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The Dwarves of Death
September 13, 2010 1:42 AM   Subscribe

A woman is convicted of neglect after becoming addicted to the online version of Small World. MMO addiction is well-documented - will the Facebook-fuelled popularity of casual gaming see a rise in similar stories?

(apologies for the Mail link, but it was a choice between that and antimisandry.com in terms of getting the internet addiction bit.)
posted by mippy (61 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
One of the Mail's persistent themes is that computer games are turning us into a society of addicts and serial killers. The same information could just as easily have been framed as a story of bereavement and mental illness, but that's not going to outrage Middle England, so it's not a story, is it?

The fact that someone retreats into an obsession with an online game (as opposed, say, to collecting hundreds of stray cats, or lining their house with foil) is entirely secondary. The illness will find something to obsess about, even in the absence of games.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:57 AM on September 13, 2010 [21 favorites]


The woman tried to block officers from entering the dining room and when asked why she replied: 'All right, my dogs are in there. They are dead. I killed them. 'I probably starved them, probably because I have been playing the computer game all the time.'

I remember a time when running out of quarters would have saved these lives.
posted by three blind mice at 2:09 AM on September 13, 2010 [7 favorites]


Allan Compton, defending, said the woman had been a devoted and competent mother until tragedy struck some years ago with the death of her husband from a heart attack. 'She retreated into this virtual world provided by her laptop computer,' he said. (link)
--
EverQuest [another MMORPG] has created a system of inter-connected Skinner Boxes, a Skinner Network even, where each Skinner Box is tailored to its host's needs and reinforcement schedule, and where individuals can interact with each other without sacrificing the integrity of their own construct. (link)
posted by clorox at 2:12 AM on September 13, 2010




Oh sweet, a Daily Fail link about how society is crumbling. Thanks.
posted by cj_ at 2:19 AM on September 13, 2010 [5 favorites]


It wasn't her husband's death that sent her on a downward spiral. It was that dopamine-fuelling clicking activity. Click click click click click. At least the British Empire had god-honest typewriters. Typewriters are good for the working classes. You know where you are. A functional device improving people through hard work. And the letters G, A, and Y would jam if pressed together too fast. Ah, decent times.
posted by davemee at 2:29 AM on September 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


When I imagine someone becoming life-harmingly addicted to FarmVille, the secret shame of having spent the prime of my youth logged on to MUDs almost starts to feel like smug superiority! Almost.
posted by No-sword at 2:48 AM on September 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh sweet, a Daily Fail link about how society is crumbling. Thanks.

I read about it in the MEtro this morning, looked it up to see if it was the same Small World we played over beer and pizza a few weeks ago, and very few reports actually touched on the game itself.

Although this comment amuses me:

"Were the two children totally helpless? They could easily have fed the dogs and sorted out some food - and contaced someone about the neglect. My mum and her elder sister had to take turns in cooking an entire roast dinner on a Sunday from the age of 10. Mind you we are talking about the 1940s when people still had a backbone."
posted by mippy at 2:49 AM on September 13, 2010 [7 favorites]


Having never played Small World, I didn't notice until a friend pointed it out that the middle image is in fact an orc from Warhammer Online, and not from Small World at all.
posted by penguinliz at 2:53 AM on September 13, 2010


The story reminds me of this from not too long ago.
posted by contessa at 3:03 AM on September 13, 2010


What interests me here is that I did not know there was an online version of Small World until now. Intriguing that their screenshot isn't of the game itself. As I said, none of the other articles had much detail about the game itself.
posted by mippy at 3:13 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is no online version of Small World. It's much more likely to be Small Worlds. Odd for the Mail to point the lynch mob in the wrongOH NO MY MISTAKE.
posted by liquidindian at 3:31 AM on September 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


All the pictures in this article are misleading.

The pictures showed are incorrect (as many previous posters have pointed out), some are Warhammer online and others are the Small World boardgame.

Smallworlds - the actual online game looks to be a Sims / Habo Hotel kind of deal. I was first alerted to this when the screenshot of the game looked rather good and I had no idea how a (apologies for terrible stereo types) middle aged single mother would play a game that would attract me (a 24 year old male gamer).

Before you attack my above comments with your flame attack +2 vs. ignorance: this strangely high lights a few things.

The picture shows a strategy based board game - This kind of game has an end wheras habo hotel and the sims and farm ville and all of those other "Life sapping" machine coded drug capsules have no end game or finish. I like to be able to say "you know what, I've done that level now." or "I have played that game to death now" or even "I am bored of that now". But these kind of infinite games serve no purpose other than to keep you engaged in the repetition while the ads scroll in the background or you keep coughing up the coins.
posted by Cogentesque at 3:45 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


O NO!

Is it time for moral panic? First video games, then Myspace and now MMO addiction!?

--

That said I actually met a girl (who I had known in highschool) who told me about how she got totally addicted to WOW. She apparently hated her job and would basically get out of bed in the morning, go to work, then come home and play WOW until she fell asleep.
posted by delmoi at 4:14 AM on September 13, 2010


Yeah - I'm going to categorise this under "Daily Mail Bollocks." vs "Depressed Mother is depressed."

A sad story used to further the Mail's mission to fuck over anyone using the internet.
posted by seanyboy at 4:25 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Picked up by Rock Paper Shotgun - Mail Implicates Unrelated Games In Tragedy?
posted by liquidindian at 4:48 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Daily Mail! Have they blamed WoW for Diana's death yet?
posted by Harry at 5:30 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Teletubbies is as bad for your child as a violent video game, says leading psychologist

How great would an FPS where you mow down Teletubbies be?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:32 AM on September 13, 2010 [7 favorites]


Is it sad that my first reaction was -- ooh, Small World is online? I was getting a bit bored of Ticket to Ride.
posted by jb at 5:51 AM on September 13, 2010


Daily Mail! Have they blamed WoW for Diana's death yet?

That's more Daily Express territory. It is easy to confuse them. The Mail is the one that's slightly better at couching its bigotry in less obvious language.


How great would an FPS where you mow down Teletubbies be?

Judge for yourself.
posted by liquidindian at 5:55 AM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


And now I'm all sad that I can't Small World online -- but it is available for the ipad. (Carcasonne for the iphone/ipod is very addictive).
posted by jb at 5:56 AM on September 13, 2010


How great would an FPS where you mow down Teletubbies be?

Change that to "Dora the Explorer" and I'm THERE.
posted by sonika at 6:06 AM on September 13, 2010


I had no idea how a (apologies for terrible stereo types) middle aged single mother would play a game that would attract me (a 24 year old male gamer).


First, since when is 33 middle aged? I have never heard of a 33 year old old referred to as middle aged before.

Second, woman, shocker of shockers, can be gamers, too. In fact, lots of women of all ages are. And, a lot of them play the same games you do.


This situation was terrible but, did no teachers, friends, family notice that something was going on prior to this? I imagine she would be depressed if at 33 years old she was already a widow with three young children.
posted by SuzySmith at 6:14 AM on September 13, 2010 [12 favorites]


As mentioned above, there is no online version of "Small World," the Days of Wonder boardgame, but they do have a pass-and-play Ipad version. Here is a link to Small WorldS. It's a good thing she wasn't addicted to group blogs.
posted by mecran01 at 6:26 AM on September 13, 2010


This was fascinating to read. Thanks for the post, mippy.
posted by nickyskye at 6:37 AM on September 13, 2010


There is something deeply wrong with that story. Not just that a depressed woman retreated into fantasy and neglected her life, but that no one noticed. I don't understand how the children didn't say anything, but they were probably more traumatized than their mother, and are, after all, children.

But did she have no friends? No family? Did the children not have friends? How come the school didn't notice that they smelled like rotting meat? These aren't cracks these children fell through, they are huge gaping holes.

I also was about to buy online access to Small World when I saw the headline. But I have no children, and my cats would just start to eat me if I stopped feeding them.
posted by jeather at 6:43 AM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


will the Facebook-fuelled popularity of casual gaming see a rise in tabloid-fuelled moral panic?
posted by KokuRyu at 7:21 AM on September 13, 2010


I've wanted to buy Small World for ages, but have been stymied by my wife's "no hobbits, no spaceships, no robots," rule for board games she'll play.

But I've just made a slight inroad by leveraging her love for Dominion, buying Ascension, and convincing her that just because a game has cards with names like "Voidthirster" they needn't be too bad.

We're going to England soon, and my iPad + Small World + a 12-hour flight miiiiight just turn the tide. And then...

Onward to BattleLore!

Okay, that aside...

The abovementioned Daily Mail error (not the Days of Wonder board game SmallWorld, but the Simsy game Small Worlds -- if it is an error) has got me thinking about what makes games addictive.

Because while I can sort of buy into the idea that somebody in a vulnerable emotional state can get hooked on the simple constant rewards of something like FarmVille, I have a much harder time buying somebody getting completely addicted to, say, Carcasonne, Ticket to Ride, or Agricola online, all of which are available in varying degrees of excellent adaptation.

I suspect it's because there's no aggregate rewards in playing a board game: you play it to have a good time, and then 45-ish minutes later you're done.

Period.

Playing again requires a total reset of the game state, you're there with (probably) different strangers, and yes, you can try to win again, but the only thing you "get" out of it is personal satisfaction at your board-game-playing skills.

Go seems to occupy a middle ground, as joseki servers generally let you progress from kyu to dan levels as you get better and better, and people can take their ranking very seriously, so there might be a temptation to "grind" a little to improve your skills against similarly skilled opponents.

But even then, you're getting better at something.

And that's what bothers me about at least some online gaming.

You don't seem to get better at it.

In ten minutes, I can acquire the same skills to play FarmVille as somebody that has been playing for two years. I have less FarmVille hoohah, yes, but I'm just as good at it as anybody. It's nothing but grinding from there on out. Maybe you get better at wheedling things out of people.

Old-school obsessions -- playing the guitar, say, or hell, whittling -- at least involved some sort of incremental acquisition of a skill. The new mindfiller seems to be more like a hamster wheel than anything that's come before.

(And I say this as somebody who logs a distressing amount of time on (MeFi's own!) 100 Rogues every week. I know it's a learn-nothing pastime. I'm trying to kick it.)

I don't really know about WoW. Is it skill-driven? Do you actually get better at it? At the end of the day, do you have better hand-eye coordination? Do you develop better interpersonal skills by working with others to form guilds and go on raids and stuff? Or do you just get ... more?

... and that being said ...

Back when I was 12 or 13, North America was in the full throes of D&D panic. My parents, who were good parents and tried to give me rope while still keeping an eye on my best interests, sat me down one night and told me about what they'd heard and read, and told me they were worried about it.

I rolled my eyes and basically said "crazy's gonna crazy" -- that some kid that reads the Monster Manual and decides he's a Drow and kills himself is pretty much somebody looking for something to read so he can go crazy and kill himself.

Which made a lot of sense to my folks.

This is a tragic story, but it's got nothing to do with the Internet, really. Without proper support, good neighbours, and all that "it takes a village" stuff, this woman was going to find something to fill whatever void was screaming in her head. It might have been Jesus or following the Dead on tour or collecting Beanie Babies, but there's always something. There's always been something.

It's really about watching out for people; checking in and saying hi and offering a shoulder or an ear if somebody's having a hard time.

I don't think this woman had anything to lean on other than the pointless "bing" of a Web app that kept telling her she was doing the right thing, over and over and over.

Which can be damn appealing when everything else you're doing seems wrong.
posted by Shepherd at 7:29 AM on September 13, 2010 [13 favorites]


The Daily Mail is an epically tawdry and dismal rag, and the journalism, needless to saym is lazy and sloppy even by tabloid standards. I always regret opening links to the Mail. There oughtta be a warning...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:31 AM on September 13, 2010


Just another sorry example of the NANNY STATE.
posted by fullerine at 7:38 AM on September 13, 2010


Shepherd, for the love of God, do not make her play Race for the Galaxy. She will be terrified.

(Oh, and MeMail me if you want gaming shop recommendations..)
posted by mippy at 7:39 AM on September 13, 2010


Just another sorry example of the NANNY STATE.

You guys keep saying this like it's a bad thing. Seriously, I'll let you watch cartoons if you clean up all of your Legos first. It's not that bad.
posted by sonika at 7:40 AM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


But did she have no friends? No family? Did the children not have friends? How come the school didn't notice that they smelled like rotting meat? These aren't cracks these children fell through, they are huge gaping holes.

There was a particularly distressing story here a year or so ago of two pre-teen boys who physically and sexually abused two other boys not much younger than them - I would link it but the few details that were released to the press I found really distressing. Anyway, during the court case it was said that the two boys were not well-looked after and had to find their clothes in bins and barely ate. It happens more than you think, and the older children get I suppose the more people wonder if it's a choice.
posted by mippy at 7:43 AM on September 13, 2010


How come the school didn't notice that they smelled like rotting meat?

Speaking of smelling like rotting meat...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:52 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I 100% believe it's becoming a problem. Maybe not to this horrible extent but yes, people need to get off the m-fin' computer/texting/phone/games and start living life and being part of their relationship.

And off to the m-fin' marriage therapist I go.
posted by stormpooper at 7:53 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


See also FarmVillains, and specifically the Zynga Platinum Purchase Program for people spending $500 at a time on online games.

It's one thing to build a game that someone unbalanced spends all their waking moments playing. It's another to deliberately design gambling feedback loops in to get people to spend hundreds of dollars a week to play. I think there will be a big backlash, the question is if it's before Zynga's IPO or after.
posted by Nelson at 8:54 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


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posted by unliteral at 8:56 AM on September 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


That's a horribly embarrassing mistake. It certainly must be Small Worlds, right?

(My first thought when I read the article describing what I thought was a board game was, "Wait a minute--how do you have sex in Small World?")

It sounds like a (rather extreme and/or tarted up for the tabloids) virtual-world, Second Life/IMVU/Habbo/Prius/vSide addiction.

What seems to have happened was that this woman's husband died, leaving her depressed and unprepared (or unwilling) to support herself and her children, and she retreated into a virtual online world. I would bet this is happening *a lot* at various levels.

We're in the midst of a rather remarkable social experiment right now as usual.

PBS' Frontline had a good show on virtual worlds.

Abuse, Sex and Addiction in Online Communities Chapters (2, 2.5)

Second Life Shrink on Second Life addiction
posted by mrgrimm at 9:15 AM on September 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't really know about WoW. Is it skill-driven? Do you actually get better at it? At the end of the day, do you have better hand-eye coordination? Do you develop better interpersonal skills by working with others to form guilds and go on raids and stuff?

Online games are an incredibly rich experience: it's no coincidence that they most strongly attract the learning oriented personality types. You most certainly "get better" at WoW for example, you may learn how to manage - it's like a football club - players can move around between teams. You have to manage and balance the two forces working on your team - the pressure to kick out the worst players and replace them, and the pressure to keep the best players from leaving your team for an even higher ranking team. You have to manage loyalty and morale - kick players too freely and you demonstrate a lack of loyalty to your team, damaging their loyalty towards you. Yet if you tolerate underperformers your better players will leave, frustrated, leading to a chain reaction. Building strong teams really cuts right to the heart of management: what kind of person do you have to be to deserve the loyalty of your underlings?

We've gone far beyond what Sun Tzu ever dreamed of in terms of game theory. I'll toss out an idea that good players have come to grasp, that is surprisingly relevant in real life.

There is only conflict when both sides thinks they can win. One side is wrong.

The only time you fight is if you think you it is to your advantage. You can always retreat and wait until you gain the advantage of terrain, reinforcements, positioning. There will only be combat if the opponent also thinks it is to his advantage - otherwise it will just be one player taking ground and the other player yielding it.

This philosophy isn't about pacifism - it's about realising that every battle you fight has to be a conscious choice. You are never forced to fight. There are too many people who live lives marred by conflict - arguments in relationships, anger towards strangers on the road, rivalries in the office. It takes a very rational sort of mind to, in a flash, sum up all the possible benefits and costs to a particular action and come up with an answer - advantage to me? No? Remember, winning a battle doesn't mean you come out ahead.

Walk away.

---

The other great idea is that other people can be reduced to simple input-output machines. Learning a game mirrors the development phases of human development.

1. you have no knowledge, no strategy. you do random things.
2. you understand your strengths and other people's weaknesses. you develop a strategy to plays to your strengths, and targets where the enemy is weak.
3. reactive play: you are fast enough to react to what the enemy is doing, and counter-play the right strategies to defeat them. counter-play involves you deliberately using weaker strategies which are only strong at that moment because your opponent does not expect them and has not prepared.
4. dominating play: you no longer need to react to your opponents - you actually force your opponent's actions. this is the point where you realise that your opponent's reactions depends on what he sees and feels: control what you reveal to your opponent, and you effectively control his actions. show you are cunning and your enemy will play cautiously: show your naivete and he will rush forward in ancipation of easy victory.

Plenty of people are stuck at 2. I'm a good person: I'm hardworking, people should accept and value me as I am, I don't understand why people don't seem to value me. That's a very close minded view of the world: you're only seeing things through your eyes. People at 3. have a good grasp of body language and speech patterns - the most sociable and and popular people in your friend groups, make others laugh easily (humour is an excellent, excellent example of counter-play).

People who have mastered 4. are the politicians and CEO's of this world.
posted by xdvesper at 9:51 AM on September 13, 2010 [18 favorites]


mippy:

"Were the two children totally helpless? They could easily have fed the dogs and sorted out some food - and contaced someone about the neglect. My mum and her elder sister had to take turns in cooking an entire roast dinner on a Sunday from the age of 10. Mind you we are talking about the 1940s when people still had a backbone."


Just when I'd finally convinced myself that some of the elderly characters on EastEnders were stereotypes that didn't exist and meant to amuse Americans who illegally downloaded the program on bored weekends, this shows up to confuse me more. If I didn't they were fictional characters in a fictional place, I'd think this came from a laptop in the Queen Vic from some friend of Dot Cotten's, with Peggy Mitchell nodding along in agreement.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:54 AM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Shepherd - It is perfectly possible to be addicted to playing online Carcassone, Ticket to Ride (not to mention Settlers or Dominion). I've found myself playing these for hours, sometimes just for fun, sometimes to avoid other things. There is a complex reward/punishment thing that keeps you playing - when you win, you feel good, so you want to play again. And when you lose, you want to play again to try to win this time. Sometimes the games are very short -- Dominion Online averages at 15 minutes. So you can play dozens in an evening. And yes, I have jones for a bit of Dominion or Ticket to Ride. There are also ongoing rankings which matter to some people; I don't find these necessary to keep playing (just the winning and losing).

It seems that the original post has nothing to do with online-board games. But there are a lot of people online playing endless bouts of short strategy games, just as there are people who play hours and hours of Minesweeper or Solitaire. Anything which distracts your mind from your problems and gives you positive feedback can be psychologically addictive.
posted by jb at 10:59 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fascinating ideas. But I think the lure of something like WoW is simpler yet.

1) You're exploring a well-crafted fictional universe, essentially a fantasy novel.
2) it's just flat-out pretty much of the time. Seen Avatar? Very much like that.
3) There are lots of tangible levels you move up, in your professions as well as overall. And if you spend your time on activities that have vague accomplishments, such as parenting or keeping a computer network running, and crave achievement, these markers are compelling.

Still soloing as a level 29 paladin. Should I join a guild? Which one?
posted by msalt at 11:43 AM on September 13, 2010


We've gone far beyond what Sun Tzu ever dreamed of in terms of game theory. I'll toss out an idea that good players have come to grasp, that is surprisingly relevant in real life.

There is only conflict when both sides thinks they can win. One side is wrong. [...]
The other great idea is that other people can be reduced to simple input-output machines. Learning a game mirrors the development phases of human development.


Sure, but you can also learn these same lessons from a difficult game... unlike WoW, in which most people's success can be graphed as a straight-line function of hours played. WoW is notoriously easy, and has been made more so with just about every update; the vast, vast majority of people playing are not "going far beyond what Sun Tzu ever dreamed of", because they don't have to do so to play WoW, even at a high level.

I agree that online games can be a rich experience, but most are deliberately much less rich than similar challenges in the real world, which almost always involve sharply increasing difficulty and the real possibility of failure. Most games used to be like that, too... but MMOs and FarmVille style games are not, with the exception of a few, because the subscription model is most profitable when the game is both highly addicting and dead easy.

I think we should be questioning whether games like WoW are actually all that rich. People are playing this game for an average of 22.5 hours per week, for a total of nearly six million lifetime play-hours. I'm having trouble thinking of many human activities (other than television) which would provide so little richness in exchange for so much time. Which is fine -- not everything has to be deeply enriching -- but pretending as though we're "cutting to the heart of management" and "going beyond Sun Tzu" is a bit much, when what we're actually doing is playing a game which is designed to make us feel challenged and accomplished without the trouble of actual challenge or accomplishment.
posted by vorfeed at 11:57 AM on September 13, 2010 [8 favorites]


The online Agricola site I've played occasionally got cease-and-desisted a few days back, so I'm reluctant to post a link to the other one I've found. Still, if one were to look for such a thing, one might find it....
posted by JHarris at 12:08 PM on September 13, 2010


An average of 22.5 hours per week for WoW players? That's seems way high.

One thing is, your link took data from a survey on WarcraftRealms.com. I'm guessing players who go there are in the hard core, and not too many casual players show up.
posted by msalt at 12:23 PM on September 13, 2010


What about the father?
posted by gwint at 12:25 PM on September 13, 2010


What about the father?

Deceased, which was discussed in the article.
posted by sonika at 12:28 PM on September 13, 2010


It is perfectly possible to be addicted to playing online Carcassone, Ticket to Ride (not to mention Settlers or Dominion). I've found myself playing these for hours, sometimes just for fun, sometimes to avoid other things.

Solid points well made; I think I was projecting my lack of interest a bit there, but I still think that games with accrued and easy visible "rewards" like more plants, more loot, etc. have a more addictive quality than "will I win this time" games, which seem easier to break away from.

Again, I'm as susceptible to this stuff -- to a degree -- as anybody. I'd be eating a big hypocrite sandwich garnished with self-denial sauce on a you-should-talk bun with ignorance seeds to say that it's not a valid use of one's time, to a limit. Lots of people just got sloshed at the pub or played darts back in Ye Olden Tymes, after all.

In my life, board games are my big leisure activity, but it's as much or more about Guy Time (most of my gaming buddies happen to be guys) than anything else. We don't work on our cars, we don't like to hang out in bars, and nobody's especially interested in football or ultimate fighting or other get-together-and-watch-the-game stuff. I can't afford to gamble, and people can get kinda nasty over poker. So we drink beer and talk shit and play games of Agricola and Chaos in the Old World and Descent. It gives me that little low-stakes gaming buzz, but it's also real time spent with actual humans that live in proximity to me.

There's definitely a social component to WoW that I think can be valuable; I've never played, but I've seen what I guess is the gold standard of fictionalized WoW(esque) bonding in The Guild. I get that, and I think it's probably less damaging than the solo game where you get nothing but the effect that mice get from pushing the pleasure button instead of the one that dispenses food.

On preview, I think vorfeed nailed where my hesitation lies.
posted by Shepherd at 12:30 PM on September 13, 2010


An average of 22.5 hours per week for WoW players? That's seems way high.

This analysis of actual gameplay recorded between 2005 and 2007 found that more than 75% of players played more than 2 hours per day, and that 25% played for more than 5 hours per day. There was no day of the week in which average play-time was lower than 2 hours, and on weekends (including Fridays) the average play-time was between 3 and 4 hours a day. That's about 20 hours on average -- less than the WarcraftRealms survey, but not so much that the latter is "way high".
posted by vorfeed at 12:34 PM on September 13, 2010


Just as an aside, the Sun Tzu thing is starting to really bother me. Sun Tzu was writing about the real-world challenge of getting thousands of real-world people to go out into the real world and really, actually die. He was writing about a world in which Hitler could ignore his advisers and kill 300,000 of his own troops at Stalingrad, and then listen to the very same people four months later and lose another 200,000 casualties along with 1000 tanks in Operation Citadel. The "game theory" you find in games is absolutely, positively nowhere close to that level. The amount of "management" involved in organizing the biggest WoW raid is flat-out laughable compared to the work that goes into even the simplest platoon-level logistical task... and platoons are fucking small.

In short, Sun Tzu was writing about the real world, a world in which the participants are not limited to a small and carefully balanced list of possible actions. War, conflict, and even business are nothing like a goddamn video game -- for one thing, people in the real world can do just about anything, including show up to work tomorrow with a rifle.
posted by vorfeed at 12:52 PM on September 13, 2010 [5 favorites]


FWIW, you can play Small World the board game online; online play is explicitly one of the keystones of Days of Wonder's marketing strategies. (Days of Wonder is the company which pblishes Smallworld and Ticket to Ride)
posted by kaibutsu at 2:38 PM on September 13, 2010



1) You're exploring a well-crafted fictional universe, essentially a fantasy novel.
2) it's just flat-out pretty much of the time. Seen Avatar? Very much like that.
3) There are lots of tangible levels you move up, in your professions as well as overall. And if you spend your time on activities that have vague accomplishments, such as parenting or keeping a computer network running, and crave achievement, these markers are compelling.


See, none of that appeals. I don't like fantasy much. I wasn't compelled to see Avatar for the prettiness (I'm waiting for the audiobook). And I like achievement, but I get that from doing things in real life - baking bread, making something, crossing something off a list. It doesn't seem to make sense to me to spend so much time over so little reward. I'm not a gamer, but I can at least see that in gaming there are missions or tasks to complete, and eventually a whole game. That closure doesn't happen in WoW.
posted by mippy at 3:10 PM on September 13, 2010


amount of "management" involved in organizing the biggest WoW raid is flat-out laughable compared to the work that goes into even the simplest platoon-level logistical task... and platoons are fucking small.

Vorfeed, that's why you delegate. I doubt Hitler (in your example) had to deal with logistics of providing the correct ammunition and fuel to various tank divisions. He simply hired someone to do the job.

Which comes down to what I said earlier: the first step is building your team. What is that magical "something" that great leaders have?

For example: I once played in a guild that for a long time was the #2 ranked guild on the server (one server has about 30,000 players: one guild has about 50 players: easily within the top 1% of all players). Our leader was a middle aged woman with two kids: maybe the woman in the story (omg?!) but my point is that she was terrible at the game itself; but playing the game is completely different from being a leader and making the kind of long term strategic decisions that strengthen the guild over many months. The individual tactics and strategies for the day to day dungeons and boss fights she could leave to her capable commanders; she honestly had no clue about what to do, but knew enough to let others take charge. Getting this kind of experience in management and leadership is completely beyond the bounds of what teenagers can get in real life. You can't argue that this is a negative thing.

You are right that most people won't get anything near as "rich" out of this experience what I did. Plenty of people mindlessly log in and kill some critters and level up to get that pleasure hit. Very few become leaders and work on cutting edge and new strategies. But I think this is more a reflection on the player themselves than of the game. If you're going into the game looking for a chance to learn something about yourself and others, an opportunity to really excel at something and prove how good you can be, if you want to have a great time with some RL friends or even want to meet some people from other countries and have long chats into the night, I guarantee you that you will find it in one game or another.

If all you want is to wind down your brain with some mindless entertainment, killing a few critters and levelling up, I guarantee you that you can find it too, whether in an online MMO, vegetating on the couch in front of the TV, drinking at a bar, or sitting out on your lawn.
posted by xdvesper at 5:00 PM on September 13, 2010


I'm not a gamer, but I can at least see that in gaming there are missions or tasks to complete, and eventually a whole game. That closure doesn't happen in WoW.

Sorry, but just wrong. The game is structured around individual quests and dungeons, both of which have very specific finishes (or closure, if you like). Sure, you could leave a dungeon without finishing, but the point is to progress through it until you kill the boss (or bosses).
posted by msalt at 5:50 PM on September 13, 2010


I suspect my crazy grandmother would have gotten a fair amount of mean-spirited joy out of this.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:43 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Getting this kind of experience in management and leadership is completely beyond the bounds of what teenagers can get in real life. You can't argue that this is a negative thing.

Teenagers in real life can start a business -- a video game business, even. They can move out and start a household. They can create and run their own website with thousands of users. They can start their own art space, or their own charity, or their own record label, or their own band. They can go to a military academy. They can get involved in leadership in sports, Scouting, or extracurricular activities. Running a WoW guild, even a top guild, is most certainly not "completely beyond the bounds of what teenagers can get in real life". Any teen willing to put in the time it takes to run raids in WoW could get real-world management and leadership experience elsewhere... and yes, the fact that they're not doing so is indeed a bit of a negative thing.

I don't mean to say that video games can't be edifying, but the idea that they're more edifying than real life is ridiculous. So's the idea that one should play WoW in order to "go beyond Sun Tzu" and "really excel at something and prove how good you can be". Struggling with something risky and/or difficult proves more than excelling at something safe and easy -- a lot more.

Vorfeed, that's why you delegate. I doubt Hitler (in your example) had to deal with logistics of providing the correct ammunition and fuel to various tank divisions. He simply hired someone to do the job.

Yes, and that person "hired" someone else, who hired someone else, etc. The problem with your argument is that every single person in that chain had a much, much more difficult assignment than getting 50 virtual people together to fight through a virtual dungeon for four hours. Even making the initial decision was hard -- hard enough that Adolf f'n Hitler said beforehand that thinking about Operation Citadel made him feel sick.

Leadership in the real world has serious consequences. World of Warcraft doesn't.
posted by vorfeed at 9:34 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


The problem with your argument is that every single person in that chain had a much, much more difficult assignment than getting 50 virtual people together to fight through a virtual dungeon for four hours

Not all tasks, jobs, and games are created equal. As I said, you will find what you look for. People who look for easy things will find them: if you want something challenging that you will learn from, you will find it too. If you had some competitive experience I think you would realise the depth some of these games go into. This is hard and makes almost everything else those players have done feel easy in comparison. The prize pools at the time were around $50,000 for a first place finish.

Why the focus on "serious consequences" like it's something to be revered - Isn't it a positive thing that playing games has no consequences, if what you're after is both enjoyment and learning? You may as well argue that the best way to learn and enjoy swimming is to do so in treacherous waters, because swimming in a pool has "no consequences" and unless it has "serious consequences" you should dismiss it as being worth less.

Of course getting real world experience is better - but how many people get the chance to do so at the age of 14? It's a balance: living in a consequence free world reduces the motivation to improve yourself. But on the flipside, when the consequences are high, everyone goes for the most conservative option - most people don't have the cash and time to risk on opening a business, even though I would bet that many of them would have succeeded.
posted by xdvesper at 12:36 AM on September 14, 2010


If you had some competitive experience I think you would realise the depth some of these games go into.

There's a big difference between the depth of the game and the depth of the opponent. World of Warcraft is not a particularly deep or difficult game. At the competitive level, yes, it's hard to win, but it'd be hard to beat the best checkers players in the world, also. That doesn't make checkers deep.

You may as well argue that the best way to learn and enjoy swimming is to do so in treacherous waters, because swimming in a pool has "no consequences" and unless it has "serious consequences" you should dismiss it as being worth less.

Swimming in a pool does have consequences. For one thing, it teaches you to physically swim; for another, you can drown in a pool. The real comparison here is between learning to swim in a pool, and playing a swimming game for 20 hours a week and then claiming you've "gone far beyond Michael Phelps".

Likewise, real leadership rarely takes place over vent, and rarely takes place in 100% consequence-free environments. That puts someone who learned to lead a guild at a disadvantage to someone who's had real-world leadership experience. This is the reason why people say "train the way you fight" -- because you do as you've learned, and learning in an atmosphere that's completely divorced from the lesson's intended context teaches habits which may be ineffective outside training.

There may be a place for video games in learning, but they are not a substitute for real-world experience... and considering the level of time investment it takes to excel at most of these MMOs, they're clearly being used that way.

Of course getting real world experience is better - but how many people get the chance to do so at the age of 14?

This is a problem, yes, but WoW is a part of it, not the solution. There is actually no barrier to starting most of the stuff I mentioned at 14 -- no barrier except our social assumption that kids are supposed to be inside staring at shiny boxes whenever they're not in school.
posted by vorfeed at 9:04 AM on September 14, 2010


There may be a place for video games in learning, but they are not a substitute for real-world experience

Hate to break it to you, but video games are part of the real world. (Just like comics, movies, songs and books)
posted by msalt at 10:47 AM on September 14, 2010


Yes, but it's equally hyperbolic to claim that comics, movies, songs and books about leadership are "completely beyond" actual experience with leadership.

If you want to substitute "direct" for "real-world" in that sentence, feel free. I think you're barking up the wrong tree, though -- people use "real-world" to describe the difference between book learning and hands-on experience all the time, and it's not because they think books aren't part of the real world.
posted by vorfeed at 11:06 AM on September 14, 2010


We could go down the rabbit hole about "mediated" vs. "direct" experience, language, thought, perception and feedback loops, but yeah let's just move on. :)
posted by msalt at 12:47 PM on September 14, 2010


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