Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Society and Life: Gaming and Alternatives

Beru asked a question yesterday that I've been pondering on, myself, for a long while now:

What would you do if you didn't play WoW?

The answer is, for me at least, the same things I do now:
  • Yardwork and housework (cleaning up after hubby and pets)
  • Play with pets
  • Volunteer Scout stuff (developing a short summer camp)
  • Read fantasy/sci-fi and the occasional hiker/backpacker novel
  • Watch TV
  • Find games to play when I get (quickly) tired of the non-interactive TV, preferably ones I can play cooperatively with friends.
  • Hang out with my equally quiet and domestic friends for movies, crafts, and RPGs.
....except that I'd be missing out on time spent chatting or experiencing a virtual environment with in-game friends I've known for anywhere from a couple months to 6+ years. I'd replace it with more of the above. Or I'd find another cooperative game that I can play with my friends... and do you know how hard it is to find those kinds of games? Even dominos is like "ZOMG BEAT YOU RAWR!" I can find more cooperative play in Unreal Tournament than in a lot of card and board games.

What do people do if they don't game?

A lot of the media and political anti-gaming stances are basing their opinions on the idea that either a) games make people violent and dangerous, or b) games are a waste of time that result in unproductive citizens.

Let's look at some of the things I see non-gamers do with the same amounts of their time:
  • Go to bars to get drunk and socialize, often not remembering all the details of their nights and sometimes endangering others on the road afterwards.
  • Host parties (that likely involve alcohol): more for the extroverts. Usually involves drinking or gossiping, and usually both.
  • Sunbath for hours on end. Greetings, skin cancer.
  • Watch TV all evening.
  • Get high on drugs for lack of anything else to do that they view as "cool."
  • Join gangs and wage turf wars.
How are these things any more productive than gaming? How are these things any less "dangerous" and "violence-causing" than gaming, for the community as a whole?

Let's look at two of the most common alternatives:
  • Why is sitting on the couch watching TV viewed as less of a problem by media/politicals (who tend to control society's general viewpoints and information) than gaming? I don't know for 100%, but I have a few possible ideas along the vein of propaganda control and advertisement marketing for economic stimulation.
  • Why is getting drunk at bars viewed as less of a problem by media/politicals? At least we aren't out making the roads unsafe. Again, I don't know for 100% certainty, but I tend to believe it's because they're out spending money and being "social"... coupled with the fact that rowdy drinking's been a part of society for at least a couple thousand years, and gaming (and TV for that matter) is the new "upstart."
Alternatively, someone could lead the society-ideal life of a healthy mix of volunteer work, casual sports team play (or martial arts), reading and/or writing, craft or outdoor hobbies, a bit of TV, and family/friend-time. Why is it bad to throw a bit of gaming in there to offset some of that TV time? Instead of watching a string of the latest reality shows involving 20 guys trying to win the heart of some fickle girl, I prefer to cooperate with a group of friends to go "save" a virtual community from imminent doom.


As I just mentioned, there are things that are healthier or viewed as more productive uses of time:
  • Sports or martial arts
  • Volunteer time (scouts, cleanups, helping neighbors, etc)
  • "Community involvement" (ie politics)
  • Family time... assisting homework, board games, teaching, attending little league, etc.
  • Doing anything that spends money: amusement parks, hotels, theaters, sports events, etc.
....and why is there a view that gamers don't do these things?

Answer's easy: because of the legacy stereotype of the shut-in basement gamer who leeches off his parents and does not have the socialization to fit into "polite" society, in addition to media hype that likes to highlight the occasional cases of psychopathic violence inflicted by someone who happens to game. Since such cases are alarming and unusual, of course they make the news... but many read into its highlight as if game-related-violence is more prevalent or more "wrong" than violence over alcohol (including DUIs), drugs, money, social disagreements (work, mating, "turf" be it gangs or religion or politics or even sports teams, etc), and the psychopaths who happen to not game. There are violent people out there, and that's regardless of whether they happen to play WoW or CounterStrike or any other game.

In addition, who's to say a gamer is not productive when they have a stable, legal, productive job that they do well? Or a volunteer, playing on computers at a firehouse or rescue-squad station while waiting for a call to go out, a game that they can play together and drop what they're doing immediately when the siren sounds? Or a student, still earning good grades but taking a mental breather from studying to destress with a game?


Just because you enjoy gaming doesn't mean you can't have a more "productive" life than someone who doesn't game. I know people who don't game that lead less productive lives than I do, and I blog and raid!

Gaming--especially in a game as social as an MMO--is an excellent way to spend time expanding your horizons beyond what you can experience at home in your safe suburb in a non-life-threatening way, has interaction far more than a TV can give, yet still allows time to keep up with life, studies, physical fitness, and whatever else you want to do...

It all just depends on moderation.

I'm in a 3-night raiding guild: that's only 12 hours per week of committed raiding time. I get on just about every day for at least an hour or two to run a quick daily and see if I can get Anzu to drop, maybe say hi to friends if they're around, help them with something, or just chat with them about their day. That's time that most people I know and grew up with would instead spend just changing channels on TV complaining there's nothing to watch.


As relatively little as I do watch TV, there are some shows that I enjoy watching. For this, I have PVR: my TV records the shows I like, and I can watch them when I feel like it, often during my lunch breaks, which I am lucky enough to be able to go home from work for (a rarity in American society, where work commutes are often 30 minutes to an hour). I can fast-forward through commercials to reduce time that I personally view as "wasted" by those advertisements, where a 1-hr show is reduced now to 40 minutes (fits well into a 1-hr lunch break when you consider food prep, cleanup, and a short commute).

Short of the Long:

The way I see it, in the middle-class American society that I've grown up with and know, most people spend their "at-home freetime" watching TV. I--and many others--replaced that time with the more interactive gaming. Anyone who does game can still take care of family/house, go out for weekly social events, do sports or other physical exercise, and volunteer for things: I know, I do it, and I've gamed with others who can manage it with kids (just having to play less to account for the time they devote to their children). It all depends on how you handle your playtime: moderation in favor of other responsibilities to family and self.

I think gaming is a better use of that chunk of time that many in my society otherwise devote to drinking and watching TV.


Karmakin said...

Here's where things go wrong in terms of people understanding WoW (Or certain other games). I agree with everything you said, but I think you forgot one rather important point.

Online gaming, and especially a game like WoW for a lot of people, is all about commitment and responsibility. So what happens, is that someone asks you to go out or do something specific, and it's nah can't, I have plans. What are you doing? Well we're going to try and learn this new fight now..

Hmph. Nerd-boy addict.

I honestly think that's the sticking part that people can't get around. The fact that most hardcore players are making a commitment to do thing X and time Y, and we don't want to let them down, even though we probably have never met them "In Real Life" (Which is, IMO another misconception of people..that other people on the internet are tools to be used and disposed of as needed).

So when people ask me about "WoW addiction" that's what I tell them. What looks like an addiction can be also a simple commitment to friends that you want to keep.

Kae said...

The commitment you make is a choice, however. If I say "Yes, I'll join your raiding guild" then I am making a commitment to be there for those 9 (or 24) other players, certainly... but that's my choice in how I play. Not everyone needs to make that commitment when it comes to gaming, especially if it's a single-player game like Dragon Age or Baldur's Gate or Assassin's Creed, or something on a console... and those games are lumped in with WoW when it comes to the generic label of "gamers."

I definitely agree with you in terms of the ignorant viewing another's raiding commitment as some "addiction," however. An addiction is when you physically can't survive without something, and that word gets misused a lot to throw something in a negative light :( It's like saying "you have an addiction to your baseball team."

Saniel said...

I spend a lot of my time trying to convince my RL friends (pretty much none of whom play WoW) that raiding is really no different than any team activity like hockey (which I also play). There's a team of people all working hard to achieve a common goal, and the absence of any number of those people could greatly affect them all.

I work hard to maintain a balance between my raiding obligations and my RL friend obligations. ("Obligation" is a poor choice of wording in either situation, but it makes the point.) I think, all things considered, I do a pretty reasonable job. I just wish my friends were as understanding with "can't go out tonight, gotta raid" as my guild is with "can't raid tonight, guys' night out".

Charles said...

This is a great post. I've heard a lot of this sort before (some of it from my own lips/fingers), but you've put it both comprehensively and concisely. And I agree with the other commenters, too.

I don't know to what extent players are aware, but WoW - and 'cybercultures' in general - is slowly being subjected to greater amounts of academic study and general scrutiny. The findings of academic research are almost entirely what you might call positive with respect to the *potential* of the game and its community... but the conduct of some members of the game community still causes concern.

As Blizzard and other game developers continue to make their games more and more "healthy" environments, the wider world is going to have to face up to the fact that yes, these presently emergent cybercommunities are becoming a more and more significant and important part of our lives - and that as a result, people need to learn how to live within them in a way which emancipates instead of harms. I fear the biggest consequence of the present attitude of the wider media to gaming and cybercommunities is that, because they are seen as something of a social stigma, the genuine needs of the context are ignored just as much as the benefits.

(Um... I don't know if that ended up saying what I meant to say, but I think you probably get the gist and I can't really be bothered to go and rewrite it.)

Kae said...

I work in distance learning... the needs of cybercommunities (including those of a large online class) is certainly something not many people understand. So many instructors seem to think they can tape their lectures from the back of the room and post the videos online, and ppt notes, and leave it at that... it's given online classes a bad rep.

Beranabus said...

Gang and turf wars. lololololol

Kae said...

You laugh, but it is very real. :(

Beruthiel said...

The worst part, I think for me, is the "hey, let's hit happy hour!". I am one of the only people in my office that communtes any amount of distance...and I have a schedule that I like to keep.

But I also turn it down not only because I don't want to go, but because I've made a commitment to my guild to be there. Sometimes I get grief about it.

But then I can't help but wonder, and have brought up before, if I had said "I have to go get my kid and take him to the soccer game" or "I have yoga tonight" people wouldn't give me near the crap about it.

Mostly, I've decided that my private life is my private life. I don't judge how others spend their time, I don't feel I should be judged for how I spend mine. Now, if I'm asked to do something, I generally just say "Sorry, I have other plans" and leave it at that.

But, like you, I really don't think I'd be doing much different if I didn't have WoW :)

X-Mori said...

Very interesting post and read considering the stale pre-expansion times. One of my favorite post on my RSS feed so far 

I do however want to remind you, that inaccurate generalization of people who do not play the game is also not good. I believe the WoW community to a certain degree also have this defensive mechanism where they would try to ‘justify’ why playing WoW is not wrong.

Most people that do not play the game or any game for that matter, do not spend their time in a bar every single day.

Most people that do not play the game do not sun tan every day.

As a matter of fact I do not know anybody that spend a consistent 16-18 hours a week inside a bar or on a tanning bed. Now some of us have that amount of time to invest in something they like. Some don’t.

My college experimental drug days are long over but if memory serves right, I don’t remember spending that much time or knowing anybody spending that much time doing drugs.

The drunkard, the Jersey Shore cast, the drug addict and the gangsters that you are describing are not a good comparison of what you can become or do if you don’t play a video game.

The one thing I completely agree and share your view is how society view video game. But then again social norm and values are notoriously known to lag behind technology.

In closing, I’d like to share a couple of my own experiences.
By going to happy hour I net more results compared to raiding. I've had business relations made and projects offered through the people that I met during those 'happy hour'. My current job is a result of a resume I sent to my poker buddy. None of my raiding or leveling or chatting on vent activity has ever net me any of that or anything more than what’s in the game. Maybe this reply is a little biased since I know what ‘value’ I give for logging into the game and what value I give for a Friday night happy hour. I just don’t think any solid argument was ever made about the concept of gaming itself. The argument from the non-players has always been about the line between excessive or moderate. At least from the people that I know.

Kae said...

All of my "inaccurate generalizations" are not at all inaccurate. They are very real and exist. I see them. Just because you may have never done them--or been friends with someone who did--does not mean they don't happen. I am related to some of them. I also never said that "all" people do all of those bad things... I made a point to outline some of the "good" alternatives I've seen, as well.

Read closer ;)

Kae said...

FYI to admit my own bias: I hate alcohol and smoke (nixes bars from being pleasurable places for me), and have seen alcoholism (and drug use) completely destroy families. :(

X-Mori said...

First of all, thanks for the reply.
I really should refrain myself from using inaccurate and generalization in the same sentence. The two words really didn’t make any sense together. I guess this is what happened when you try to read through your RSS feeds and post a reply at 6pm Friday just before happy hour… :D
Joking aside, I did read through your post again and I should say that I never meant to say that your personal experiences are not accurate. I never meant to say that the things that happened to people that you know did not happen. If it came out that way then I apologize.
What I was trying to pointed out in the end is let’s not make WoW the solution nor the culprit. It’s a video game and should be taken as what it is and not a solution.

Kae said...

I guess I am just confused by the inference that I'm making gaming out to be a solution to the various bad things. Now, if I were saying "grab the miscreants off the streets and force them to play WoW rather than buy drugs and steal," then that'd be suggesting a "solution" :)

I am only making the case that gaming is a viable, and in some cases better, alternative to many other things people do with their free time, as leisure activities.

I can certainly give a nod towards your wish to use a weekly happy-hour to network for your job, but that's less of a leisure activity and more of a work-related activity, and certainly not in the same boat as those I see getting smashed multiple nights per week, resulting in hangovers while in class or heading to work the next day.

After all, how can you network and look like someone who deserves a job when you're emptying the contents of your stomach on their shoe? There's a big difference :)

Nelle said...

I totally agree with what you have written, especially someone at my age. I personally experience majority of my friends, if not all, spend many nights drinking, clubing ( which involves some unwanted behavior) and smoking (all sorts). I don't like to be such activities.
Since I've played the game I have been called an addict in regards to WoW. Also, at the same time I keep straight A's in school, held jobs when I had them, socialized with my friends and volunteered with church/school.
My parents are very active and hike, run and bike constantly so my lack of interest in doing these things as often as they adds to my proof of addiction, so to speak.
But alas, I still play and my parents and friends go through moods. Surely one day they will understand where I am coming from. *sigh*