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Finding balance in life and finance

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(Read caption) Learning to live in moderation is an important part of balancing your finances.

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Charlotte writes in:

I just wanted to suggest that you write about MMOs. My husband and I have been playing World of Warcraft since we were in college for about five years. We play about two hours each evening and maybe three or four hours on raid nights (two nights a week). We don’t have a television or cable or anything and we mostly read or go on walks when we’re not working or playing or sleeping and stuff. For us, it’s pretty cheap entertainment. It costs about $70 for the initial software and then $13 a month for the subscription. Considering the time spent and the deep enjoyment we get out of it, it’s a pretty nice bargain.

I’ve played World of Warcraft off and on myself since its release (for those who play, I have a level 80 hunter on Galakrond and a few other characters here and there). Much like Charlotte and her husband, when I’m actively playing, I’ll play a bit each day (to do daily quests) and then maybe one longer spell once a week (to participate in a large group raid).

It’s cost-effective. I agree that, in terms of bang for the buck, World of Warcraft is a pretty dollar-effective hobby. Let’s say a person plays for an average of one hour a day. That means the cost per hour for software and for subscription fees over the course of, say, two years is about forty cents an hour. That’s a pretty cheap hobby, any way you slice it.

It’s also an inherently social activity. In the past, World of Warcraft has enabled me to maintain friendships with people from college (one of my old friends has even called it “Facebook for fantasy geeks”) and helped me to build a few new friendships, too. A MMO like World of Warcraft is built on the idea of being social – there are lots of people playing at the same time and the players communicate with each other, often building amazingly complex social constructs.

It’s also addictive. When the most recent expansion came out, I spent several hours a day playing it for a few weeks, often staying up until late into the night playing. That’s an extremely mild case of it.

I have had friends who literally do nothing else besides work, eat, sleep, and play World of Warcraft. They’ve played ten hours a day for month after month earning achievements, building up characters, and so forth. I know one person who has lost a job and a girlfriend because of his addiction to the game. (Here’s a long thread filled with World of Warcraft addiction stories).

Why is it addictive? I think the biggest thing is that it does a great job of doling out microgoals and microrewards for those goals. If you can complete some objective that takes an hour or two, you’re given some reward – a stronger character, a better horse to ride on in the game, and so on. Since the game is inherently social, there’s also a big “keeping up with the Joneses” element to it – you want to have a character with weapons and armor and a mount and achievements that top your friends. Not only that, such games offer up engaging storylines that keep you interested in the story.

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In moderation… The solution, thus, is in moderation. When played in reasonable amounts, MMOs like World of Warcraft can be a great way to relax and be social at a very inexpensive price. The problem comes in when this relaxing social activity begins to interfere with other aspects of your life – your personal relationships, your other activities and interests, your work, and so forth.

For me, I pretty strictly cap my World of Warcraft play time. I’ll go for months without playing at all (usually during the summer months when I’d rather be outside) and play more in the winter, but during those winter months I balance my gameplay with other activities. For me, the surest sign that things are out of balance is if I find myself making little progress in other areas of my life.

If you can’t keep things in balance, you have an addiction. If you find yourself spending the majority of your free time playing, you have an addiction. You are far better off just deleting the game from your computer and walking away from it than letting your life’s energy be sucked away into a computer game. Don’t let it happen. Check out WoW Detox, uninstall the game, and find something else to do with your life’s energy.

Right now, I’m looking outside at the nice weather and at the books on my bedside table. I think I’ll uninstall World of Warcraft for the summer while I finish up this post and re-install it again in the late fall, maybe when the next game expansion comes out. It’s an inexpensive, fun hobby, but it’s just that – one little element in a well-balanced life.

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