MMORPGs, More Than Just A Hobby?

Knitting. Stamp collecting. Taxidermy. All healthy and traditional hobbies. Then, of course, there’s the MMORPG – healthy hobby too or something more,something that borders on the lines of lifestyle, work or even obsession?

Wikipedia defines a hobby as “an activity or interest that is undertaken for pleasure or relaxation, often in one’s spare time.” and that may well apply to the first three examples I stated but what about MMOs? To me, a hobby is something that someone indulges in occasionally – like building a model railway on a Sunday afternoon – not something that one plugs away at for hours upon hours every day and week and month. I just can’t imagine someone getting as worked up about knitting as they do about MMORPGs.

To some, I’m sure gaming with their favourite MMO is a casual hobby but to most of us, it’s more than that. It’s something we partake in to a large degree, sometimes to excess, and something we take very seriously indeed. I know plenty of people (including myself in the past) who would lock themselves away for days to play a MMORPG. Is that normal amongst hobbies?

Writing this, I think myself naive for assuming that MMORPGs are the only hobbies that drive us to distraction and obsession. Perhaps because they’re the only one that’s made me feel that way. Although I still have plenty of other interests, in my younger days I had absolutely tons of hobbies. CCGs/TCGs, table-top miniatures, photography, longboarding (think stakeboard but loooonger… and yes, size does matter), drinking, wrestling, politics, writing, medieval history, and pontificating one’s own navel. None of them, however, dragged me in like MMORPGs and caused me to lose hours upon hours of my life to them.

So what is it about MMORPGs? Are they just the same as any other hobby out there or are they actually more than that? Is there something about MMOs that separates them from the traditional concept of hobby? I can’t help but feel that they are more of a lifestyle choice than a mere hobby.

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  1. Psynister says:

    If you’d like to see someone get worked up about knitting, allow me to introduce you to my mother in law. Absolutely serious about that one.

    Your comparisons are a bit slim though. If you want to apply it to something that lines up more with what an MMORPG represents, then apply it instead to a sport such as football (American that is). You can choose to look at it from the perspective of football fans or from the perspective of one who likes to play it.

    One of the guys I work with has a radio by his workstation that plays football games all day long. He goes home and turns on his tv next to his wife’s so that he can watch the game(s) while his wife watches whatever she wants to. There’s a mirror next to the kitchen table that will reflect the game to his seat so he can watch it there as well, and he doesn’t mind booking flights to anywhere in the country to go see his team play if he gets his hands on some tickets.

    Now for him, he’s the guy that devotes hours upon hours to his “hobby” to the point that it’s essentially become a lifestyle.

    Let’s jump back up to my mother-in-law and her knitting, the only time she’s not doing it is when her hands are otherwise occupied. And yet that’s still a hobby even though she doesn’t have a job and could literally do it all day long if she wanted to. Her husband is a fiend for woodworking, or more specifically cutting things with saws whether they be wood, plastic, metal, or otherwise. He’s also got an obsession with trains and will build tracks, design them, or even just drive down to the local tracks and watch the trains drive by for hours on end. He’s not obsessed with trains to the point that he has to do it, and in fact he’s only done it once that I know of, but he would be willing to do so at any time.

    Lets go over to my friend’s 12 year old son. The kid’s an absolutely brilliant piano player. If you put a piece of music in front of him, consider it played. If he doesn’t have anything else to do, he’s at the piano without fail. If he walks into someone’s house and there’s a piano there then he wants to play it.

    Now let us move on to my younger brother. He plays the game for about 20 minutes a day on average with some days that he doesn’t turn it on at all and others that he’ll stay on for several hours at a time. He’s taken your MMORPG lifestyle and turned it into a hobby. He dabbles in a bit of this, a bit of that, whatever happens to be going on at the moment, he’s game.

    The point is, any hobby can become similar to a lifestyle if you allow it to take up so much of your time that it becomes more than just a hobby. MMORPG’s are whatever you allow them to be. Is it a hobby? It can be. Is it something more? It can be. There’s not a straight answer to this question because it’s going to be different for everyone.

  2. Logan says:

    Psynister nailed it. couldn’t have said it better if my life depended on it.

  3. spinks says:

    Knitting isn’t healthy! You could put someone’s eye out with one of those things!

  4. Bart says:

    hey Gordon. I would expect you to give definition of hobby from Webster, Oxford or Longman dictionary rather than wikipedia.

  5. Drew Shiel says:

    Psynister has it pretty much right on there. I know people who are just as obsessive about stamp collecting, woodwork, gardening, archery, dog showing… and that’s without going near the horse hobbyists, who are practically a different species by now, homo sapiens equestrian.

  6. Copra says:

    I think I posted about MMO’s being equivalent to hobbies in the way they consume your time and if you really want to master them, you are going to spend more time in researching the basics, strategies and improving your gearing outside the game. All which combines into the fact that WoW, for example, is more a hobby than a game, per se.

    Good post, points out the flaw in out generic thinking about MMO’s as games rather than appropriately calling them pass time, entertainment or hobbies.

    C out

  7. MMOs are alternative social spaces which allow us to interact and communicate with others which is why I think so many people get addicted to them (i.e. the social interaction), even if they play “solo”. Think of it like going to the pub and have some beers with your friends (or even alone). Some do it a lot, some do it a little. A more applicable example to your post would be knitting groups. Knitting is just the social focus or object with which the women interact and socialize around.

    • Gordon says:

      I don’t think that it’s the social element that addicts people and keeps them coming back, I think it’s more of the achivement and advancement lement. If you look at something like stamp collecting, there’s that “pokemon-gottta-catch-them-all” appeal to it which peoples in. MMOs are designed with loads of continual hooks like those to keep us interested. They also become very habitual which doesn’t help either.

      • Psynister says:

        Gordon, I think you can see in your reply here vs. what Nollind just said that it comes back to a matter of perspective.

        For you, it’s about the achievement, the advancement. For Nollind it’s about the social aspect. For me it’s a combination of the two.

        Take a look at some of the other people we converse with on a daily basis on Twitter. Look at @Arrens or @Greyseer or some of the others who play purely for the roleplay and lore aspects of the game. If you take away the social elements of the game then I’d be willing to bet that both of them would quit playing.

        I can assure you with absolute certain that there are people who play MMO’s strictly for the social element and they would drop it the second that element was taken away.

        Take a look at your achievements and your advancement and then look at what’s required for you to get them – social relations with other people. You aren’t advancing without the other people and you aren’t achieving much either. You might not feast on the conversations you do(n’t) have with them, but your grouping up to accomplish the goal is the social element that you’re discrediting there. Unless you down a hard boss, pick up your loot, and then immediately leave group and go somewhere else, then you’re feeding off of the social aspect.

        Now, you might really revel in the fact that you managed to take down that boss, but you know that you couldn’t have done it without the other people. You want the fame and the glory for your own, but you’ve got to be a part of a team to accomplish it and I’d be willing to bet dollars to dimes that if you find yourself a good group (guild, pug, or whatever) that you would socially seek out those same players again to accomplish more.

        If WoW were a single player game then you would have given up on it a long time ago. Blizzard could pack all of the action and such into a single player game, but it wouldn’t be the same without the other people there. And whether that’s directly the cause or indirectly the cause, I’d go so far as to say that at a bare minimum 80% of the people who play this game do it in one way or another for the social aspect.

        Quick example here to end it: I’m primarily a solo player almost entirely. My social outlet though is my blog. I might not play with other people in game, but it’s sharing what I learn in my blog, discussing with others on their blogs (like this one), or chatting it up on Twitter, or even just reading a blog or listening to a podcast where there’s not actual interaction going on, that’s where my social fix comes in. My hobby is playing WoW, my lifestyle (something more) is being able to share what I’m doing, what I’ve done, or what I plan to do with other people who share in that hobby. It could be a game, a book, a sport, a food, or counting the number of hairs on my toes (college roommate, don’t ask) – the hobby isn’t what really makes it something special, it’s tying all of that into other people that makes me devote time and energy into doing it.

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