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Tuesday, February 23, 2010


I'm not sure why this struck me the other day. Perhaps it was seeing a Priceline commercial, or maybe it was an old StarTrek episode on Netflix. Regardless, seeing William Shatner reminded me of TekWar, his science fiction novel and subsequent television series. To be honest, I had all but forgotten this as it wasn't the best (or most original) science fiction writing. However, the premise was a bit unique in that in the not to distant future a drug was created that allowed humans to live inside a virtual world of their own making. The problem with the technology was that it was too addicting and many succumbed to living full time in their virtual worlds, unable to be part of normal society. Much like the government of today, if it feels good it must be illegal, so anyone using Tek was now a criminal.

Think about that for a second. Using technology to live in a fantasy world is illegal.

What was a startling revelation to me was the fact that I would be on the lam as we speak, were I living in that not so distant future. What is a MMO if not a fantasy world? The more immersive that world is the more popular it becomes, and thus becomes more desirable. Gamers have used terms such as "Evercrack" or "World of Warcrack" to describe such games. Is there anything to our desire to be part of these games? Are we indeed "addicts"?

Borrowing from Wikipedia, addiction is defined as:
In medicine, an addiction is a chronic neurobiological disorder that has genetic, psychosocial, and environmental dimensions and is characterized by one of the following: the continued use of a substance despite its detrimental effects, impaired control over the use of a drug (compulsive behavior), and preoccupation with a drug's use for non-therapeutic purposes (i.e. craving the drug) Addiction is often accompanied by the presence of deviant behaviors (for instance stealing money and forging prescriptions) that are used to obtain a drug.
I'm not so sure that I agree completely with the definition. I agree that an addiction is indeed a preoccupation with a substance or activity, but many such addictions have no detrimental effects and more often than not do not include deviant behavior. I believe that most people have things in their lives that are addictions. Many parents become obsessed with their children's achievements such as academics or sports. I know a lot of people (myself included) that religiously exercise and maintain a healthy lifestyle. In fact I could easily point out such behaviors in almost everyone I know.

I'm willing to step out on a limb here and state that everyone has addictive behavior. I've heard for years how some people have "additive tendencies" in their lives. I think that it is human behavior to gravitate toward something that gives them pleasure and do whatever they can to continue that pleasure. An "addiction" is simply something in ones life that is filling a need and will continue to do so until such time as something else is found to fill that need. What is love? Why do we spend our lives acquiring it, and then doing everything we can to hold on to it? Yes, my friend we are all addicts.

Anything in excess is not a good thing. Even life giving substances can kill in excess. Water, that which you can't live without can indeed kill you (more detail here). So the only thing to debate then, is how much is too much? Where does the line exist that once crossed makes your addiction detrimental to you, or others around you? Happily, I can say that there is no true answer to that, it varies from individual to individual, the variables are too complex to quantify.

So then, when do I become a Tek addict? At what point do the thought police pass a law and hunt me down like a dog because I spent an extra hour leveling my Death Knight? There are already examples that make lawmakers sit up and take notice. A down on his luck Korean man "drank" himself to death on a cocktail of Starcraft and mocha. A Taiwanese man recently completed all of the available achievements (an impressive feat if you ask me). Games are filling a need that people have, but some can take it too far. But who are we to judge? What is the difference between the two examples above? Obviously, the man who died went to the extreme, but what is to prevent some yahoo from proposing a law to keep the second man from his accomplishments in order to prevent a theoretical death?

That is silly you say. Why would anyone want to make a billion dollar industry illegal? I'm not saying that they would, only that we as players and lovers of games should be aware of the possibilities. Take for example the largest agricultural crop of the early 1900's. This miracle plant was used for clothing, paper, rope, and a myriad of other uses. Many of our fore fathers including Washington and Jefferson grew this plant. But in the late 1930's some lawmakers got it into their heads that it could also be used by humans causing madness and death, and in 1937 hemp was outlawed. This one crop was instrumental to our early growth as a country and essentially removed from the free market by "popular" thought.

So if you see me 10 years from now on the side of the road trying to score a bit of Tek, you'll know why. Don't bogart the Warcraft man!

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