Nov 082011
 
Authors: Matt Miller

When a close friend of mine walked in on me at the end of an eight-hour “World of Warcraft” binge, during which I had eaten an entire box of Goldfish crackers, I knew I had a problem.

Soon after, I deleted my WOW account, turned my back on my level 80 undead, fire mage and quit cold turkey my video game obsession.

If you know me now, you might be shocked to learn that I used to be a gamer. I keep my “World of Warcraft” past a closely guarded secret. Even more shocking, many people might not know that I worked at a video game store (Game Stop) for three years in high school.

Any naysayers out there simply need to check my high school yearbook. In the section “Students with Jobs,” I am photographed in all my glory, with my Game Associate lanyard dangling from my neck in front of a wall of shelves lined with games.

The guy too busy playing “Guitar Hero” or too caught up in an argument about caster class specialization to help customers, was me.

That life is behind me now. I haven’t bought a video game in years. Instead, I have focused on success in work, school and social life, keeping my gaming past locked away in a closet. One might say I’m a nerdy, 21st century version of Don Draper.

But with the release of “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” yesterday, my past has come back to haunt me. I can once again put a controller in my hand and jump back into the warzone.

So with my resolve tested I bought the game.

Although this might seem like a step in the wrong direction, I know I won’t fall into a gaming relapse after so long of sobriety. I’ve grown up and in a Matrix-like way, I took the red pill and embraced the truth of reality rather than a fake virtual world I once lived in.

Now that I’ve woken up from the machines that once consumed my life, I know there is more to life than using games as a substitution for real world experiences.

But as users become the controller with the Wii, the PlayStation Move and Xbox connect, along with ever increasing graphic capabilities, the line between real life and game is beginning to blur. And consumers are attracted to the feelings that games are able to produce better than ever.

What we have seen in the past years is gaming becoming a multi-billion dollar industry. The last edition of “Modern Warfare” sold more than 5.6 million copies in its first day and analysts expect “Modern Warfare 3” to outsell its predecessor on day one by 5.5 to 6 million units.

These games also don’t attract such a niche group as they once did. Last month a market research firm called NPD Group found the percentage of children ages 2 to 5 who play video games has increased 17 percent since 2009. The Pew Research Center found that 53 percent of all adults play video games, including 81 percent in the 18 to 29 range and 60 percent in the 30 to 49 range. Even 23 percent of people 65 and older are gamers.

So is it a good thing that such a large percent of people from different demographics are drawn to the virtual world?

As someone who has lived as everything from a gaming addict, to a non-gamer, to a casual gamer, I am in a unique position to look at the value of video games.

The discussion on the subject is raging. Headlines list problems linking games to issues like addiction, violence and anti-social behavior. On the other side, proponents praise games for cultivating creativity, problem solving and confidence.

There is still no universal credible evidence to support or refute these claims. So maybe we are giving these games too much credit? No matter how realistic they get, they are no substitution for real life, and at the end of the day, they are just a game.

Games are all about manufacturing experience –– fighting in war, driving a car, creating, destroying or falling in love. As they become more advanced it becomes easier to believe these manufactured experiences are real, which explains the growth in the gaming community. More and more people are biting at the chance to cultivate these emotions from the comfort of their own couch.

We can use video games to have fun, but should we take it further than that? When I quit being a gamer I quickly realized that the life I led using my own legs and viewed through my own eyes was more rewarding than any level-up I could experience in the virtual world.

News Editor Matt Miller is a junior journalism major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com. You can follow him on Twitter at Official_MattM.

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