The chicken vacuum

An MMORPG on your back: My latest Slate gaming column

Slate just published my latest gaming column, which is about the “massively multiplayer online games” — and why they have such a reputation for destroying your life. It’s true: Uniquely amongst games, MMORPGs are renowned for sucking players in to 20, 40, or even 80 hours a week of gameplay, and occasionally just flat-out wrecking marriages. As I note in my column:

Why are online games so addictive? It’s mostly the narcotic appeal of “leveling.” When you create a new character—in World of Warcraft, I made myself a Paladin—it starts life as a weakling. Completing specific quests and destroying wolves, evil marauders, and mechanical golems jumps you to the next level, where you suddenly have more endurance, more strength, and stronger spells. The sense of accomplishment is incredible but fleeting. To make these games challenging, designers make the mathematics of leveling logarithmic: The higher you go, the longer it takes to reach the next level. Leveling is thus precisely like a drug whose effect weakens the more you use it. Early on, you’re flush with achievement as you quickly zip from Level 1 to Level 5. But then everything slows down, and you’re grinding away for hours to get your next fix.

But hope is finally here; as my column notes, the latest generation of MMORPGs — specifically World of Warcaft and City of Heroes — are designed to make it easier to play without signing your own divorce papers. You can read the whole thing online here for free, and if you have any thoughts about it, feel free to post in Slate’s forum, The Fray!

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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