Millions of people become someone else everyday on the internet. People lie about their age, gender and occupation as a matter of course on forums and e-communities, and shift identities even more intensely when playing virtual world video games like World of Warcraft.
If you can be anything, you might as well be who you wish you were, rather than what limits you on this mortal realm. So if someone decides they like their online persona better, and decides to spend as much time in that persona as possible, living virtually – are they crazy?
Should we label them video game addicts, and intervene?
There is something incredibly seductive about this identity transformation, especially for people who feel somewhat dissatisfied with the life they live in the "real world". In MMPRPG’s (Massively multi player Role Playing Games) you emerge into a truly egalitarian world. You can be as good looking as everyone else, brave and incredibly successful, no matter how lowly your real world realities. In a virtual world, shy teens become leaders of armies, and the body conscious and insecure, objects of desire.
These games are addictive by design, and a lot of people get sucked into a virtual world existence, at the expense of their real life happiness. And surely a large part of the attraction is this ability to live an alternate, and in many ways, happier existence.
People get Addicted – But They Don’t Want to Quit
Millions of people around the world are whiling their lives away, largely within cyber identities, in virtual worlds. Many of these people recognize to some degree the costs incurred to their real world lives, yet an awful lot of these people seem to be making a conscious choice to keep playing.
They choose virtual contentment and pleasure, knowing full well the price they pay for it.
Now, some would argue that these people are just addicts in denial. That this is addicted thinking that keeps these gamers glued to their screens, and keeps them from taking the steps needed to restore some sanity to their worldly lives.
And they may be right – the games certainly are addictive, and denial is always part and parcel of addiction.
Or maybe they just choose a better life?
Gamers don’t often want to quit – other people around them convince them to. Gaming addiction (if that’s what it should be called?) certainly does create some real-world harms that can be hard for those around them to watch. After all, it’s hard to keep a job, physical health and a healthy social life when all awakened hours are spent alone in a darkened room.
But is it a form of mental illness to select an existence that brings you greater tangible pleasures? Gamers don’t complain of loneliness, they spend all day interacting with friends – those friends just happen to look like elves or dwarves, and they reside online.
Are online friends less real than physical world friends?
Gamers say they prefer the virtual world, that there they can be who they really want to be in life, and that it’s a life with little pain, great adventure, and fulfilling rewards – a far cry from the tedium of real world living.
Is that crazy?
People are finding love and getting married within games, they are setting up full time occupations in virtual shop fronts (and earning real world money to do so), and they are living the life they choose, free from restraint.
Is that crazy?
Are they Crazy?
I don’t know – I think they probably are…Crazy in terms of exhibiting all of the signs and symptoms that would lead to a clinical diagnosis of a compulsive disorder, anyway. And there is no doubt that some people pay an incredibly high price for their gaming – Their real world lives in shambles at the expense of an alternate reality. And as good as online friends may be – they can’t make you soup when you’re sick, and online love affairs won’t bring the joys of children.
So yes, I think they are probably crazy – but they’re not stupid. They choose something different, something that brings them more happiness than real world living seems able to, and somewhere that lets them be what they want to be. They may be crazy, but you can understand where they’re coming from.
It’s a tragic and fascinating phenomenon, just starting to really unfold – the tip of the coming iceberg, that’s for sure. As things get more sophisticated, and virtual lives continue to enrich – who’s to say what will become of all of us. Will there come a time when all of us choose the boundless possibilities of a virtual life over the limitations of physicality?
Do you try to rescue someone who swears they’re happy as they are?
For now, I think you gotta’. It’s too sad to watch someone give up on real world living, for what is still a pretty limited, albeit seductive, fantasy world life. It’s a mental health disorder, and it can be treated, and most people will probably be happier and more fulfilled by striving towards what they want in real life, rather than taking the easy way out, virtually.
But you can understand it, and one day, and maybe one day soon, those virtual worlds will start to legitimately compete with a real world existence, and that’s when it’s going to get truly and terribly interesting. Will we all be living virtually in 30 years?
Game Addiction Documentary (8 min)
An interesting exploration of the issue from the point of view of gamers caught up in their games.