On wanting to stop wanting ‘World of Warcraft’…

05/02/2006

There’s a command in World of Warcraft that tells you exactly how long you’ve played with your active character and how long you’ve been playing at your current level. All you have to do is type /played into your chat prompt to find this information out. If you’re a regular player of the game, I think you should go and do that now. Don’t worry. We’ll wait. It’s sort of important.

I’ve had World of Warcraft for almost exactly six months now, which – coincidentally – is pretty much exactly how long I’ve been working at Yahoo. I bought the game in my week between jobs, while I was supposed to be recovering from the BBC and thinking around my personal projects. Buying WoW pretty much killed off that idea straight away. I think on one day I played from around nine am until three the following morning. The week evaporated in moments.

So I typed in /played over the weekend and I got back the figure of fifteen days and four hours for my main character – another nine hours for my second. Fifteen days solidly. That’s three hundred and seventy three hours of immersion in Nordrassil when I could have been doing something else, something more useful.

Let me give you some context there. Imagine playing WoW was my second job, which is how it has felt at times. Thinking in terms of eight hour days and five day work weeks, I’ve played the game for roughly two and a half months. And that’s on top of the day job. It’s no wonder that the weblog has slipped. More alarming still is that even though I’ve played it for that length of time, I’m still only level 51.

The question then, is how to stop. And not how to stop in the simple, “I’ve got a problem” kind of way. Let’s be clear – my day job has not suffered, my relationships are just as screwed up as they normally are, but no worse. But I’m starting to resent playing as much as I’m keen to get up to level sixty. I regularly get this sense of time passing just a little too fast, and even though I know that the time I spend playing WoW is not time that would immediately translatable into rebuilding Barbelith or learning how to develop in Rails, I’m increasingly aware that I want to stop wanting to play, even if I am prepared to let that process of detachment be a gradual one associated with some sense of completion.

Let’s pretend for a moment that the option to ‘just stop’ isn’t interesting or practical. I have this idea for a way to bring in some kind of honest scrutiny from outside about the time I spend playing WoW. It’s pretty simple, and also pretty cool. World of Warcraft has a set of APIs and can have mods developed for it using a language called Lua. There are a great many of these mods – mostly concerned with giving people better access to spells or dealing with the Auction Houses, but the ones I’m most interested in are the ones that fuel sites like Thottbot that capture information about what you’re doing in game and dump them to a central server – almost like a gaming version of last.fm – creating aggregate value out of the smallest of engagements. The aspect I’m most interested in is the fact that they can communicate outside the game to servers in the real world. Which makes me wonder why there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of weblog integration or posting mods.

What I want is a badge of some kind I can put on my site that exposes to the world how long I’ve been playing, and how long recently. I think maybe by putting this in public I can start to adjust my own perceptions of what is an appropriate amount of time to waste in this manner. Just a little badge – a strip or a button that I can deposit on the page that means I get occasional raised eyebrows and comments on IM or when I’m down the pub. Anything really that exposes me to the judgement of the masses. Does anyone know of such a plug-in? If I (grudgingly and a long time after the fad died) invoked the Lazyweb – could anyone write one?

(The thing that this whole experience has driven home to me is the difference between illusory value – fighting for artificial scarcity – and actual utility. I wouldn’t be feeling in the slightest bit ashamed of the way I played in game if I knew that one of the reasons I was doing it was the repopulation of the Amazon rainforests, or to help improve – or even perform – cancer screenings. It’s the sense of enjoyable work and creativity with no intellectual or physical byproduct either than a slight headache. There’s something fascinatingly wrong with that.)