When I first saw Ryan VanCleeve's Unplugged at the library, I was pissed. I think I might have even kicked the shelf. I didn't look at the book too closely, I just noted the subject matter, saw it was similar to the book I've sort of been planning to write, and saw red. Good thing I did the next step, which was to actually take it home and read it. Because it's actually not similar at all to the one I want to write, in fact, it sort of gets to why I want to write it.
And therein lies my dilemma in blogging about this book. The book was well-written and absorbing, funny in some parts, heartbreaking in many others, with a very vivid voice. But it also bothers me, because books like Unplugged, chronicling the author's descent into gaming addiction, are the predominant image of people who play online games. It was months before I told my co-workers that I liked to play WoW, and when I did, the first thing they asked is if I was one of those addicts. Positive stories about the game are very, very rare in most media.
Probably the best known is that of Ephoenix. Ephoenix was a character created by a young boy and his father when the boy was very ill with cancer. Between all the treatments, gaming was one of the few things he was still capable of doing. His Make-a-Wish was to visit the Blizzard studios in California. They created a special epic weapon just for him and allowed him to design a quest, which is still in game. (The quest in the tauren starting area where you have to help the farmer find his dog.) Beyond that, though, you never hear the smaller stories about people who fall in love through the game (well, unless one of them is a minor), the people who are disabled or live in the middle of nowhere and have no other way to socialize, and just the people who build strong friendships through the game.
But anyway, the book isn't about that, although to Van Cleeve's credit, he does touch on some of the more positive aspects near the end. It's basically a memoir of his life as first a casual gamer, and then as a true addict, who did 24-hour marathon sessions and neglected his family to play. Interestingly, Van Cleeve doesn't feel that gaming addiction gets enough attention, or is taken seriously enough. I think it's just hard for people to tell the difference.
If you come home from work every day, log right in for 3 hours, then spend the rest of the night puttering around, I think I'm right in saying that's not an addict, anymore than someone who watches TV or reads for those 3 hours is an addict. If you play into the wee morning hours, call off work with gaming hangovers, get the shakes when you can't play, sneak away during your kid's birthday party or your anniversary with your husband to raid, dream about WoW when you're asleep, think about it constantly while you're awake -- that's an addict. That was Van Cleeve.
I don't know how much this book will interest non-gamers, but as a gamer, there's definitely a lot of stuff to think about. I like how he talked to different people about why they responded to the game, and how he analyzed it himself. I honestly have to agree: the best thing about WoW is that, unlike the real world, it never disappoints. The work you put in is rewarded, every time. Work towards raising your reputation with a faction, and you hit exalted, every time. Work towards completing every raid, you'll do it. In The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, the main character observes the woman in her house knitting, embroidering, doing some sort of craft, and comments on how good it is to have small goals that are easily achieved. When you break it down, that's what the game is.
Out in real life, you can work extremely hard and do well and still not get promoted. You can put in a lot of years at a job and suddenly lose your position to budget cuts or outsourcing or any myraid of things. You can work really hard at a marriage, and your spouse will get bored and cheat. You can try for years to have a baby and not be successful. It's nice to have a break from all that murky, messy uncertainty. It's also easy to see how someone could never want to leave.