Arrows and bullets are rapidly being fired at evil, demented and deformed creatures, who alter the reality of Thomas Chellis.
Thomas, a senior multimedia major, plays as a green, hideous Orc, with fangs and patches of hair all around a bald head. He is trying to escape a raid in “World of Warcraft,” as his fingers tap computer keys at an incredible speed.
Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Gaming requires time to develop characters with a brand new life in a whole new world. “It’s like ‘Pokémon,’ I get to play ‘Pokémon’ with a gun,” Thomas says. “It’s also a time sink, it takes my mind off of things. It’s a cool thing since it lets you be something else for a while.”
While studies show how online gaming addiction can lead to anxiety and depression, players like Thomas, find gaming to be a portal into another world where all their doubts and troubles disappear.
MMORPGs require time and devotion to succeed, Thomas says. “I am in deep with ‘World of War Craft,’” he says. “I did not do MMOs before 2009. I would actually avoid them. I got into MMOs because of the end of a relationship actually. I was suffering from some shitty depression. I kind of filled that void that went missing.”
Thomas says initially he refused to play online games due to his commitment to retro-console gaming and his admiration for first-person shooter games. However, once the breakup happened, his friend convinced him to play WoW.
“MMORPGs are time consumers and I didn’t have time to be consumed. I was doing other things,” Thomas says. “But then my friend that works at Blizzard (an entertainment software developer) convinced me to play and I used it as a rehabilitation process, a second skin.”
According to Thomas, antidepressants were a horrible experience and he needed to find an alternative. “Fuck antidepressants—that shit is worse than crack,” Thomas says. “I’ve done my fair share of drunk driving, but as soon as I get on antidepressants, boom, I was t-boned on the freeway.”
He says that being able to live for a while through another character was the best antidepressant he could have ever taken, and with the benefit of no side effects. “Being able to shift out and just be something else is amazing for any form of rehabilitation, even if it’s pretending to be a giant green, buffed-out alien that was possessed by demons once; it’s very cathartic,” Thomas says.
In “MapleStory,” Alina Anchondo, sophomore linguistics major, plays a brave female magician, who throws elemental bolts at her enemies as they pounce. She says that playing online gaming and embodying a virtual image is an experience that helps her take a break from her daily life. “I’m usually a wizard when I play the game. There are archers, knights, but wizards are the ones that attract me the most because they are something you can’t have in real life. Having that ability, even if it’s through the computer is very helpful to get out of reality,” Alina says. “When I’m playing, I don’t think of the essay I have to turn in or the test I have next week. I let go of everything and focus on the quest I’m doing in the game.”
Alina, who began online gaming her freshman year of high school, says she has been devoted to the game ever since. “Seasons come and go (playing), especially since I entered college. In high school I had a lot of time, I’m the type that if I start doing something I really get into it, so I sometimes won’t finish homework,” Alina says. “I try to avoid it at times, but I’m actually very devoted to my character. I’m the type that will take the time to personalize the character, and I tend to stay toward how I am. I try to project myself onto my character.”
While online gaming offers the ability to be anyone or anything virtually, Alina says that being true to herself is important. However, there are many that choose to project a different personality. “You’re just trying to be someone else, it makes sense since you go about your daily life and this is a way to get out and maybe it’s just to project yourself differently,” Alina says. “It is kind of an escape completely from who you are, maybe if you are unsatisfied or tired, you can be different gender, colors, skin or you can be an animal.”
Alina has had experience with various online games such as “RuneScape” and “League of Legends.” In each game, she has learned that time is what is important when playing. “It’s like anything, you have to put everything into priorities, and sometimes giving yourself the time is important because you won’t be able to do something else because you are overworked,” Alina says. “I try to avoid it when I know I’ll get sidetracked, but when I see I’m not achieving anything and I’m stuck with homework, I give myself time to play so I can reset.”
In the same world of “MapleStory,” twin brothers Eduardo and Enrique Martinez play as a magician and warrior to escape reality and take on difficult, virtual forces. Eduardo, a junior computer science major, and Enrique, a biological sciences major, say that gaming for them is just a recreational thing they commit to when they have time.
Like Thomas and Alina, Eduardo says that gaming can become addicting. “(The game) relieves a lot of stress,” he says. “It’s like a drug, sort of.”
According to the American Psychiatric Association, online addiction was proposed as an Internet Use Disorder and will be in the revised edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (2013).
Online gaming can be considered to be a stress reliever, but it can be damaging to the player’s health. Scientific and academic professionals have conducted studies that show how online gaming addiction can lead to behavioral changes that lead to anxiety and depression.
Among them are Kimberly Young, psychologist and speaker on Internet addiction, who has conducted research and treated people with online addiction.
According to Young, signs of Internet addiction are absence of sleep due to prolonged usage hours, withdrawal from social functions, cravings to play at random times of day and the loss of a job—or failure at a task such as school work. Although studies show that gaming can implicate health and behavioral changes, students say they understand their priorities.
Usually controlling their game play, the Martinez twins say they try to put school first then set aside a few hours for game play, but sometimes it’s hard. “I play about one to two hours if I’m not caught up with school. Usually it’s if I have free time I take advantage of it,” Enrique says. “I keep a balance (between life and gaming) so one doesn’t take control of the other one.”
Eduardo says he usually plays for four hours when he’s not in school. “I balance it out– for every hour I play, I try to have two productive hours,” he says. “Or if I play a lot, I make damn sure to redeem myself.”
Thomas says he doesn’t have a strict schedule. In fact, he usually plays throughout the day. “I don’t set aside my game play from all my other tasks. I have it all in tabs, sometimes,” Thomas says. “I’m in class and I’m playing. It’s multitasking.”
Since Thomas invests a lot into the game, he says his characters have value in the market place. Maldy.net is an online database that provides users with a price value of their characters based on the investment the user has given to the character. The value is based on level, titles, ownership of mounts and pets, equipment and PvP (player vs. player status).
“You can’t sell them (the character). I mean, you can sell them, but if the company finds out they will cancel your account since the virtual property belongs to the company (Blizzard), you’re just someone playing in their toy box,” Thomas says.
The webpage also tells you the character’s server rank and world ranking. Thomas’ main character is currently ranked ninth in his server and 3,500th worldwide.
According to Thomas, the total time it took him to get his character to reach the highest level in the game was 125 days, 19 hours, 46 minutes and 6 seconds. This was throughout a span of two years.
According to Maldy.net, Thomas’ main character is worth over $5,000, and he has 12 other characters that are ranked and valued as well. “I like all the classes, if I didn’t I wouldn’t have a max level of everything,” Thomas says. “I feel bad playing sometimes, so I invest in some luxury pets and mounts.”
Enrique says that spending money on the game becomes an issue after years of playing, and that sometimes discourages him from playing. “I play on and off, but I never quit. Before I would spend a lot of money but then it started to get expensive,” Enrique says.
Overall, online gaming can become console gaming for those who play solo, but according to Enrique and Thomas, MMORPGs require collaboration every now and then.“(With) online gaming, you get the chance to play it with your friends and you get to grow your characters together, while console gaming can generally be a solo experience,” Enrique says.
Although he began playing for personal gain, Thomas admits that WoW is a game that requires communication amongst a team, better known as a guild. “If you are not a team player, it definitely won’t be a good experience,” he says. “This is a team-based game, but yes, at times I rather go solo, that’s why I took on ‘the Hunter,’ which is known to be able to handle the game by its own.”
Alina, who has also played console gaming, agrees that online PC gaming can be a better experience when it comes to working together and having fun. “I am a console gamer, but not online. I feel that there is a lot of competition, like ‘Call of Duty,’ and I don’t like that, I’m not that good,” Alina says. “I rather work in a team, or explore on my own. I consider myself a recreational gamer, just for fun.”