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The MMO Hook
The MMO games market is a hugely competitive field. Development companies looking for gamers to subscribe to their service have to make their games addictive and appealing. If they expect gamers to part with a monthly fee then they have to get them hooked. The more people there are in a virtual world, the more appealing and alive that world becomes which results in more people wanting to join the party.
Developers create game mechanics which are fun but when it comes to MMOs they also want a hook which pulls those gamers back in time and again. They want those servers populated and they want their fans immersed and invested. The solution for many is to offer a real reward in terms of power and status which is linked to the daily grind. Forget about genuine skill this can be about putting in the hours pure and simple. The downside to a mechanic like this is that people can become over invested. They can become obsessive about their characters and they can end up spending so much time in the virtual world that their real life suffers. In extreme cases gamers have been known to play until they quite literally drop.
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Play Till You Drop
The link between MMOs and violence is tenuous at best and there have been very few incidents of MMO drama spilling into real life violence. However a trend which does seem to be on the increase is gamers playing until they collapse and sometimes even die. People become so engrossed in their game that they skip toilet breaks, they put off eating and they decide they can get by on three hours of sleep. We’ve all done it, when you are really engaged in a game the outside world ceases to exist and tearing yourself away from that keyboard can be a serious wrench.
Anything that you invest a lot of energy and time in can become incredibly important to you. Some people also have complex social relationships in game and this is yet another draw into their virtual world. It is also becoming increasingly common for people to earn a living through gaming and so the need to get up for work in the morning is no longer there. There are even reports of people paying gamers to level up their character while they are at work.
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Kim Kyung-jae and Lien Wen-cheng
In October of 2002 a 24 year old South Korean man called Kim Kyung-jae collapsed at an internet café. He had been playing an MMORPG called Mu for 86 hours pausing only to buy cigarettes or visit the toilet. He died from a combination of exhaustion and deep vein thrombosis.
Just a few days later also in October, 2002 a 27 year old Taiwanese man called Lien Wen-cheng started foaming at the mouth and bleeding from the nose after playing for 32 hours straight. He collapsed at an internet café and died on the way to hospital.
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South Korean Lee Dead at 28
In August 2005 a South Korean man called Lee hit the headlines when he collapsed at an internet café in Taegu. According to the BBC he had been playing the game Starcraft for days, he had been fired from his job for skipping work to play the game and he would only stop briefly to visit the toilet or have a quick nap. At the age of 28 he dropped dead from heart failure brought about by exhaustion.
MMOs are massively popular throughout Asia and in South Korea in particular millions of people play online everyday. What surprises me most about these stories is the fact that the deaths all occurred in internet cafes. You would think someone working there might have said something, the equivalent of a barman telling you you’ve had too much to drink perhaps?
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China and MMO Obsession
According to China View in October 2005 a young Chinese girl died after playing World of Warcraft for several days in a row during a holiday. She was nicknamed Snowly and players held a virtual funeral for her in the game which was very well attended with thousands of people paying tribute. Just a few days later another Chinese WoW player named Nan Ren Gu Shi died and it prompted a response from the government. With the help of developers they agreed upon an anti-obsession system which prevents people from playing for more than three hours at a time.
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Not Just Asia
These incidents are not confined solely to Asia and although deaths in other parts of the world have so far been avoided there have been some close calls. In November 2008 the Telegraph carried a report of a 15 year old Swedish boy who had convulsions after playing World of Warcraft for over 20 hours continuously. You have to wonder about the lack of parental input on that one. In a priceless sound bite after the incident the Swedish Youth Care Foundation called WoW “the cocaine of the computer games world".
In reality it is no laughing matter and spending too much time at your computer probably won’t kill you but it is unhealthy. Think about it honestly - how often do you exceed the recommended limit of play time? Do you take regular breaks during gaming sessions? Officially you are supposed to take a break from staring at that screen every hour. The fact that you hobble when you get up to finally empty that insistent bladder is not a good sign. Depriving yourself of food and sleep to get in a few extra hours of an MMO is not a good idea. Scientists believe the real danger is for addictive personalities who are liable to take it too far. Most of us know better and the percentage of people that play long enough to do themselves real damage is thankfully very low.