It’s been over a year and the cravings are still coming. In fact, of late they’ve been more and more frequent and perhaps even a bit stronger. I think about it at least once a week, and sometimes every day. Sure, it’s worse when I’m bored, but even when I have things going on, it still crosses my mind. “How bad could it be? Just a little bit. I can handle doing just a little bit. I hear they even let you try some for free now.”
Cold turkey sucks.
I’ve quit cigarettes, caffeine, even biting my nails when I was a kid, but somehow the one I seem to be having the most trouble with is World of Warcraft.
Maybe it’s because there’s something missing that I don’t feel like I’m getting in some other way. WoW offers the easy taste of victory early on, with just enough challenge to keep you coming back, and it keeps scaling up to keep the challenge fresh. Sure you can say that about any game, but the folks at Blizzard have it down to a science (quite literally, I’m sure). There’s also a false sense of accomplishment and reward built right in, so you don’t even need to pat yourself on the back; they’ll do it for you. They even let you get something approaching sociability, although the sad truth is they haven’t yet found a way to fix human behavior in an anonymous environment (but they do a better job than most).
Maybe it’s because WoW came to me at the right time in my life (that’s what My Not So Humble Wife suggested). She has a point. When I first started playing World of Warcraft I was feeling lost, alone, and in need of something to make me feel good about myself. I didn’t feel like a success. WoW gave me that. Sure it was an artificial sensation, but Twinkies are full of empty calories and I love them too. WoW gave me so much of that that I spent as much time playing it as I would on a second job, only I paid them for the privilege. Is it a coincidence that a couple months after quitting WoW I started a blog? Not in the slightest. And I still have more free time (most of which I spend with my previously neglected wife).
Maybe it’s because I’ve got an addictive personality. I love to gamble, so I stay away from it. I love to smoke, and I’ve quit more than once (with varying levels of success). I’ll even get hooked on a song and listen to it over and over until I drive the people around me nuts (just ask My Not So Humble Sister; better yet don’t, I don’t need het to be reminded). I’ve thought that if I could find something positive to fill that void (like blogging) it would be enough, but it’s like exercising to get over craving a cigarette. You can only do it so much before you get tired of it, and you still want what you want.
Ultimately I need something to take my mind off of it. I need something that will thrill me, something that will grab and hold my attention long enough to make the cravings go away, I need something so powerful, so wonderful, so fantastic that it’s completely irresistible, to me anyway.
I need to be WoW’ed.
It’s not like I’m some sort of newb: my first gaming console was an Atari 2600. I’ve played most of the consoles since then, and I’ve owned every iteration of Playstation and Xbox that has ever existed, as well as most of the Nintendo consoles. I’ve had a computer since x86 was even a designation, and “baud” was a word. I get gaming. Believe me. I’ve loved it, hated it, and been thrilled and frustrated by it. I just don’t think gaming gets me anymore.
For those of you who only started playing video games in the mid to late nineties (or heaven forbid, since Facebook and cell phones made video games acceptable), let me describe to you what gaming used to be like. You would sit in a room, usually by yourself, and you would put the game in. It would start up, you would play for anywhere from a few minutes to a few days (depending on your endurance and the size of your bladder), and then you would pass out. If you were really lucky and you were playing the right kind of game, you might have a friend to play with. If you were unlucky, you had a sibling you had to share with (hi, Jen). That was about it.
Somewhere along the line somebody got the idea of creating multiplayer games in a very real way. I’m not clear on exactly when this happened (I blame Doom), because they didn’t dominate the world of gaming for a long time. They coexisted, out there but not overshadowing traditional gaming. At least to the best of my knowledge not before Everquest came along (colloquially known as Evercrack). I lost a lot of good friends to Evercrack, mostly because I just never saw the appeal. It seemed more like a job than a game, spending all of your time “grinding” (that would be doing senseless and boring tasks for in-game currency to buy in-game items or achieve other in-game objectives) so you could get to a point where you could, I dunno, play the game. And it was always a matter of keeping up with the Joneses.
Then I discovered City of Heroes. This is a massively mutiplayer online game in which you get to play a super hero, and it was tailor made for me. My wife became a gaming widow for about a year. She finally got me back when she lured me into World of Warcraft, which had taken over from Everquest as the fantasy MMO equivalent of crack. She got tired of it; I didn’t. At least, not for a long time. It took a lot of grinding, foul language, and downright immaturity that I would be shocked to hear from an 11-year old boy to finally get me to quit. Two years of that later I finally went cold turkey. I’ve been clean for about six months now, and I’ve discovered something: there’s no games left for me.
See, here’s the problem. I never liked first person shooters (Doom, I’m looking at you again). I just never got the whole “twitch-twitch-flinch-twitch-this is fun!” thing. And I’m done with MMOs. It’s not the games; it’s the players. I just can’t tolerate their bullshit. For the right game I’ll pay every month (although that did grate on me, I won’t lie), but as City of Heroes found out, the free to play model isn’t enough to keep you going when the content isn’t there and the jerk-to-fun ratio is jacked up to 11.
But when I go to look for a nice, simple game, something like the games of my youth, they all seem to be gone. Note I didn’t say “easy”. Anyone who wants to claim that Metroid or even Super Mario World was easy has either a short memory or way too much time or their hands. But I don’t want to have to invest three days learning the control scheme. I don’t want to have to do mental and physical gymnastics to control my character (Wii, Kinnect, I’m looking at you this time). Even the franchises I used to love have confused added complexity for improvement. I loved Civilization. Civilization II may well have been the pinnacle of game making. Civ III was so convoluted and confusing I couldn’t even finish a game on the easiest setting. I hear they’re up to 5 now. Good for them. I wouldn’t even give them 5 bucks for it.
How about a basic platformer with some deep story? I’d love to see a great RPG that I can sit down and play for hours, not sit down and watch for hours a la Final Fantasy 13, which was so painful I couldn’t get through the first two hours, which translated to roughly fifteen minutes of actual gameplay. How about instead of adding bad multiplayer, you take the time to program the game such that I can choose between playing it FPS or strategic (Fallout 3, I’m talking to you). How about just once, you deliver a game experience that maybe isn’t all about the hottest graphics and coolest sound, and instead rewards me with gameplay so compelling, so rich, so intuitive and fun that I want to come back again and again, and I’m actually willing to pay twenty dollars more for extra content, because the original game was JUST THAT GOOD?
Oh, and how about not forcing me to be online just to play a single player game, Blizzard? ‘Cause, yeah, that’s bullshit.