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Why I Hate... World of Warcraft

Elf warning.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

There are countless good reasons why I've never crossed the threshold of a bookies. First and foremost is my poor relationship with lady luck. However, it's also about my natural inclination towards chain smoking fistfuls of cigarettes and chewing my fingernails to the bone.

Given my own weaknesses I'd be afraid to throw 20p in a slot machine, let alone risk throwing away my life savings on a four minute horse race. So I should have seen World of Warcraft coming.

My involvement with the game began late in 2005. I'd recently witnessed a friend of mine give his life over to grinding Bog Faeries in EverQuest II. It was my first experience of an MMO, and I was fascinated with the idea that a genre so seemingly dull and pointless could be so compelling.

But WOW was different. My first steps into Azeroth revealed a gaming vista unlike any I'd ever experienced. Even newcomers are presented with a smorgasbord of content, storyline and opportunities to develop their character.

Most of all, I was spellbound by the idea of a world that lived and breathed even after I'd logged off. There aren't enough hours in a lifetime, let alone a day, to take all of it in. The game is a completionist's idea of hell.

As for many people, I'm sure, videogames have long provided me with a means of escapism. But WOW's system of near-limitless character advancement and seemingly infinite content became a convenient vacuum into which I could pour all of my disappointments - dissatisfaction with work, a pervading sense of pointlessness, that creeping sense of thirtysomething dread which suggested the moment to grab life by the horns and achieve something had passed me by.

I only logged in to take screenshots, I swear.

I never had any illusions about the carrot-and-stick mechanics underpinning the game, that system of handing out micro rewards with the ultimate pay-off lying just out of reach. But I felt sure that if I just put in enough time and commitment I alone could break the system and retire victorious.

Not long after creating my first WOW character, I cajoled my faerie-grinding friend into playing. I knew exactly what I was doing - to legitimise your addiction by spreading it to your nearest and dearest is the sickening hallmark of the confirmed addict. Given The EverQuest Affair it's safe to say that relations with his wife were frosty. Until she bought an account and started playing herself.

That first year in WOW represented the greatest period of gaming I'd ever experienced. However, I was finding it hard to break away from a system that rewards you for time expended, while promoting the idea that walking away represents time wasted.

I'm not alone in this. We live in a world where there are those who enjoy the odd tipple and those for whom a bucket will never be enough. But I'd never put the case for outright prohibition when responsibility lies with the individual.

All the same, the argument can be made that while I have a fondness for chips I don't feel compelled to eat them every day, given the health risks associated with doing so. To deny that game design plays a significant role in feeding the addiction cheapens the perfectly valid counter-argument that I am easily addicted and have a weak-willed personality.

WOW - too good for my own good.

Every reward in WOW is as tangible as it is time-consuming to achieve, and success is designed to be simplicity itself. Give enough of your life and the reward can be yours.

Did I really need to spend dozens of hours becoming a master fisherman? Does the pay-off really justify the commitment? Of course it does. Even if the achievement never served a purpose, it would mark one more step towards making my character complete.

Making progress along gaming's longest road generates a warm, fuzzy feeling and, while it might happen by accident once, a thousand times raises an eyebrow. Even when I was playing, I hated these moments every bit as much as I savoured them.

The cracks began to show with the launch of The Burning Crusade and the introduction of a flood of attunement grinds. With an effective gear reset in place, all players were reborn equal.

This was my chance to take part in the true end-game of WOW - raiding. As my guildmates raced to 70 I felt acutely aware that if I wasn't getting ahead, I'd be getting behind by default.

It wasn't just the serious business of raid preparation that kept me hooked. Though it's laughable in hindsight (and something that would no doubt have horrified me before I began playing), getting up at 4am to grind ogres for a blue goat mount seemed like the most natural thing in the world. With the server quiet and my game time transformed into work it felt like efficiency, rather than the lunacy it was.