their phones watching videos, their Facebook or other social media streams.

    And in World of WarCraft, people actually learned teamwork and how to socially interact, strange as it might sound. I say learned because now the designers have added many features to just get randomly into groups of people you will most likely never meet again and can therefore behave like a complete … well, you get the picture.

    In the “old days”, people were limited to their server – if they had a bad reputation from being an antisocial player, nobody would really invite them to anything.

    I just wish that people who actually play the games would be asked before writing stories and books like these. You have my e-mail address. 😉

    1. Roland is spot on – my eldest son is Aspergers – WoW did exactly as Roland suggested – it got him engaged with others, involved in team work, and his primary choice of class of character was as a healer, which really surprised me. He was very good at it, earned the respect of his team mates, and it raised his self esteem. Apart from the time it consumed, it seems to me that most of the effects were positive. It no longer figures in his life – around 10 years ago he also started to drift from it.

      1. Andrew, so funny: I played a healer too. At one point I was among the top ten of our server. 😉 I found it to be more challenging than hitting the bad guys because you and your fellow healers constantly have to make split-second decisions on who’s going to be needing heals the most the quickest. Actually a great training to work under pressure and with the right priorities.

        1. I’m sure it has positive aspects and obviously, many people don’t have a problem with it. However, you should read the book I reference above. The research is very compelling…

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