I am a ghost in the machine. I am, really, and I am not.
Call me Wildstreak/Sweetwater. I was asked to share the story of how online gaming addiction has affected my son, but I realized I can’t share that honestly without causing harm. I can’t offer a happy ending, a nice wrap-up with everyone leading nice, well-adjusted lives. I don’t have a solution to the crisis or a way to repair the damage that online gaming addiction has wreaked in my own family.
What I can offer is a better understanding of online gaming addiction and its spiritual effects on the players. The best way to understand something, I’ve found, is to become it. I have become a gamer, a role-player. I have been working “undercover” for four reasons: First, I want to reach out to the players and minister to them, offering compassion where others only condemn. I can only hope that there is someone out there who will do the same for those I love who are caught in the mire of the games and whom I cannot reach myself. Second, I seek to understand what it is that draws millions of young people to turn their backs on “real life” and submerge themselves in a world of pixels and fantasy. I seek to share this knowledge with the hope that it will support efforts to help all those who are suffering from the negative effects of online gaming addiction. Why do some people sit at a computer for hours and hours every day, building their homes in a fantasy world, rejecting reality even to the detriment of their health and relationships? Perhaps they reject the real world for good cause and the solution is for us to work to make our flesh-and-blood world better. Third, I’m a writer in search of an audience. Writing stories based on role-play is a good way to build an audience for my original work. People are guaranteed to read a story when their character is in it. If it’s a compelling portrayal, they’ll pass it around.
And finally, my fourth reason for doing this is that I have come to love role-playing and role-players. I have come to see it as an interactive novel, the future of literary entertainment. I’m not alone.
More than Just a Game?
It’s impossible to calculate exactly how many gamers are out there, but according to an article published by James Batchelor in MCV: The Market for Computer and Video Games in January 2011, “The total userbase for Sony’s PlayStation Network has surpassed 60 million consumers.” Sony’s PlayStation Network is just one multiplayer gaming service, so that statistic doesn’t even begin to count all of the people who play non-Sony online role-playing games using computers, Sega consoles, Xbox consoles, etc.
Sony is the creator of “EverQuest II,” but many other game worlds also exist. Activision’s “World of Warcraft” had 10.2 million subscribers at the end of 2011, according to the New York Times, and Trion World Inc.’s “Rift” had already attracted 1 million users within five months after its release in March 2011, according to an August 2011 Bloomberg article. So that adds up to 72 million players at the very minimum. My experience has been with “World of Warcraft,” “EverQuest II,” “EverQuest II Extended,” “Second Life,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “Rift.”
Seventy-two million, minimum. Sitting at computers for hours, achieving nothing but pixel progress in real world terms. (Except on Second Life, where virtual products and services are sold for Linden dollars, which have actual monetary value. I have a friend there who makes $500 extra income per month doing this.)
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