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Over the years, World of Warcraft has gotten some bad press from people who invest too much time into the game. Some people have had trouble with work, school, and relationships as a result of spending too much time in the virtual world and losing touch with the real world. One woman cited WoW as the reason for her divorce request; her husband dedicated all of his off time to playing, while neglecting his other responsibilities. In perhaps the most sobering case of game addiction, a young lady died of exhaustion as a result of a marathon WoW session.
As much as we may complain about Blizzard, there is no doubt that they have made a fantastically engaging role playing game. True, from a psychological standpoint they have mastered reinforcement schedules and give goals that compel you to keep going. It's an excellent game, but along with its MMORPG predecessors, it can become all-consuming and soul-sapping. Just remember that it is your job to make sure your WoW time is safe, sane, and balanced.
Safe: Remember that part of being safe is making sure your other needs are met. Sleep, sustenance, and hygiene are important. Blizzard introduced shorter dungeons and encounters with the Burning Crusade. If you have trouble keeping track of time, you can use the Play Schedule function under Parental Controls. Remember to take care of your body. It's easy to fall into some really bad eating habits and neglect physical activity in favor of video games.
Sane: Most of us have had at least one all night WoW session. I plan on taking at least a few vacation days from work when Wrath of the Lich King is released, to help bring you all of the latest information, and just to check it out. I'm sure I won't be the only one. These things are acceptable once in a while, but when it becomes unmanageable it becomes dangerous. If someone close to you hints that you're being neglectful because of your game time, take a close look at your situation, they may be right.
Remember not to take the game too seriously. There are tense moments when playing WoW, you will make mistakes and so will the people around you. Learn from them, but don't fly off the handle. Remember that you do this for fun. If it starts to feel like a job, you are probably taking it too seriously.
Balanced: It's pretty important to maintain priorities and perspective in balance. For me work, school, and family are all important. I'm fortunate that I can now share my play time with my significant other, and even my mom. Think about what's truly important to you and then fit game time in around it. Read up on some of our WoW Casually columns to see how other people have found balance between gaming and the real world. If you find yourself canceling plans with other people or avoiding them all together, you may have a balance issue.
Remember that it's alright to walk away from the game when you need or want to. I feel that it is appropriate to leave without notice in an emergency situation. When you're tired, frustrated or generally burned out, it's perfectly acceptable to call it a night. When you're ready to join a guild and take on in-game responsibilities, be sure to look for other folks that match your desired play time and level of activity. Always remember, it's only a game. Your real-world associations are more important.
Studies have shown that many people show similar signs of addiction and withdrawal to video games as others do to vices like gambling and drugs. If you're concerned that WoW might be taking up too much time in your life, or find it difficult to maintain safety, sanity, and balance, get help. On-Line Gamers Anonymous (OLGA) is a twelve step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous that helps people sort out their video game addictions. Talk to your family or friends for the help and support that you need. There may be resources in your community or school that are equipped to help.
This column is not meant to scare you, and certainly not to turn you away from this wonderful game. It's just a reality check. Many people enjoy their online adventures with their virtual friends and real-life loved ones. If you find yourself suffering negative consequences as a result of your game time, remember to take a serious look at your situation and even come back to this post. I'm sure our commenters will have stories and suggestions from their experiences.