For a sizeable chunk of my life, I played World of Warcraft too much. Way too much.
I played WoW so much and so often that some people may classify my worst years with that game as an addiction.
Every moment of free time I had, from the time I woke up to the time I went to bed, I spent sitting at my desk playing World of Warcraft. I would ignore responsibilities, flake out on friends, and sometimes even skip meals just because I didn’t want to step away from the screen.
This was my life, on and off, for about four years. The game sucked me in entirely, allowing me to ignore real life and experience a different world where I got to carve my own path, explore, meet new people, and grind through endless feedback loops that made me feel like I was being productive while my own life was slowly eroding.
With the release of the newest World of Warcraft expansion Battle for Azeroth Aug. 14, just like with every new expansion over the years, I once again have that urge to hop back in and try to replicate whatever it is that I felt I enjoyed so much, plugging myself back into the thing that I sunk not just hundreds of hours into, but hundreds of days.
And I have hopped back in.
World of Warcraft, known colloquially as WoW, is what’s known as a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG for short). It’s a fantasy game where players get to create their own characters, explore the world of Azeroth, level up, and collect new stuff to their hearts’ content.
There are all your classic fantasy things like orcs, elves, mages, dragons, and druids, all of it entwined in a deep well of lore set on a world packed full of characters, stories, and a colorful array of enemies.
World of Warcraft unveils itself slowly, deliberately, and naturally
But you may not know that right from the start.
Starting off in the world, there’s so much mystery. No matter what kind of character you create or which faction you pick — either Horde or Alliance — you begin in a secluded space. All you know is the tiny immediate area around you. At first.
World of Warcraft unveils itself slowly, deliberately, and naturally. With every new quest, you get pushed into new territory and learn more and more about the world, gaining experience, leveling up, earning new abilities, and getting new gear.
The more time you put into World of Warcraft, the more you get out of it. Whether your thing is watching your experience bar move up and up with each new level, chatting and messing around with other players, teaming up and delving into difficult dungeons, or kicking other players’ asses, the game has a little something for everybody.
The more you learn and further you get, the more you realize there is to experience.
At various times, different aspects of the game fulfilled whatever itch I was looking to scratch. That’s part of what makes the beast that is World of Warcraft so addicting to so many people — if you get tired of doing one activity, you can try doing another.
A building addiction
I started playing World of Warcraft in late 2005, about a year after it first released, and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, probably a similar experience to most other players who jumped in without a veteran to show them the ropes.
Despite me being horrible at leveling and managing my in-game money, I still liked the game a lot and played it pretty often. But it wasn’t until 2007 that I really locked in with WoW.
The release of the first major expansion, The Burning Crusade, brought with it a brand new world to level up in and a huge new threat to contend with, along with a bunch of cool cosmetic items and mounts and new characters to play as. I had spent enough time in the game that I finally “got” it and decided to make a fresh start with a new character to take on the new content.
This is when I first became addicted to World of Warcraft. I was 14.
I don’t know exactly when it started, but I began spending all my free time at my desk in my bedroom playing WoW. Over a few months I got my character, an undead mage, up to level 70, the maximum level, and settled into the “end-game” — the content you unlock once you hit the top level.
At this point, I was pretty lucky that I was in school, because I was forced to step away from the computer almost every day. I was still hanging out with friends but I began skipping out on homework assignments and things like that because, in my mind, it was much more important to grind dungeons for minimal stat improvements and repeat the same quests every single day to earn in-game money and work my way toward getting a cool dragon mount.
I even fell asleep at my keyboard on multiple occasions.
Eventually I got good enough that I could start raiding with a guild. In World of Warcraft, raids are varieties of extra challenging dungeons that require anywhere from 10 to 25 people working together to complete. With a group that knows what it’s doing, some shorter raids can be done in under an hour. If your group is newer to the raid and it’s a lengthier one, you could be putting 4 hours a night into them multiple nights a week and still not complete them.
For some weeks, this meant I was putting in my normal couple hours of game time after school, breaking for dinner (not always though, sometimes I ate dinner at my computer), and then hopping back on and raiding until midnight or later. I even fell asleep at my keyboard on multiple occasions.
My parents, being rational, tried to make sure I was getting to bed at a reasonable hour, and sometimes I’d pretend to be asleep and then pop back up after they checked in on me.
This all sounds kind of like normal teenage stuff, but I kept putting aside other things to play more and more. It got bad.
Between late 2008 and into 2011, World of Warcraft was seriously impacting my life.
On multiple occasions I played the game all night and into the morning, by myself, just because I didn’t want to stop.
I stopped doing homework pretty much altogether.
On weekends and during the summer, it wasn’t uncommon for me to log in right when I woke up, play for a few hours, maybe eat some dry cereal I kept in my room, and play all day. I skipped lunches. I ate frozen pizza because it was quick and easy. I drank too much Coke and would pile the cans up around my desk. I would play upwards of 14 hours a day and at night my eyes would be so dry it would hurt to blink.
Sometimes when friends asked if I could hang out, I’d say no just because I wanted to play more and had already set aside that time in my head as WoW time.
I would fake sick to stay home from school so I could play more.
I was completely obsessed. If for some reason I wasn’t playing, I was watching YouTube videos about WoW. I was reading the novels. I was checking out the wikis. My life was World of Warcraft focused, 24/7.
Naturally, I burnt myself out. I found that when I was logging on to play, I was just sitting there, bored, not doing anything because I didn’t find any part of it fun. Yet I kept logging in and doing menial tasks because what else was I supposed to do?
I was completely obsessed
I got into a cycle. I would binge on World of Warcraft for months at a time and then quit.
But when I quit, I didn’t bounce back and become a productive student or healthy person, I just replaced it with something else. Sometimes it was binging television shows, YouTube videos, or sitting alone and watching movies all night.
In my sophomore year of high school, I failed my first class.
I dropped out of Advanced Placement classes because I simply didn’t do the work and didn’t intend on doing it.
I was underweight from skipping meals and eating terrible food.
At random points, I would hop back into World of Warcraft and feel a renewed sense of satisfaction from the game, kind of like slipping into a comfortable outfit and just being able to relish in it. And then I would burn myself out again.
The only thing that made this self-destructive cycle stop was the threat of college. I was so focused on ignoring my life and just floating by comfortably that I didn’t even attempt to apply to any colleges.
Toward the tail end of my senior year of high school, I realized that people were moving on and at least attempting to do something with their lives. I was a reluctant pizza delivery driver with no ambition.
I realized other people had goals, so I figured I should get one of those too.
While pretty much everyone I knew went away to college, I stayed home and went to a community college, which happened to be the best thing that ever happened to me. I was driven to catch up and finally do something with my life, so I dug down and got good grades across the board for the first time in years. After a year, I had good enough grades to apply to a four-year school.
I also happened to pretty much stop playing World of Warcraft during that time. I would play for a month at a time maybe but I never got sucked in like I did before.
I realized that the time I spent playing that game wasn’t the game’s fault, it was merely the tool I used to ignore my life, erase stress, and dull any anxieties I had.
Some people turn to other things to manage these common life problems, these problems that can snowball into something so overwhelming that the only thing you can do is try to ignore them, because surmounting them seems so impossible.
I don’t need to play World of Warcraft all the time
Some people find solace in drugs. Some people ignore life with alcohol. Some people rack up debt buying themselves new things or gambling. Some people sink into video games like World of Warcraft.
At this point in my life, I’ve stepped away from the situation long enough that I can see what it was: a means of escape.
I have ADHD. I experience anxiety that sometimes comes on so strong that it’s physically debilitating. I have gone through bad spells of depression.
I was experiencing all of those things back then too but I didn’t have the tools or knowledge that I have now to fight those things head-on.
In the past five years, I’ve tried to play World of Warcraft multiple times, but it never sucked me in like it did before. Perhaps because I didn’t need it to.
Jumping back in
A few weeks ago, in anticipation of the release of World of Warcraft‘s seventh expansion Battle for Azeroth, I jumped back in. I expected to play it briefly and then drop it, but I’ve played pretty consistently over the weeks and don’t have any intention of stopping.
Hold up. I know what you’re thinking. Why am I doing this to myself?
The difference between how I’m playing right now and how I was playing back then is monumental. Right now, I’m playing WoW because I’m having fun and I like to hang out with my friends online.
I’m not spending all my free time plugging hours into this game. Just the other day I could’ve easily sunk eight hours into the game but instead I went to the gym, did laundry, hung out with my cat, and played some Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Because I don’t need to play World of Warcraft all the time.
I’ll play WoW when I want. And if I play for 20 minutes and realize it’s not doing it for me, I stand up and do something else.
As much as I look back on my time with the game as toxic, I also made some good friends and had some really fun, unforgettable times. The key is moderation.
During my worst days, World of Warcraft was my life.
Right now, World of Warcraft is just a game. A great game, mind you, but still just a game.