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Online Gaming: The Next Great Frontier or Darwin at Work?

by October 05, 2006

World of Warcraft, Lineage, Everquest, City of Heroes… the list goes on. I've read more and more about people meeting within one of these games and ending up getting married. Recently, my wife handed me an article in Newsweek that described online role playing games like World of Warcraft as the new golf. Really?! 'Cause I've always shied away from corporate positions because I suck at golf. That and the 80-hour work weeks. I've always been OK with the bloodthirsty backstabbing and the stepping on the spines of the weak just to further your own career. Now, if MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) and other MMOGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Game) are the new golf, I'd consider that a perk that may make all that work worth it.

But what about meeting people in one of these games? From the guy's perspective, this isn't the best spent money. You're probably better off catcalling women from your car. Plus, at least 75% of the "girls" you meet are probably guys anyhow. If you are lucky enough to meet a girl and she sends you a picture that impresses, you can be sure of one of two things; either it is a picture stolen from a MySpace page or it is a five year old, pre-MMORPG weight picture. Easily add a good 20lbs to whatever you see.

But for a chick (regardless of physical appearance), you're a rare find among the sausage-fest that is the online gaming community. Sure, you'll have to be realistic. What sort of man are you really going to meet? At the very least, you're probably looking at a dude that has problems prioritizing. I've never met an online gamer that wasn't sporting at least a little bit of an addictive personality. And if they do give up their current addiction, there's no guarantee they'll get addicted to you. More likely, they'll move onto the next game or hobby or time suck. Basically, you know you'll either have to be as into their game as they are or you'll have to fake it. Not that that should be a problem for any card carrying When Harry Met Sally woman.

More likely, a woman would have her pick of dirty t-shirt wearing, unshaven, pear-shaped, movie rental store employees (part time of course) with greasy hair and an underbite. There's a chance they don't still live with their parents but they certainly have roommates. They're creative in the "I can create a GURPS character in less than 10 minutes" kind of way. The upside is that their vices are probably limited to online gaming and Mountain Dew. Plus, they can probably type 40 words a minute (or "Help, I need a heal" in 1.2 seconds flat). If you are at all hot (or even lukewarm), they'd give up almost anything including their friends, family, dog, and left foot for you (as long as you don't ask them to give up online gaming).

Sure, I'm generalizing and I do realize that the demographics of these games have changed. According to The Daedelus Gateway , the average age of the MMORPG player is 26 years old and 50% work full time. 22% have children (though I imagine if you ask, 100% of their mothers and/or wives would say they need to grow up themselves) and over a third are married. So are these games mainstream? Not by a long shot in my book. Heck, home theater isn't really all that mainstream yet. When your Grandmother is doing it, it is mainstream.

So there are some opportunities for community in the online gaming world - no doubt about it. But how much and how meaningful? One of my personal vices is watching poker on TV. There is a series called MANSIONPOKER.net Poker Dome Challenge which basically gets all their players from online tournaments. These are guys and gals that have dominated online but you put them in a room together and you see some of the worst poker I've ever seen. My home game is tougher than some of those final tables. I've seen a guy routinely fold the best hand when the guy in front of him checks and raises with rags when the guy bets. I guess if the computer isn't helping them, they don't know how to play.

You may run into the same phenomenon with people you meet online. Are they playing online because it is an interesting pastime or are they playing online because they are a socially stunted shut-in with a hygiene problem? Sure, you may be Claudia Schiffer's sister and he may be Hugh Jackman's long lost twin. But I wouldn't bet on it if I were you. You have to ask yourself if you met a person that spent on average 22 hours a week on some "extracurricular activity" that required them to sit in stationary and eat Fritos, how you would react. That's a minimum of 62 hours a week if they have a full time job - more if they have a real fulltime job that requires unpaid overtime. That time comes from somewhere. It probably works out to a couple of late nights and at least half a weekend. Where does that leave time for anything else?

But many people play these games with their friends (either real life or online) - it isn't the solitary experience it once was. Now, a couple of friends or even more get together and form guilds and groups that adventure together and help each other out. This is where online games really start to emulate real life. As more and more people that actually know each other get together to game, you may have an influx of more casual gamers that bring a less serious (or desperate) air to the environment. Sure, they would piss off the hardcore gamers but that's not the point. When done right, these games have something for everyone. Your Type A personalities can run around trying to achieve the highest level Beer Drinking Monk of the Flaming Foot or whatever while others can pop in once in a while to hang out with friends.

In my view, the biggest competition for the online gamer's time should be TV. If they are choosing between spending 10 hours in front of the TV and eating Ho Hos, or running around a virtual world killing dire rats, making friends, and eating Ho Hos, I'd prefer the latter every time. Online gaming can be a much better use of time than all that "reality" TV drivel that seems to dominate the networks these days. But if the gamer is running home from work every night to play online then TiVo-ing all their shows instead of going out and getting exercise, meeting people, and oh, I don't know, trying to score… there is obviously a problem there. Well, not that last thing. That's just Natural Selection at work.

I would love to see families getting together and playing rather than turning on the TV in three different rooms so that everyone can watch what they want. At least that way they would be learning to work together, they'd be talking and interacting, and most of all they'd be spending time together. They'd share in each other's joys and sorrows, successes and losses. They'd have things to talk about outside of the game and that could be a huge boon. Growing up, my brother and I latched on to comic books and video games as our common denominator. Sure, our ages were only two years apart, but having something that we could both talk about made maintaining a relationship a lot easier. My sister and I were not as lucky, and we had to work a lot harder later on. I know that there are some families that play together now but it seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

But what tends to go on unfortunately is that players get so wrapped up in the game that they lose all perspective. It is an ADHDs paradise in there. Constant bombardment of visual and aural stimulation. Never-ending goals to achieve. A myriad of equipment, levels, powers, and accolades to gather, win, and achieve. And the economy. Don't get me started on the economy. People have written dissertations on the connection between actual currency (like the dollar or euro) and MMORPG currency (gold pieces or whatever). Just do a search on Ebay for World of Warcraft and see what pops up. You'll be surprised what you can buy.

The long and the short of it is that MMORPGs and other MMOGs have the propensity for both good and evil depending on how they are used. Unfortunately, I think that most people use MMOGs like an addict uses heroine - as much as possible to the detriment of everything else. If MMOGs could be used more casually, or as a social tool, I think they would be a much better use of our time than many of the other entertainment choices available. Only time will tell if online games will bring together families and people, or if they will thin the herd.

Editor's Note: Please put all commments on this article in our Discussion Thread or feel free to send an email to this-describes-me-perfectly-therefore-I'[email protected] .


About the author:
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As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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