Friday, October 27, 2006

A Week After the Madness


No pun intended.

It was a pretty wild week for Soul Kerfuffle. Andy's little guest article sparked an internet firestorm that led to over 1000 diggs and not one, but two slashdottings.

It was obviously way beyond any kind of response we were anticipating. This blog was started by me a couple of years ago for the same reasons most people start a blog: just a way for friends and family to keep up with what's going on, and a place to track meandering thoughts.

I learned some pretty valuable lessons from the experience of all those comments and emails though. For one thing, it has made me a lot more sympathetic to public figures whose every word could land them in hot water with the press. It is so easy for anything that you say to be taken out of context and twisted when every word is dissected and discussed by a great number of people. Since I'm good friends with Andy, I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what he meant by his words from previous discussions: it really wasn't much more than a classic case of someone realizing they had let their behavior get out of hand, and then taking steps to fix it.

What was shocking was the amount of backlash received. One of the commentors linked a message board for a WoW guild called Fires of Heaven, and in an effort to understand the backlash I ventured onto their message board to get their point of view.

Although some there were understandably a little put off at first, there were several good points made.

One point reiterated strongly on the board and in the comments was the issue of comparing World of Warcraft to a drug of some kind. Some people went so far as to say it was insulting.

I believe the issue is, quite frankly, unimportant to the purpose of the original post. Whether or not something is intrinsically addictive or not is for the realm of science to figure out. But I'm pretty sure that it's possible to exhibit addictive behavior towards just about anything. So whether or not Warcraft is addictive like a drug really doesn't matter to me... the fact that some people exhibit addictive behavior DOES matter to me. And it matters to me because the people are important, not the game or the way it's designed or any of those things.

Another interesting point made on the Fires of Heaven message board that I never considered was one of guild burnout. Some of the folks over there clearly care about raiding, and do a lot of work to schedule raids and put in a lot of time to earn the gear. They view it as a personal affront when someone who has spent some time raiding with them, earning gear alongside them, leaves the game because of burnout because it penalizes others who feel they are able to balance the game and real life. Now those people must find someone else to replace the burned out player who let things get out of hand.

Finally, a long long time ago I posted something about game design shortly after I quit playing the game myself. The gist of the thing is that when you look at World of Warcraft and compare it to Pac Man, you see that game design actually may not have come as far as we thought. There is still a kill-loot-reward mechanism in place that probably should have gone the way of the dodo years ago. I bring this up again because this week's issue of the fine online gaming magazine, The Escapist, has a terrific article about how tantalizingly close MMOs are to being revolutionary, but how they are falling short in the author's eyes.

Finally, on the issue of the game or the person being to blame, I'm always going to vote in favor of the person, with the following caveat: a person can be influenced by their environment. That doesn't mean to me that the environment is at fault, but it can be an obstacle to overcome. It is a particularly timely issue, because in other news this week a fellow who happens to play Dungeons and Dragons killed a coworker with a homemade samurai sword.

That the fellow may be schizophrenic doesn't make the headline.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Warcraft: Another Point of View

As promised, from the same guild leadership comes a different point of view which discusses the game in a positive light.

I'm doing the best I can to make sure ALL points of view are featured prominently. I am trying to work with other folks as well to organize their rebuttals of some of the things stated in the article that started this whole wild train a-rollin'.

Without further ado, another guest post from another friend from the same guild.


I never finished a computer game or video game in my life before I started playing WoW. I started dozens of them …. UT, NWN, Donkey Kong, Diablo … and I always got halfway through or close to the end and realized that I was wasting hours a day on something that didn’t matter at all. So I’d put it down and go back to reading or writing or playing music or doing something else that I enjoyed. I figured it was something about lacking that particular chromosome, or possibly being just too practical for my own good. When my friend and co-guild founder convinced me to start playing WoW, I never thought I’d make it to 60. I really didn’t think that the guild we founded with four people (a couple naked dwarves, a human and a naked gnome) after-hours in a little back-office cubicle on Market Street in Philadelphia would get where it is today.

It’s going on two years now, and I’m still playing. Ok, I haven’t “finished” it … Andy’s right about that, there is no end. But why is this game different from all the others that I tried? For me … (personally, not speaking for anyone else here) it’s because it does have an impact on my real life. I got a Masters degree in policy from one of the most difficult schools in the country while at the same time playing WoW and working a part time job. I would come home from a busy day and think about how to use what I learned to make the guild work better. It was a way for me to practice what I was learning and to discover what was involved with leading people (mostly getting all the blame and no thanks, it seems :P). I’ve learned the lessons of clear communication, sacrifice, compassion, tough love ... and balance. I plan to use these skills in my professional life. So in short, I play the game because I get something tangible out of it.

That’s not all. I enjoy it. I like being the very best player I can be; whether I’m playing a priest or a mage or a twink druid, you can bet that I’m crunching numbers and reading theory and strategy and trying to make every action or every cast more efficient. You could say I’m driven, but I feel like it keeps me alert mentally. The same way that I play tetris and bejewled incessantly to work on my spatial awareness, I like reading strategies for boss fights and thinking about new ways to do them and how different people with different specs and strengths can contribute to or change the fight. It’s fun.

I also do it to play with my friends: ones that I would never get to see otherwise because they’re in different states or different countries. I once quit a twink guild because the guild leader said “I don't want people in my guild who have the attitude "screw this guild i'm sticking by my friends" You are NOT welcome in our guild.” (That’s leadership right there, lmao.) Our unofficial guild motto has always been RL > WOW, friends come first. The lesson? If it stops being fun, I walk.

I haven’t given up large amounts of my life to the game. Our guild doesn’t demand a given number of hours or days a week (compared to many raiding guilds, we’re laughably ‘inefficient’ in those terms… but we try to remember that people have lives.) I miss at least one raid a week to go out with friends, go clubbing, or watch a movie with my family. I hardly ever farm. I usually play the auction-house for fifteen minutes before I go to bed at night. I actually gave up herbalism because I didn’t have time for it (and I wanted to DE the stuff my ex gave me when we broke up >.>). If I start feeling frustrated, that the demands of people in the game are getting to high, or that I don’t have anything else to do … I walk away. I go for a walk, pursue one of my other hobbies, or call a friend. Soon enough I’m happy to come back, because I enjoy it and because there are people in the game whom I love and who make it worthwhile for me to play.

Those are my three keys, and whenever someone asks me if I think they should quit that’s what I ask them. Are you getting something out of it? Is it fun? Are you sacrificing things in real life to do it? Basically, do you have things in perspective and realize that it’s a game?

It was on this basis that I told Andy to quit. It’s true! I did. In my opinion, he was taking the criticisms too personally, he wasn’t getting anything out of it (he’s an engineer, not a policy maker after all), it had long since stopped being fun for him, and he clearly regretted the sacrifices he was making in his life to play it. There are many many people that I think can take a lesson from his story, and many stories that are far more shocking and terrifying than the one he told, but the point is the same. Know yourself, keep things in perspective, and keep life in a balance. In all things, not just in this.

So in short, I’m glad Andy quit the game. Our friendship is much deeper now than it ever was before (and let’s ignore for now the fact that I wouldn’t even know him or Yeager or Chuck … or Robert or Brian or Lisa or John or Jim or Shannon or Victor or Kate or Will or Heather or Tim or over a hundred other people if it weren’t for WoW.) It’s a decision that everyone needs to make for themselves, and it’s up to everyone to take care of their own lives. For me, that can include the World of Warcraft … for the time being. ^.^

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The View From the Top: Redux

First of all, thanks to everyone who came from all over to check out my friend's story. The response was overwhelming. I talked to him last night and he seemed a little embarrassed at the level of response, but was very appreciative of the positive comments from people who shared similar stories and experiences.

Second, I'd like to reinforce a couple of key points:
  • I, Yeager, am not the person who wrote the article. Although I have my own story of picking up and putting down WoW, I can not take credit for the story that attracted (and sometimes angered) so many people yesterday.

  • Although I can not speak directly for my friend, I do not get the impression from reading his story (or talking to him) that he wants to sue/ban/hurt Blizzard in any way. He even makes the point that "WoW did a lot of things right," and that he met some great people in the game. The story for me is about someone admitting they had a problem and doing their best to move on. Obviously others took away different things, and that is their prerogative as free-thinking individuals.

  • I agree that moderation and self-control are the keys here. There are ways to enjoy the game for less than 10 hours a week. But I also think that the amount of time required for the very highest levels of endgame raiding can not be balanced with a healthy lifestyle. Before you crucify me, yes, there are exceptions. There are exceptions to every rule. But you're probably not one of them.

Third, in the interest of getting all sides of the story, I am currently trying to persuade another friend (a councilor in the same guild, still playing the game) to write a counter article: something from the other perspective that highlights the positives of the game with suggestions on how to balance WoW with real life.

Finally, here are some highlights from what I thought were some of the most interesting, surprising, and sometimes baffling comments. I make no apologies for taking some of them out of context and the fact that they are listed here does NOT necessarily mean I agree with them, but here they are:
  • I hear you loud and clear - I damn near lost my degree, and did lose the best girl that ever happened to me, as a result of an MMORPG. I look back now and want to cry at the futility of it all - what the bloody hell was I doing?

  • In my case I suffer from at least the same problems with an obsession with startup software companies.

  • Almost lost my wife and three kids to wow... Amen you found way to "hearthstone" out of the game.

  • Even the most laid back guilds who try to stress a "Real life comes first" attitude end up pushing players into the game deeper and deeper. It is unavoidable.

  • World of Warcrack is not to blame for me almost losing my family. I am.

  • Did you actually take up enchanting and DE all those 30 epics into 30 nexus crystals and give them out to guildies? That rocks.

  • I've wasted away a PhD opportunity, over 10 years did not engage fully with my wife like i should of, let my mental life spiral downwards to the point where my abilities are average, gave up a second degree cause it's more important to play, get angry if I don't have a hit from a game.

  • As the poster has shown, if you are unable to make this distinction, it is probably best for you to give it up all together. However, if you are able to control yourself and your life, then an online game can help you be a better person for it.

  • But the truth is, Blizzard (and the like) are COMPLETELY to blame! For WOW alone, they rake in about $140M/month in revenue. They're not gamers anymore. They're "business men" managing serious money. Just like tobacco companies, they design their products for addiction. What's happened in our lives isn't by accident. It's intended.

  • So what do you all think I should do? play an extremely fun game in my free time? read a Bible? Sleep? Hell I don't know but atm i play WoW and darn proud to say it.

  • Anyone who puts WoW before their family, friends and health deserves the bum deal they get.

  • It sickens me to see this go unnoticed in kids, college students, and especially parents. In my opinion, they might as well be smoking crack everyday.

  • Man I wanna take the time to read all the comments and stuff here in this thread, but I've got a raid in 5 minutes. :(

  • It is not comparable to a drug addiction in any way. It's not physical, it's mental. You had the choice to stop at any time. It's only when people started disrespecting your power that you gave up.

  • He said he quit and he feels great. Its not about you - its about him. The fact that you read his story and see yourself in it (or at least implicated in it) means that you have a problem and you don't want to admit it.

  • Somebody get this guy a Snes, so he can get back to DJ'ing.

  • Your argument is completely flawed its like saying you can't win alchohol. You're not supposed to win it your supposed to play it.

  • I still remember the day i left wow even after all these time. I gave away all my possession, and went into the inn of stormwind to take a long nap. I never woke up from wow. And finally woke up in reality.

Update: The first comment on this post is, in fact, from the real author of the article. I encourage you to read it.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The View From the Top

The top of what you ask? The height of World of Warcraft greatness.

A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine quit playing Warcraft. He was a council member on what is now one of the oldest guilds in the world, the type of position coveted by many of the 7 million people who play the game today, but which only a few ever get.

When he quit, I asked him if he would write a guest blog post about the experience. What follows is a cautionary tale about the pull an escape from reality can have on you.


60 levels, 30+ epics, a few really good "real life" friends, a seat on the oldest and largest guild on our server's council, 70+ days "/played," and one "real" year later...

Mr. Yeager asked me to write this "guest blog" for him. I figured I should oblige him this request - it was none other than Mr. Yeager who first introduced me to (begged for me to buy, actually :-p) the World of Warcraft. It was the "perfect storm" for me; a time in my life when I was unemployed, living at my family's house far from my friends, and had just finished my engineering degree and was taking a little time to find a job. I had a lot of free time on my hands and WoW gave me a place to spend it.

This could be a many page epic tale, but I figure I'd give you the brief history and pertinent information. The guild Mr. Yeager got me into and with which I became an officer is the oldest and largest on the server I played on. It is around 18 months old and extremely well-versed in endgame instances. I was both the "mage class lead" and an officer. I have many very good friends I met through WoW (in real life - no kidding) and even have been "involved" with another councilor in real life (yes, I know, I'm weird for meeting girls through an online video game but honestly, ask Mr. Yeager, she's head and shoulders better than all the girls I met DJing, waiting tables, in college, and bartending at clubs in Philly). But I digress...

I just left WoW permanently. I was a leader in one of the largest and most respected guilds in the world, a well-equipped and well-versed mage, and considered myself to have many close friends in my guild. Why did I leave? Simple: Blizzard has created an alternate universe where we don't have to be ourselves when we don't want to be. From my vantage point as a guild decision maker, I've seen it destroy more families and friendships and take a huge toll on individuals than any drug on the market today, and that means a lot coming from an ex-club DJ.

It took a huge personal toll on me. To illustrate the impact it had, let's look at me one year later. When I started playing, I was working towards getting into the best shape of my life (and making good progress, too). Now a year later, I'm about 30 pounds heavier that I was back then, and it is not muscle. I had a lot of hobbies including DJing (which I was pretty accomplished at) and music as well as writing and martial arts. I haven't touched a record or my guitar for over a year and I think if I tried any Kung Fu my gut would throw my back out. Finally, and most significantly, I had a very satisfying social life before. My friends and I would go out and there were things to do every night of the week. Now a year later, I realize my true friends are the greatest people in the world because the fact I came out of my room, turned the lights on, and watched a movie with them still means something. They still are having a great time teasing me at my expense, however, which shows they still love me and they haven't changed.

These changes are miniscule, however, compared to what has happened in quite a few other people's lives. Some background... Blizzard created a game that you simply can not win. Not only that, the only way to "get better" is to play more and more. In order to progress, you have to farm your little heart out in one way or another: either weeks at a time PvPing to make your rank or weeks at a time getting materials for and "conquering" raid instances, or dungeons where you get "epic loot" (pixilated things that increase your abilities, therefore making you "better"). And what do you do after these mighty dungeons fall before you and your friend's wrath? Go back the next week (not sooner, Blizzard made sure you can only raid the best instances once a week) and do it again (imagine if Alexander the Great had to push across the Middle East every damn week).

What does this mean? Well, to our average "serious" player this equates to anywhere between 12 hours (for the casual and usually "useless" player) to honestly 10 hours a day, seven days a week for those "hardcore" gamers. During my stint, I was playing about 30 hours a week (and still finding it hard to keep up with my farming) and logging on during my work day in order to keep up with all the guild happenings and to do my scheduling and tracking for the raids. A lot of time went into the development of new policies which took our friendly and family-oriented guild further and further away from its roots but closer to the end goal. Honestly, what that end goal is I'm not totally sure - there is truly no end to the game and every time you feel like you're satisfied with your progress, another aspect of the game is revealed and, well, you just aren't as cool as you can be again.

There are three problems that arise from WoW: the time it requires to do anything "important" is astounding, it gives people a false sense of accomplishment, and when you're a leader, and get wrapped up in it, no matter how much you care or want people to care, you're doing the wrong thing.

First off, let's go back to the time it takes to accomplish anything in the game. To really be successful, you need to at least invest 12 hours a week, and that is bare minimum. From a leadership perspective, that 12 hours would be laughed at. That's the guy who comes unprepared to raid and has to leave half way through because he has work in the morning or is going out or some other thing that shows "lack of commitment". To the extreme there is the guildie who is always on and ready to help. The "good guildie" who plays about 10 hours a day and seven days a week. Yes, that's almost two full-time jobs. Funny, no one ever asks any questions, though.

The worst though are the people you know have time commitments. People with families and significant others. I am not one to judge a person's situation, but when a father/husband plays a video game all night long, seven days a week, after getting home from work, very involved instances that soak up hours and require concentration, it makes me queasy that I encouraged that. Others include the kids you know aren't doing their homework and confide in you they are failing out of high school or college but don't want to miss their chance at loot, the long-term girl/boyfriend who is skipping out on a date (or their anniversary - I've seen it) to play (and in some cases flirt constantly), the professional taking yet another day off from work to farm mats or grind their reputations up with in-game factions to get "valuable" quest rewards, etc... I'm not one to tell people how to spend their time, but it gets ridiculous when you take a step back.

The game also provides people with a false sense of security, accomplishment, and purpose. Anyone can be a superhero here if they have the time to put in. Not only that, a few times I've seen this breed the "rockstar" personality in people who have no confidence at all in real life. Don't get me wrong, building confidence is a good thing and something, if honed appropriately, the game can do very right. But in more than a few cases, very immature people with bad attitudes are catered to (even after insulting or degrading others "in public") because they are "better" than the rest. Usually this means they played a lot more and have better gear. I'd really hate to see how this "I'm better than you attitude" plays out in real life where it means jack how epic your loot is - when you say the wrong thing to the wrong person it's going to have repercussions and you can't just log out to avoid the effects of your actions.

And people put everything on the line for these accomplishments with which they associate much value. I know of children and spouses being forced to play and grind for their parents, threats of divorce, rampant neglect, failing grades in school, and thousands of dollars spent on "outsourcing" foreign help. For what, you ask? Honor. The desire to be the best for at least one week. To get the best loot in the game. What do these "heroes" receive? Why, cheers and accolades of course as they parade along in their new shiny gear... which is obsolete the first time they step into one of the premier instances. The accomplishment and sacrifice itself are meaningless a few days later. Then it's usually off to the races again.

Finally, when you're a leader there is a call (or more appropriately a demand) for success. Usually those you represent want to keep progressing. They want to keep improving. They want more access to the best things. It is on you to provide it. In my experience, when you fail to progress fast enough, waves ripple throughout the guild and people become dissatisfied. It's your fault, no matter what. Everything you've done to keep things fair and provide for everyone does not mean a damn thing. A few will stand up for you, but when you have 150 people who all want 150 different things, you end up listening to 150 voices complaining about the job you're doing. This volunteer job usually takes at least 10 extra hours a week (on top of regular playing). Towards the end of my year of service, I apparently couldn't do anything right with my class. I had to rotate people to make sure everyone was getting a fair shot. I wrote actual mathematical proofs the allowed for fair and effective (yes, both) raid distribution according to efficiency, speed, and guild class population. I even rotated myself more than any other class member. People still took it upon themselves to tell me what I was doing wrong (constantly) and how their way was more fair (usually for them).

The thing that kicked me in the ass more than anything else was I really cared if my guildies were getting what they wanted out of the experience. I truly thought my efforts would make them happy. I wanted to make a difference to them. The greedy and socially phobic high school kid I thought I could help through the game, all of the couples (both married and not) who were falling apart because of the game I thought I could rescue, the girl who was deeply wounded by a guy who left her for the game but was herself addicted I thought I could save, not to mention a host of others, I thought my efforts were helping. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks: I was providing them with an escape from their problems and nurturing the very thing that was holding them back. Oh yeah, it hit me like a ton of bricks after I had changed so much and lost enough of myself that the most wonderful girl I ever met broke up with me.

I remember clearly after fumbling around life for a few weeks that I dragged myself into the bathroom to get ready for work. I was tired because I was up until close to 2 AM raiding. Every week I read though email or I would run into one of my "real" friends and I'd hear "Andy, what's up, I haven't seen you in a while." I looked in the mirror and in a cinemaesque turn of events and a biblical moment of clarity, told myself "I haven't seen me in a while either."

That did it. I wanted to do the things I wanted to do again and be with the people who appreciated me even if I abandoned them for a year and sucked to high heaven as a friend. The prodigal son returned and my friends were happy. The best advice I got was from the girl who dumped me for being a jackass (and after I decided to really quit and be "myself again" became one of, if not my best friend in the entire world), who said "your real friends like you even when you screw up." It's true.

Funny side note was the reaction I got from the guild that I spent a year pouring my heart and soul into. I made my post in the guild forums saying I was leaving (half of it RPing - something that doesn't happen after you start raiding) and that it was time for me to move on. Three days later I didn't exist any more. The machine kept on moving without this gear. A few people asked me over email (and when I logged on to clean out the old bank) when I was coming back (I'm not going to). There are a few others I keep in contact with and am planning on going to visit sooner or later so I can hang out in person and they can finally meet me. But in the end being forgotten about so soon after still left a bittersweet taste. But one that was a lot easier to swallow than the one I chugged down every day for the better part of a year.

Don't get me wrong, WoW did a lot of things right. At times it was a fun game that allowed me to keep in contact with friends who lived far away. More importantly it introduced me to some of the best real life friends I've ever met. However, it did take an undeniable toll on me and is taking a far greater one on many, many people when taken too far.

Update: Follow up to this here, with clarifications on authorship and some of the more interesting/bizarre comments.

Update 2: For an alternative, positive viewpoint on the game written by the person who told the author to quit, please go here.

Finally, if you'd like to read more about this, I can't recommend the book Game Addiction: The Experience and The Effects by Neils Clark enough. It is a thoroughly researched and balanced piece of work that really examines this issue from all angles. It includes discussions with the writers of both blog posts on this topic.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Very Good Day (Mostly)

Yesterday was one of those very, very good days.

I had originally planned to watch Newcastle United at 11 AM and the Eagles at 1 PM.

I am very glad I didn't.

Instead, I went to the Brandywine River Museum for the "Factory Work" exhibit, which prominently featured Andy Warhol, Jamie Wyeth, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. For a mere $8 it was an absolutely terrific exhibit, and it had been awhile since I just relaxed and took in some paintings. I don't profess to be any kind of art expert whatsoever, but I really enjoyed it.

In particular, there was a picture (I believe by the illustrator Howard Pyle, but I'm not 100% sure) of Benedict Arnold and his wife exiting their house after his treason had become known. It is really well done because there are several people staring at him with accusing eyes, while his wife is on his arm looking up at him with an expression that says, "What is going to happen to us now?"

After that we went the Chaddsford Winery and did wine tasting. Everyone bought a couple bottles and we cracked 2 open with some cheese and crackers and just sat outside enjoying the good weather and even better company.

Unfortunately though, as I was getting ready to go to bed I heard 4 gunshots right outside of my apartment, coming from somewhere in the development. This was quickly followed by police showing up. It was an interesting contrast, and I haven't been able to find any news this morning on what exactly happened. Kind of downer end to an otherwise terrific day.

Friday, October 06, 2006


3-11. After last week's performance, I thought FAULTY was due for a big week... until, of course, I saw the picks.

3-11 though was even worse than I expected.

So that gives FAULTY a season record of 23-37. It's gonna take a couple of big weeks from FAULTY to get back to .500, and this week doesn't look particularly good either. 8-8, in fact, would be pretty good for this week. See for yourself:

On the plus side, the Eagles bucked the FAULTY trend and beat Green Bay last week (big surprise) to put FAULTY at 3-1 guessing Eagles' games. This week ambient noise and skew correction is backing Dallas, so hopefully it will be wrong again.


A friend pointed out a yearly event to me called National Novel Writing Month (or "NaNoWriMo"). The concept is pretty simple: you sign up and during the month of November (starting on the 1st), you try to crank out a 50,000 word novel.

The goal is not to write a best seller, the goal is just to actually write that many words in that short amount of time. Yes, this means a good portion will be crap, but the fact that you've actually written something in a month as opposed to continuing to put off writing anything until you "have time to write" means that it will, theoretically, force you into a groove.

I have no illusions: this is going to be extremely tough. I haven't written anything of real length since college, but I always did my best (only?) work hours before deadlines. With a tangible deadline of November 30th, I'm hoping I'll get cracking (and hopefully sooner than hours before the 30th).

Besides, I figure I haven't really got anything to lose by giving it a go, and with at least one other person doing it with me, we'll be able to egg each other on.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

It's Over

The playoff run ended yesterday when the Dodgers and Padres both won their games to crush all lingering hope of the Phillies making postseason play in '06.

Today, just to twist the knife a little more, the Phils lost in 11 innings as Danny Sandoval couldn't handle a hard hit ball with the bases loaded.

And so, once again the season ends not just in defeat (that would be too easy); it ends in absolute soul crushing fashion and leaves you looking longingly at various implements of suicide.

I guess now I have to start watching the NFL.

*looks again at the kitchen knives*

Nah, death is better. And it has fewer commercials.