WoW is the number one addictive game according to Catalyst ABC

Catalyst is a show on ABC, focussing on topics in science.  Last Friday (26 April) there was an episode about Internet and computer game addiction, and it was a very interesting watch.   It talks about being addicted to computer games, and the psychology of addiction which I found INCREDIBLY fascinating.  Here are some excerpts (plus my comments) from the 11 minute article.  You can also see it when you click on the link above.

So when does fun flip into addiction? Are some games riskier than others? How many kids will be trapped in the game? There are parents across Australia right now, trying desperately to cope with problem gaming.
I play World of Warcraft and I worry about my child getting addicted.  You see those kids who fight with their parents about playing and how threats, removing the computer and all those sorts of things don't work.  But what about me?  Am I addicted?  I always say I can stop if I want to and I don't feel the need to be on the game all the time.  But, in saying that, CAN I stop?  Can you walk away in the middle of a fight to go and do things like answer the phone?  If the answer is no, the psychologists say that you could be addicted. 

Studies from the US and Australia show around eight per cent of children who game will become pathological gamers - defined as severely impacting their lives. And these days, more than ninety per cent of kids game. 
 My kids game.  I game.  It's interesting the choices of games kids like to play.  My daughter likes to play World of Warcraft, because she can walk around and look at things.  She doesn't appear to be interested in the social aspect of the game - she doesn't even like killing mobs.  She just is happy to walk around and interact with the environment by swimming in the water, going up and down lifts, and following NPCs around.

So are there any clues as to which games to keep an eye on?  Dr Jonica Newby puts games into a heirarchy of power based on what motivations they tap into.  She starts with an online penguin game where you can compete with other online "gamers" skiing your penguin down a slope.  "Social needs, is the driving power behind this game, and they're going to be able to hang out with their friends. It's also giving them control. What six-year-old has much control of their life?"
That's really interesting.  I had never thought that children think that they can control a game.  It's so random.  Maybe it's because in the game they have a choice.  At home, do they really have a choice?  We often give them the illusion of choice (eg. "Do you want to eat the broccoli or the peas?") but in reality they are subject to our whims and instructions.  Sleep at this time.  Eat lunch now.  Time to go to school.  But in a game, you can go anywhere you want.  You don't need to ask mum's permission to go out to the park - in the game, you can just go.

Okay, so next motivational drive, we're talking pleasure. This one taps straight into the opiate and the dopamine centres of the brain, and we're talking about a very specific sort of pleasure here, aren't we?
Intermittent reward.  

The first thing I thought was this sounds like gambling addiction.  But World of Warcraft has some of the same properties - think of killing a raid boss.  Sometimes you get the drop you want.  But it's not all the time.  And you keep coming back, trying to get that reward.  They described Halo as giving you that intermittent reward too - but I think of that like a shoot 'em up so I'm not sure I understand how games like that have intermittent reward.  Is killing a reward?

We know that one of the best ways to reinforce you so that you will want to keep doing it, is not to reinforce you all the time. In fact if I said, 'I'll give you ten dollars for every three times you jump up and down,' you would jump up and down a lot. And if I stopped paying you the ten dollars, you would quit pretty easily. But if I didn't tell you when I was going to give you the ten dollars - sometimes after the third time, sometimes after the tenth time. Then if I stopped, you'd keep going a long time, because you're not used to getting rewarded every time.

Wow, that definitely sounds like raid boss drops, or even damn quest drops!  Or even farming for that matter!  That is EXACTLY what WoW is like.  You just keep playing because you don't know when you're going to get that next reward.  And I could see that you couldn't stop playing because of the craving for the reward.

Finally, let's get to the flip side of pleasure, and that is pain. So some of these games actually punish you for logging off.  And of course the main one we're talking about there would be straight up here to 'World of Warcraft'. It doesn't allow you to log off when you want to log off.  Well it does, but if you log off before you reach your goal, you can lose the progress you've made in your current session. And that, that's really cruel. I mean it plays on your mind, you think, "Well, I've put all this energy. There's no way I'm going to log off and lose all of that." 
Does that count as pain?  I would never have thought of it like that.  I know it ties you there, but there are so many things in life like that.  Can you walk away from the stove while you're cooking?  If you're knitting, should you really stop mid row and put your knitting down even if you know it may make an uneven stitch or hole in your item?  How about when you're playing a game of football, can you stop halfway and say ok I need to go now and eat dinner or do you continue until the game is done?

But an even more powerful one now plays in these massive multi-player online games. And it is social.  So in some of the games, what they do, is they will give you other gamers to look after. So you're the go-to person, you help them out, you look after them, you nurture them.  In 'World of Warcraft' for example, they're called 'guilds'.  And it's that guilt trip - 'If I'm not there, I'm not looking after these people, I need to be there'.  Fear of loss, fear of disappointing your team, is incredibly powerful and painful. It comes down to the most ancient brain-based survival mechanisms - fear, pain will trump pleasure anytime. A well-designed game trades on all of our evolved needs and our fears and our wishes and … including things like being able to do stuff you wouldn't normally get to do.
Raiding is like that - there's the social interaction, there's the feeling like you're letting everyone down if you don't turn up.  That's a pretty powerful incentive if you do care about raiding, especially in your guild.  Geez, listening to the psychoanalysis of it makes it sound like being in a guild is a step towards doom.  A step towards being sucked in to the addiction spiral.

That's not to say any game is intrinsically bad or addictive. But if you understand its properties, you're better-placed to understand the ways it might get under your skin. And undoubtedly, some games hit these motivational drives much more powerfully than others.  We know from studies that eminent people have done that World of Warcraft is a highly problematic game.
I think that pointing out these things has really opened my eyes to how you get addicted.  But the big question - am I addicted?  I often associate addiction as a love/hate relationship.  You want to play but you hate being there, you hate the grind.  But you can't help but login.  I don't like logging in unless I want to do something - like raid, or do dailies, or get an item of some sort.  Maybe that means I'm addicted to raiding?  During the day I have no desire to be on World of Warcraft, except to do my "chores" like fishing, herbing.  Gosh, wait, is that a bit of hate or dislike there?  Maybe I do have that love hate relationship after all!

So at what point should a parent worry?  Some of the warning signs are grades dropping, a loss of interest in other activities that the child used to be interested in. Perhaps also giving up some friends, or replacing them only with other friends who game.
I DO have a lot of friends who game.  In fact, it feels like all my close friends now are ones who game.  Some of the friends I used to hang out with now game too.  But having children often causes a bit of isolation from the friends you used to have.  You're so busy at home and tied to your children's routines and timetables that it's hard to fit in that time for those friends you could just go out with at the drop of a hat.  Then there are your work colleagues - I only like to go out for educational functions or formal parties and dinners.  Loss of interest of activities - well, I still like to read but I admit I do that a lot less now.  When I had my enforced time away from WoW I was reading books again - I got through 1.5 George RR Martin books.  I watch a lot less TV now than I used to, but I also write a lot now, on my blog.  Which is kind of WoW related.  So does that mean I can't get away from WoW?  I won't deny that I think about World of Warcraft a lot.  I love the game.  I love the social interactions - but I do think of those friends as real friends, and they DO care about me, and help you like real friends do.

The program was aimed at parents, but I think we can also look at it to examine ourselves.  If you're alerted to the addictive parts of the game, maybe that will make you more able to deal with the problems.  So, the big question - am I addicted?  Do I spend an excessive amount of time playing World of Warcraft or on things related to World of Warcraft?  I know I spend a lot of time on it. 12 hours a week raiding.  7-10 hours a week blogging.  That's getting close to a whole day at least, a week.

I was looking at my /played the other day.  Navimie is rapidly approaching 365 days played (currently on 358 days played) - that's one whole YEAR playing World of Warcraft.  And I have been playing since 2006, I think.  So that's 6 years this year I have been playing.  Say I pretend I played for exactly 6 years (2191 days), and say I spend, 20% of my time sleeping, that's 1752 days left.  I work 30-40 hours a week on average, and say I take a few holidays.  So say 30 hours a week.  That adds up to 65 days a year working, so in 6 years that's 390 days working. So that leaves 1362 days.  So of my non working and non sleeping time, 26.28% of my time PLAYING World of Warcraft.  Now isn't that a weird statistic.

I think I'll put a poll on my site, about how long you have played, and maybe what % of your time you play World of Warcraft.

I guess I am addicted.  But I still love WoW.


  1. That's a pretty indepth and accurate description of WoW from that program and your thoughts on it :)

    WoW for me is definitely an addiction and I am addicted. The biggest addiction for me in the past though had been the raiding aspect and "being there" for my friends. Losing sleep, waking up early, do dailies, get that rep, research raid boss at work, go through every stat and make sure my character's min-maxed as much as it possibly be, coming home after work, stressing to get dinner sorted out before raid starts and so on.

    Like any of my addictions I do like keeping them in check, I've taken breaks from the game for some months at a time and when I am not playing the game I feel pretty awesome! There is so much I can do, there are so many things I enjoy doing and I get all the time to do them.

    After a whole night of cooking (which I love as you know) then watch a couple of episodes of my favourite shows.. WOW! It's only 9:30pm? relaxed and peaceful sleep by 11. That to me is life without WoW

    Why do I come back?
    Being around my friends being the foremost reason, but I also use WoW to escape the real worries in my life, anything on my mind. I often talk to my friends on WoW as if they were in the same room with me, running around doing the silly achievements (not talking about Achievement points :P) and getting all the rare things for my characters.
    I use WoW as a distraction from those worrisome thoughts that keep my mind ticking, work, relationships, career goals - It's so easy to sink into the game and just forget about them for a while :)

    So I've come back to the game and I'm not as active as I used to be, I still enjoy it, but I'm aware of the danger this game has on me. It's too easy to get consumed into it, but I try to keep things in perspective as much as I can



    1. LOL I just googled wowdetox and it exists...roflmao..srsly

      Main reason I started to play this game because people we knew (ex bf) other friends who were interested in playing and that's how we started. I did take a break when the friends stopped playing and I only restarted because my Nephew wanted to play as he had some friends who played and I went searching for a friendly server. I went onto Dath'remar and there I was invited to a guild by a warm friendly invite and have now formed some strong long lasting friendships to this day!

      I log on in anticipation to hang with my friends (most of the time) and sometimes I hide away in panda land, BUT for me WoW is my socialization and even better was meeting some of these great people =)

      Very interesting clip and ty for posting it Roshii! I suggest everyone have a view of it.

    2. @Roshii - that was a good video. It's had the opposite effect of the Catalyst article - now I don't feel like I'm addicted. I love the social, I love the game, and I don't feel like my work suffers because I love to play WoW. Family... well my daughter likes to watch me play, and she knows I play at night so she doesn't want to go to bed!

  3. "Can you walk away in the middle of a fight to go and do things like answer the phone? If the answer is no, the psychologists say that you could be addicted."
    The thing is, I also don't answer the phone when I'm watching a good TV show, a good film, reading a good book - am I addicted to these things too? I'm not sure that's a great measure.

    "It doesn't allow you to log off when you want to log off. Well it does, but if you log off before you reach your goal, you can lose the progress you've made in your current session. And that, that's really cruel. I mean it plays on your mind, you think, "Well, I've put all this energy. There's no way I'm going to log off and lose all of that." "
    I'm not sure what they're saying here. You don't have to save the game in WoW - when you log off, everything is saved. You don't lose your Dragon Soul clear if you stop mid-raid. You also don't lose quest progress if you only kill 5 out of 10 boars, get bored and stop for the day. Faulty facts, here! You're right Navi, most things are better stopped at a certain neat point and I don't think WoW is particularly a dangerous example.

    "We know from studies that eminent people have done that World of Warcraft is a highly problematic game."
    I also struggle to log off of ANY MMO I'M HAVING FUN IN. Perhaps WoW is the only one the speaker knows of?

    I guess in short, I think that these conversations are tilted a little toward the sensationalist side. Ultimately, if parents are worried about their children gaming they can do other things with them or keep a close eye on it. That's not as simple as it appears on paper but it's definitely an option. I firmly believe that if WoW wasn't around, a lot of people who consider themselves addicted to it would be addicted to something else. Vague vilification of it for being a fun game is as silly as warning that people who can't stand to miss an episode of their favourite soap opera might have a problem. I mean, if I start reading a good book, I will struggle to stop to the extent that I can stay up all night reading and miss sleep before work the next day. Yet I've never seen an article warning parents to stop their children reading in case they don't sleep and then do badly at school >.>

    Of course, it's also 9.30am and I haven't had a coffee yet. So. Take my rant as you will :)

    1. @Ara - BTW I LOVE walls of text :D gives me stuff to reply to!
      World of Warcraft is a hugely successful phenomenon - and yes some people have some bad outcomes associated with it - but doesn't everything that's good? How many car accidents are there? And does that make us stop driving cars. And what about mobile phones and brain cancers etc? Does that stop people from using them? The fact is MOST people don't have a problem, and the few that do, they make it into the news. That's what happens to anything that's popular, there will be someone out there trying to say it's new, it's bad, don't do it... because maybe this game is taking us into a new age of thinking, of socialising.
      And the biggest critics? People who DON'T understand the game. Or the greatest benefits of it. They say we become antisocial by only socialising with gamers? What about footballers who only associate with other footballers? And I have more than a few online friends who are painfully shy IRL who have opened up and become more social by having this game. Surely this game has good things too.
      Oh god, my reply is turning into a post itself! But I think what I wanted to point out was that if you watch that short piece, you can understand what they're trying to say. I just don't agree with it. Though, I don't think I am addicted to the game, in the pathological sense, I think I'm addicted to it in a good way... I love it, I keep wanting to play it, it's my chocolate ice cream :D

  4. Physcologist techno babble is what that show was about and it's aim was to panic parents who have no idea about computers and games.

    Addiction is when you stop going to work, when you stop eating, when you stop dealing with your family. My uncle was an alcoholic, drug user and this is what he did. Thankfully, he realised he was slowly killing himself and got help. If these things happen because you're playing an online game, then you have an addiction.

    I wouldn't consider you have an addiction for WOW Navi, you have a passion and sometimes these physcologists confuse passion for addiction.

    I love playing WOW, getting my toons to new levels, gaining achievements and the social interaction with people and guild friends. It's a passion for the game and the interaction I like, it's not an addiction. I still manage to interact with my family and friends in real life as well, so if you're doing those things, you're not addicted.

    I wouldn't put too much into the story Navi, but they do draw on some issues, that as a parent, you need to monitor, but it may not be the game that is the cause, but something else.


    1. @Ayelena - I think as a parent, if my kids start playing some game, they will find mum will be on playing it too to see what it's all about. I agree with you Ayel, I have a passion for WoW, I'm still in love with it after all these years, and if you think that's an addiction, then I guess being married is one too.

  5. I watched the program and reeled in anger. Then took a step back, this is aimed at children and parents. But yet the average age of gamers in Australia is 32. A lot of untruths in that program were said. While they aren't blaming games entirely on behavioral and depressive problems in children, I got the feeling that they were implying that.

    When the lady was talking about "guilds" and not wanting to let your team mates down, I wanted to slap her!

    What gets me with stories like this is the social jargon they spit out in hope that the parents watching will prevent their child from even starting to get addicted. Sure some kids will be addicted that is not healthy for them, but that's only some and NOT every child.

    I look at myself. I've been playing since 2005, sure I'm addicted but I've never sacrificed something just to play WoW. I'm in my last year of uni and so far have passed every single subject. Because I have learn't to balance my fun and work time. However there was a moment in my life where I had a bedtime of 3am every morning, just to play wow, but never once got up early to play it lol.

    If video games are part of the problem I'd like to see what else is!

    Made me think of Arolosseien statement about not answering the phone if watching a good tv show, movie or reading a good book. I have friends who will drop EVERYTHING to watch their beloved tv programs, nothing stands in the way of those...

    Imo Navi Ayelena is right, you have a passion for WoW and I believe most of us do =)

    Oh and the part about being in a guild, it did sound like it was doom. But guilds are like sports teams, guides, cubs, scouts, book club a group of people with the same interests enjoying their favourite thing and supporting each other together whilst engaging in the desired pleasure.

    The one thing that program missed is the technological age children live in today, we got mobile phones, the tablets, the dvds to play in the car, the ipods and suchlike. In waiting rooms I've seen countless kids playing with their parents iphones and ipads, how does that differ to playing games....the mind boggles sometimes...but now I'm going off tangent a bit here.

    So HERE HERE to the wonderful World of Warcraft =D

    1. @Faithy - I think some of these people think that there is only ONE way to be. Some of us who play computer games are not mainstream society people - some may be socially awkward, some may be borderline autistic, but put them in the computer game world, they thrive and maybe be encouraged to come out into the real world once in a while to meet these new friends.
      I think that the world is changing, and some people are resistant to change. Technology is upon us, and the world (including the world of warcraft) is a lot more global and connected than we ever were, and if you learn to be responsible, a leader, a team player while playing a computer game... how is that different from any other sport (except that we're being sedentary rather than sporty...)

  6. I think I'm addicted to the "World" of Warcraft part, not so much the war part. I like living in the environment Blizzard created. Since I don't raid I don't really have to worry about gear, I'm free to wander around sightseeing in really bad clothes, so it's not keeping me here because I'm driven to get better gear. Whenever someone does one of these pieces I'm surprised that they don't touch on the "weirdo who thinks she's living in a game world" or maybe I've missed that one.

    I had to laugh about the random reward part. That's exactly how you train dogs, I never really thought about it but I guess it does work on us too.

    Like others say, I really think of guilds and raiding the same as being on a softball team, it's a commitment to play something you enjoy with a group of people you like being with, nothing sinister.

    The world's changing and I'm not sure some of the people who do these studies really understand that.

    A kid with a problem is a kid with a problem first. I don't think song lyrics, movies, or games cause the problem.

    Luckily, in this case I'm the boss of me and I'm staying right here!

    1. @TotA - I agree, what's the difference with raiding with your guild and playing a tennis match or a football match? If you don't turn up, you let down the team and if you leave halfway through you let down the team. I guess the difference is that I won't get a twisted ankle or a broken nose or a concussion if I play WoW (unless I get frustrated and /facedesk a few times) compared to playing footy, but it's funny how people will think that it's ok to read a book for hours on end and not get up, but it's not ok to play a game with friends for a few hours and not get up. Though... watch out for deep vein thrombosis!

  7. I have friends and family who won't answer the phone when certain programs are the tv/radio. My Grandmamma won't move off the couch when Wimbledon is on...

    I played hockey for my school, we practised three times a week plus games either after school or at weekends. If my mobile rang whilst I was playing, it went to answer. If I decided I was hungry half way through a game, I had to satisfy my rumbling stomach with thoughts of what I'd get after we finished. I couldn't just stop but is anyone going to stand up in front of a tv camera and say that playing hockey is unhealthy for teenage girls? Personally I think WoW is one of the better games I've played in that regard. Apart from the interaction with others (raiding/5mans/pvp), you can take breaks, step away for as long as you want without losing anything.

    I get the same kick from downing a boss in WoW as I did from scoring goals on the hockey pitch. Yes, you can argue that playing hockey is far healthier than playing WoW, yet I was black and blue all the time I played and WoW might have it's faults but I've never seen anyone get a tooth knocked out in Molten Core.

    It's just scaremongering. Yes, people can spend too much time playing WoW, but they also spend too much time doing a raft of other activities. The key is balance. Also having your parents tell you something is bad... tends to make it way more attractive. I think the key to a healthy relationship with your computer is growing up thinking it's normal. That playing games is something most people do, not that it's some weird subversive habit which will turn your brain to mush.

    1. @Erinys - LOL a few /facedesks from getting frustrated at morons in 40 mans might have made you change your mind about losing teeth! :D
      You're right it's scaremongering. People like to scare people by saying "You play WoW? You must be addicted like everyone else!" Nobody says "Oh you're a businessman and you make 300k a year? And you play WoW? Oh and you have 1 million gold? Wow that's great, I want to play wow and learn business tactics!" LOL!

    2. True, our raid leader might have lost a few teeth, hadn't thought of that but I think he tended to take his anger out on us rather than the desk :p

  8. Wow! I have comments which look like posts! I will come back and answer these individually later - gotta run and get ready for work.

  9. This is fantastic Navi...I also had to work and did not have time to post something along these lines. You are amazing!

    1. @Matty - Amazinglly addicted you mean :D

  10. I have been playing wow since 2005 off and on.

    WoW DOES make you lose progress.

    You have 1 week to get as far as you can in a particular raid. The best way to do that, is to prove you are competent and earn a core raid spot in a guild.

    Hardcore raiding with a guild is where you get caught up in it, if you don't do it, you'll feel like you're missing out.

    Our guild aimed to be top 3 on our server. We all wanted this. We labelled ourselves semi-hard core raiders.
    We'd raid 3 hours on our raid days. I would spend time farming for mats about an hour prior to raiding. So I spent about 4 hours total preparing for raids and doing raids. Then after the raid, I would do the dailies, that was about another 2 hours. So total on average 6 hours of playing on one day. We raided 3 days a week on my main toon. But I did pickup groups with my other toons on non-raid days as well.

    Other days, were spent levelling my to be-85 toons.

    My main was a Holy Paladin. I was a core healer. But I had other toons mostly for professions to support my main.

    Others who say this is bull are in denial. This game robs life. I know, it happened to me.

    But after saying all of this. I am still playing, but now I play alone and not as much. I am done with the hard core raiding.

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