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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published here in 2011. Some of the facts have changed, but I (and others) still struggle with this every day.


World of Warcraft has 11 million + subscribers right now. Every day a group of people three times as large as the state of Connecticut logs onto Blizzard’s servers to wage a virtual war against monsters, raid bosses and each other. Many of those people wage a more personal battle every day with a devil more devious than any heroic raid encounter: Addiction.

This is a battle that I am all too familiar with.

I was an active World of Warcraft subscriber for about 5 years. I raided. I pvped. I leveled four different characters up to the level cap (all of them dwarves). I had become a part of a tight knit guild full of people that I still think of fondly. I don’t regret the fun that I had or the people that I met, but I am happy to finally be able to look back on it.

If you asked me if I was addicted when I was in my prime, I would have told you no. I was “playing a game instead of watching TV”. It was only “a few hours a day.” It was “No big deal.” It was all too easy to conveniently ignore all of the warning signs and forget all of my most inexcusable acts.

Confession time:

  • I used to be proud that I had never called out of work to play WoW. But, taking a “mental health day” and then spending 6 of the 8 hours I would have been at work playing WoW was perfectly ok? Right.
  • I spent time thinking about WoW incessantly, even when I wasn’t playing. I read websites. I talked on forums. My wife knew what boss my raid group was on and what loot drop I wanted from it.
  • When I started to raid I promised my wife that I would never skip a social function to do so. But, I would lose my mind if my wife tried to schedule a dinner with friends on a raid night.
  • I went home from the hospital the night my first child was born to raid. My wife will tell anyone that she wanted me to leave because she wanted sleep, but she was clearly covering for me.
  • During my most “dedicated times” I would play four to five hours a day. Some weeks would be light and I would only play six days out of the week. Do the math with me folks. That adds up to almost thirty hours a week.
  • I still go through almost overwhelming urges to play. I had to uninstall WoW from my laptop to prevent myself from “relapsing.”
  • I don’t like making phone calls. I especially don’t like making phone calls to our telephone/cable/internet provider. I vividly recall being home one day and having our internet black out. I was on the telephone with them for almost an hour. I don’t think I would have called them for any other reason.

If those don’t sound like the habits of an addict, then I don’t know what they sound like.

I know that some of you are might be getting a little critical with me at this point. I’ve heard it before when I bring this up. I am fully aware that the American Medical Association does not currently consider video game addiction to be an official DSM-IV diagnosis. This is clearly documented on the web. The AMA moves slowly on officially declaring something an official diagnosis (which is more than fair), but that does not change what I (and many others) am dealing with.

The Point:

If you are reading this column, then you likely know someone who is dealing with this right now (it might even BE you). I am writing this to encourage everyone to be aware of it. This is a sickness that often goes unnoticed and can cause irreparable harm. I spent so much time plugged in that I almost lost my wife. If it wasn’t for her and some of my closest friends I don’t know if I ever would have pulled myself away. Someone you know might need that kind of help.

There is a full list of symptoms for video game addiction here. I recommend that you take a look at it. It might open your eyes to things that haven’t occurred to you yet.

Each of us bears a responsibility to our friends, our family and to ourselves. Many of us would refuse to stand idly by if our friend was suffering from alcoholism and while we may have trouble seeing the parallels on the surface they are strikingly similar problems. If you see someone that behaves like I did, or fits any of the symptoms listed on that site… you need to talk to them.

I know that I am grateful for the help I was given. I sure your friends will be grateful too.

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Bioware

ESRB: Teen (Blood and Gore, Mild Language, Sexual Themes, Violence)

Original release: December 2011

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May the Fourth…er, Force, be with you.  This weekend marks the annual Star Wars holiday, which makes it a perfect time to play The Old Republic (SWTOR), the Star Wars based Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG, or MMO for short).

For those familiar with the Star Wars universe, the game is set in the past, before the movies.  Jedi are in their heyday, as are the Sith forces that oppose them.  There’s several races available, and several character types.  Players can choose wise Jedi, stalwart Troopers, wily Smugglers, or other classes.

Gameplay follows many of the classic MMO formulae: characters start in a tutorial area to learn the basic controls; they are given missions to perform, with experience points, money, and gear as rewards; and there are plenty of options for solo and group play.

The missions that you receive are one of the game’s strengths: its story-driven nature.  While there are certainly a vast number of side quests (inconsequential tasks, such as helping a local with a minor issue, something that can be easily skipped) to help your character grow stronger on their journeys, they are simply steps along the path in a greater story, an almost movie-like tale that focuses on you.

Another helpful feature of the game is the companion mechanic.  Each character is paired with a non-player character (NPC), a computer-controlled companion that helps you out, converses with you, and lets you know what they think about what is going on.  Though the companion has their own story, and own tasks, they are your greatest asset when it comes to completing the missions, which are woven into a consistent story line.  While players can team up with other players (for the short- or long-term), players can also play solo, with the companion’s help.

At the core of the game, though, is a series of moral decisions: there is a Light Side and a Dark Side to the Force, and that concept infuses the game.  While players can choose to side with the Jedi (Republic) or the Sith (Empire), they also have to decide whether to stay with the Light or the Dark, based on the decisions they make during their story: do they spare their defeated foe, and send them to a trial, or do they finish them off and end the threat?  These aren’t simply theoretical questions; characters are faced with not only the decisions, but the consequences.  Companions will change their opinion of you based on your actions, and characters will be marked by which path they take; fall too deeply to the Dark Side, and the corruption will start to show, as a character will start to look scarred and diseased.

The Light/Dark mechanic is the greatest teaching moment of the game, but is also the source of greatest concern, in my mind.  While the Light options are solid virtues to reinforce (honesty, selflessness, bravery), the Dark options can be very dark (senseless violence, torture, etc.)  I would recommend encouraging teens to stick to the Light side, and either keeping up with their progress to see how they’re doing, or by playing with them.

The other issue to watch for is play time.  By nature, MMO games are time-consuming, with many hours of gameplay going into completing “just one more mission!”  Parents will want to monitor the amount of time that players sink into the game.

Gameplay is a combination of mouse and keyboard work; the mouse controls movement, while actions can be selected by keyboard or mouse.  Actions happen in real time, so younger players (and maybe even a few older ones!) might be challenged to determine what to do during a fight.  Problem-solving and tactical skills will definitely be put to the test.  Fortunately, if you’re defeated, you are simply sent back to the nearest medical station, from where you can continue your story.

The visuals are good, but not phenomenal; they’re to be expected of a game that’s 2+ years old.  The sound, on the other hand, is top-notch, full of familiar Star Wars music and excellent voice-acting.  Dialog is also subtitled, allowing someone to read along with the dialog (either to work on reading skills, or to play with the sound down in case younger siblings are sleeping.)

Following a recent trend in MMO, there’s two tiers of play in SWTOR: free, and subscription.  Subscribed members earn better rewards from missions and have more options as a result of their paid status.  For folks not interested in paying out $15 a month for a full subscription (or who play too infrequently or erratically to warrant a subscription), there is a mechanic to unlock subscription benefits in an a la carte manner.

Overall, Star Wars the Old Republic is a good game for fans of Star Wars.  The Light/Dark mechanic is a great method to teach (and reinforce) moral decision-making skills, and the Free play option makes it accessible for gamers on a budget.  For mature teens (and parents!), this is a good way to get your lightsaber fix, but the younger crowd might want to skip this one.

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By: Stephen Duetzmann, Editor and chief

Funcom released a trailer for a new MMO based about LEGO properties called “LEGO Minifigures Online.”

We are short on real details, but the trailer they posted on YouTube today shows off a very ambitious product. There are a TON of different LEGO worlds included here. The timing for this can’t be much better considering there is a LEGO Movie coming out next year.

Take a look at the trailer and sound off in the comments. What do you think?

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I was lucky enough to receive an invite to the Playstation 3 beta for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn over the holiday weekend. I have been a lifetime Final Fantasy fan, so it was like Christmas in July. I spent about a dozen hours playing through the beta on various characters over the weekend and I wanted to share some important information.

#1: Playing an MMO with a controller is hard

There are a lot of people who will say that playing MMOs in general is hard. But, it took a lot of adjustment to be able to make basic combat commands work. The keyboard and mouse functions are far more intuitive because they involve clicking on a guy and pushing a number key. The bottom line is that unless your child can easily handle using the trigger buttons on the PS3 controller then it might be best to stick with the PC release.

#2: The game is stunning

I know we come to expect that games produced for current generation consoles are beautiful, but MMOs are a unique case. They often have to give up a lot when it comes to visuals in order to make the game run smoothly. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn bucks that trend. The animations are smooth. The textures are incredible. Even the spell animations were neat to look at.

#3: The Lalafell race may just be the cutest thing in the history of video games

Look. Some people like to pretend to be big strong superheroes when they play video games. I was one of them. But, then I realized that I could create a digital person that both looks like my four year old son AND can manipulate the elements. I was instantly converted.

I see this as something that might have a lot of appeal for younger kids. I know my youngest got a lot of enjoyment from watching himself run around on the screen.

 

#4: The introduction and tutorial is LONG

I’ll admit that I might be looking back on my previous MMO experiences with rose colored glasses, but the introduction was very long and pretty dry. I am afraid that some kids will have difficulty sticking with it. The good news it that they don’t have to share every single experience that the game has to offer so many of us can just slog through the opening on our own after they head to bed.

 

#5: For all its beauty, it is still an online game

There is no way around it. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is still on online role playing game. As a result, there was still no shortage of borderline inappropriate names and obnoxious chatter over the chat channels. These are the kinds of problems are baked into online play. You just can’t separate yourself from them. They are less of an issue for kids who can’t read, but you are in a different world once those symbols on the screen start to hold meaning.

There is another round of beta testing beginning this weekend. I’ll post again if anything significant changes.

Have you or someone you know been in the beta? What were your thoughts? Post them in the comments! I’d love to hear them!

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