Two weeks ago, I asked gamers what made games addictive. Hundreds of you wrote to tell me why — and which — games had hooked you.
Not surprisingly, Blizzard’s “World of Warcraft” was the top vote-getter. A reader who identified himself as “Wyat-wolf” wrote that the social aspect of the game was what kept him coming back.
“I meet people I would normally not be friends with, to tell you the truth, I didn’t have any friends before ‘World of Warcraft. I love this game.”
But “WoW” isn’t the only game in town. You wrote to tell me about other games you’ve loved just a little too much, including “The Sims,” “Call of Duty 4,” “City of Heroes” and even "Guitar Hero."
Siree Chaimberlain wrote in about her obsession — a Korean game called “Khan Online.” Chamberlain recalled several occasions where she’d sat in front of the computer for days on end, stopping only for catnaps. For her, “Khan Online” imparts a sense of reward and accomplishment.
“Unlike real life, in the games, I know I will be rewarded for my hard work and no politics and personal pettiness will affect that,” she wrote. “I know if I spend X hours killing monsters, I will level up.”
Brad Ferguson of Pilot Grove, Mo. said in an e-mail that he’s more proud of his “Halo 3” accomplishments than anything else in his life.
“I’m no athlete, so what do I do? What I’m good at, of course … games,” he said.
Keaton Kramer says online gaming played a part in her transformation from awkward young girl to a more confident young woman. She wrote that she found lifelong friends while playing “Guild Wars,” as well as a boyfriend. Still, she’s still not sure if her path out of shyness was the healthiest one.
“I chose someone 900 miles away instead of people in my own high school. I chose detachment and complication over normal teenage fun,” she wrote.
Keeping up with those online friends can be a serious time commitment, too. You can log off from “World of Warcraft” or “Guild Wars,” but the game world just keeps on going. For some readers, that sense of “missing something” was too much to bear.
John Olson wrote that he felt compelled to keep playing — even when he didn’t want to — so that he wouldn’t be left behind by his online buddies.
”You want to be with them, which means (that) you have to be the same level to go where they go,” he wrote. “So you feel the pressure to level up to be able to hang out. This extends to all aspects of your online experience to the point where you have to ‘run just to keep even.’”
One reader, who asked to remain anonymous, told a sad tale about how her marriage had suffered due to her husband’s obsessive game-playing. When she was pregnant, her husband refused to accompany her to the doctor for fear of missing a raid in "WoW." On their anniversary, he took her to McDonald’s because his guild was expecting him to be online later.
“I feel like an alien has come and infected him … I don’t even know him anymore. I’m terrified to leave our children alone with him, because he pays no attention to them when I’m not there … he just sits and stares at the screen,” she wrote.
Gaming — online or otherwise — is a plenty effective way to shut out the rest of the world. The opportunity to escape from work, school and even family pressures is seductive, particularly when real-life problems are overwhelming.
Mychal Wipf, a gamer from Denver, wrote that he played “World of Warcraft” up to 40 hours a week, a habit that eventually cost him his marriage. He said a lack of self-esteem and mounting financial problems drove him to seek refuge in the immersive game.
“Instead of talking to my spouse about this, I became obsessed with the online community. They became my good friends, they understood me and we accomplished things in the game together.”
Some readers took issue with my description of addicted gamers as “bleary-eyed zombies.” Anthony Jennings says he has a job, a family, two dogs and a picket fence. He plays games to unwind.
“When you are at work, you are thinking about your family responsibilities that are being neglected and vice-versa when you are at home. The mind just never gets turned off,” he wrote. “Gaming does that, it sucks you in 100 percent, and for the brief hour or so when you play there is no work or family rolling around in your head.”
I did hear from some parents, spouses, boyfriends and girlfriends who wished their “addicted” gamer would pay more attention to those real-world responsibilities. Harry Mulno’s son flunked out of college. Taryn Ross says her “WoW”-addicted husband won’t even let her get online to check e-mail. Another spouse says she believes her husband, an Iraq combat veteran, uses gaming as an escape, the same way other vets use drugs or alcohol.
While many blamed the games for their problems, one reader, who identified herself only as “’WoW’ Widow,” took a more forgiving view – even though she says her husband barely greets his family when he gets home from work, he’s so focused on getting to the computer.
“I will not say the game is a relationship destroyer, because it is the man or woman who plays the game to the exception of all else in their life,” she wrote.