By Justin Katz | email@example.com
It was like being an addict. After playing World of Warcraft for four years, I had made multiple attempts to stop.
There was a constant stream of pressure from family to give it up. Every time they saw me playing, I instantly felt guilty as though there was something I should have been doing instead of spending time in-game.
But when I finally quit, it forced me to confront realities that I had not dealt with yet.
World of Warcraft (WoW), a massive multiplayer online role-playing game released in 2004, reached nearly 12.5 million subscribers at its peak. In fact, the game has been repeatedly labeled as addictive.
To me, however, it was more than an addiction. Leaving WoW meant leaving behind friends I had cultivated in an online atmosphere, but had real-world attachment to.
It was when I returned to WoW after four years of being away that I realized there was more to the game than just being a time sink. The reality is that when people asked me to say goodbye to the game, they also asked me to say goodbye to my friends.
I have noticed a stigma that dictates a friend made in an online game is not a real friend. Many people either take the liberty to define what a “friend” is or simply do not understand how a person can create a real friendship in a game.
The people are, however, what kept me playing WoW. It’s comparable to a sports team; everyone has a part to play and when the team designates a role that you know is vital for everyone’s success. You feel a sense of responsibility to the team and pride that they are willing to rely on you.
You feel a sense of belonging.
When I decided to return to WoW after four years away, the first thing I did was get in contact with one of my closest friends.
Despite not talking to him for so long, he recognized my name instantly. We had never met face-to-face; I had never made any effort to contact him since I had stopped playing. He remembered me purely from the time we had spent together in-game.
As I listed off old mutual friends, he would tell me if they were still playing and occasionally name people who hadn’t stopped since I left. After exhausting a list of names I asked him what had kept him playing for so long.
“The game is just a time sink. It’s the people that keep me playing,” he replied.
It was at that moment I began to realize why leaving it was so difficult. The arguments with family, the anxiety when someone mentioned having to stop playing, it had nothing to do with the game itself; it was about leaving the friendships I had made.
During my time playing WoW, I had gone through the transition of moving from New York to Florida. That move involved leaving friends that I had grown up with. Once I got to Florida, the idea of leaving friends who I still had constant contact with was too much to deal with.
Ultimately, I stepped away from the game again after playing it for the last few weeks of summer. Very few of my old friends were still playing and without them the game was not the same. In the end, I was only “addicted” to WoW because I had friendships that I was unwilling to break.
I do not defend the countless hours as productive, but in no other aspect of life have I ever seen people so stigmatized for loyalty to their friends.