Christopher W. Fletcher


Created: November 11, 2010
Updated: October 9, 2011

MMORPG stands for “massively multiplayer online role playing game.”  You have probably heard of them ~ Everquest and World of Warcraft are both MMORPGs (MMO for short).  They are also the two that I happened to play.  Phrases that come to people’s minds when they hear or talk about these games are usually along the lines of “nerds who slay dragons,” “doesn’t have a life”, and “trades real money for a virtual currency.”  This can all be true, but nothing is black and white.  The rest of this post is a partial account of my experiences, where I think these games can hurt personal growth, and where they may even help.  I will spend the first section giving the whirlwind big picture. To round the account off, I will mention some takeaways that might be helpful to those who have, or are going through, similar toils.

The whirlwind

I played MMOs right up to the start of senior year in high school.  I started with Diablo II sometime (6th grade?) in middle school.  Diablo II is not an MMORPG, but I soon 'graduated' from it and started playing Everquest, which was the de-facto MMO at the time. I played Everquest until at least 9th grade, amassing an unhealthy amount of playing time.  Looking back, I don’t remember the exact figure, but I do remember realizing that I had been playing a game for one fifth of the preceding year.  That is coming up on a full time job, and some people play far more than even that.  After Everquest, I took a brief hiatus from the MMO scene and then played World of Warcraft up to the summer after Junior year in high school.  Over that summer, I outright quit (cold turkey) – and haven’t played an MMO since.

Broadly speaking, MMOs were a major part of my life from late middle school to early/mid high school.   On the one hand, this took the toll on my other activities that MMOs take from most of their players.  It was hard to appreciate or learn in school.  It was socially awkward just to be around people in general.  I have never and will never smoke cigarettes, but I can relate to  smokers when they say that they are uncomfortable talking to people without a cigarette.  It was the same type of feeling when talking to people who weren’t over some voice or text chat.  On the other hand, the commitment required from playing these games helped me develop a strong and long-lasting focus.  To some extent, I feel that these games gave me the work ethic that I have today.  Was it a work ethic back then?  Does leading a 'raid' of forty people in the Plane of Sky count as work?  That didn't really matter.  What did matter was that I had to prepare extensively and then lead a group of people to see that some operation succeeded.


Let me preface with the following remark: parents today (at least in my experience) fear that MMOs and other online games can irreversibly damage their {child, adolescents}'s development.  Looking to the present, parents might observe that their child is behaving more socially awkward than perhaps they were before they picked up the game (see the smoking-related remark I made earlier).  After a number of years playing MMOs, which is typical, a player's old personality might seem to be lost.  Furthermore, playing an MMO probably means that the person in question is doing less in school, while "doing more" (in especially high school) is all the rage right now.  Looking to the future, parents might see their child missing the college admissions ticket.  What can the picture look like holistically, over time?  That the MMO player's personality is changing (with enough time, one might think permanently), and that this change might jeopardize future opportunities.

There are things that I can claim and things that I can't. Can overly playing MMOs ruin one's chances of getting into college if the games are played right up to admissions time?  Yes—certainly (see my own experience). Is playing these games going to prevent someone from changing their life in the future? No—probably not. There is a strong analogy here to drugs and smoking.  The difference between MMOs and hard drugs is the above point.  If you engage in a hard drug addiction, there may be no coming back.  You can fry your brain and do truly irreparable damage.  With MMOs, you can get back on the horse once you quit.  I emphasize my 'work ethic building' experiences in Everquest, leading other people in accomplishing some in-game goal.  I, personally, think that these experiences helped me start from a leadership experience (and sound mind) when I quit, rather than a blank slate.  Some players might not share this experience, but a common thread in MMOs is that they are social games.  There are always other people involved.

Aside: I am not claiming that overly playing single-player games is more harmful than MMOs because of there being less social interaction in those games.  I am instead claiming that the social element in MMOs helps players re-acclimate back into 'normal' society.  There is the notion that it is exactly this social element that makes MMOs addictive, and therefore dangerous.  That is a different argument (can of worms) which I will give my opinion on in a future post.

Is not getting into a good college (or missing other milestones) a blow?  Probably, if not certainly; but you can still come back.  Here is a story.  While at Berkeley, I was pleasantly surprised by how many students entered into the junior class as transfer students from community colleges.  These students came from all sorts of backgrounds, and fell into every age group.  This showed me that if you set your mind to something, no matter your age, you can still attend college—or accomplish something else that most people think is a one shot deal.  Were these students highly motivated and working there tails off up to, and while attending, Berkeley?  Absolutely.  It's not a free lunch.  But if you miss the train once, you can still catch it in the future.