How Video Games Are Becoming As Complex As Real Life

(Blurring The Lines Between Game Worlds And The Real World)


By Paul Maslany | June 7th, 2017

Video games, some people think they’re the bane of our children's existence. When I was growing up in the late 90’s, early 2000’s, the vitriol towards games was more cut and dry. The complaint was that kids playing games for hours where they can go on crime sprees, sleep with prostitutes (Grand Theft Auto video game series), use weapons on people, kill, introduce children to crime, cursing, sex, etc. This anti-video game mantra seems to me to match the anti-rock’n’roll mantra of my grandparents generation towards that of my parents (WWII-era grandparents, and 60’s/70’s era parents).

The original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was released in 1985.

The original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was released in 1985.

All this “negative influencing, brainwashing, and desensitizing content” via video games did not create a generation of mad-men, or cause the ‘mass shooter’ phenom, as many would like to state.  People were going crazy and going on civilian shooting sprees long before video games were around. Apparently, the availability of semi-automatic firearms is what would give rise to the mass shooting phenomenon, not the availability of Mature-rated video games. As Harold Schechter, famous true crime novelist and criminologist, says in an article on the Smithsonian website, “There have been notorious killers since America was founded, but you didn’t have the mass shooting phenomenon before Unruh’s time because people didn’t have access to semi-automatic weaponry.” He was referencing Howard Unruh, who killed 13 people and wounded 3 more on September 6th, 1949, and is widely considered to be the first American “mass shooter” (Patrick Sauer, “The Story of the First Mass Murder in U.S. History”, Smithsonian).

Fast forward from 1949, the advent of video games, and my childhood glued to various Nintendo consoles and handhelds, to 2017. I no longer hear nearly as much about how video games are causing kids to do these things.  What I am hearing is that online games, especially MMORPGs (MMORPG, or MMO, means Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games), are now affecting much more than our media, or our culture.  What started out as merely interactive entertainment has given way to huge, complex, fully functioning virtual worlds like in World of Warcraft, EVE, Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2, and many, many more.  

The amazing part of when players gather in these online worlds is that by playing, interacting, and utilizing functions like markets for selling and buying items with other players, they end up inadvertently creating fully functioning economies that can behave exactly like the real economy.  While a virtual economy that is a real living thing based on the behavior of a large community of players would be great for economists to study for academic purposes, what real world uses could there be for this? How else will this affect the real world, or myself? Well, if you don’t game or go online much, and attempt to avoid all of it as much as possible, it won’t affect you much. Not directly, at least. If you game, or want to make your money in these game worlds, well, then it affects you a lot. There are many opportunities to make your wealth easily from the comfort of your own home, and there’s only going to be more and more of them as time goes on.

No, I’m not talking about being a game developer, a programmer, even a tester (Being a pro video game tester was my dream. Me and probably every other boy my age). I’m not even talking about scoring a job as a security guard or janitor at a game company (which doesn’t count. Sorry guys!).  You could make real money merely by utilizing the time you already spend playing, as well as things such as items and resources that you would accumulate during that time. If you have a day job, then you probably wouldn’t earn much more than some extra scratch, but many committed gamers are actually making a living by being a part of a movement of gamers manipulating the markets in these MMOs.

For an average gamer, working their 9-5’s in their cubicles or at a job site somewhere,  this could be as simple as using your gamer skills to pay for things that cost real money in the game world, like MMO subscriptions (Games that after purchasing, you must “pay-to-play”, although many games now offer a ‘free-2-play’ version), in-game content that can be bought with real-world money, new games being released on the same platform, DLC (Downloadable Content) for the game in question, and sometimes others, or anything else a game, or console, or developer could offer.

For the more committed gamer, this could mean gold-farming, which is playing for a very long time in an area where you have a high gold yield from adventuring, or XP-farming. XP stands for Experience Points, they’re points you accrue for doing different activities in a game. Once you accrue enough points, you will ‘level up’, usually which gives you access to better weapons, items, or supplies in the game, as well as points to attribute to your characters vitals or skills. Other options are farming for in-game resources, or rare, unique, and uncommon items.

Farming, as defined by, “ a gaming tactic where a player, or someone hired by a player, performs repetitive actions to gain experience, points or some form of in-game currency. Farming usually involves staying in a game area with a spawn point that generates endless numbers of items or enemies. The player collects the items or continuously kills the enemies for the experience, points and currency.” It could also involve searching certain areas to collect, or ‘farm’, all of the minerals or other resources that generate in that environment (e.g. iron, steel, timber, blue mountain flowers, etc.).

A lot of players will sell what they farm, or will even sell the characters they’re leveling up while farming. They level characters up to the max level, and sell the accounts to buyers themselves or via 3rd party vendors.  The gold, or items, are also usually sold via game account. Your purchase is delivered by giving you access to that account, where you can them send your in-game purchases to your own characters.  

Video games can be a source of extra income, or all of your income. You can go to school to be a developer or programmer as we said before, or become a tester.  You can be a streamer, someone who streams their game playing online and gathers followers who watch them regularly. Streamers will earn income via advertisements, donations, subscriptions, and merchandise even. In this respect, streamers are similar to YouTubers who make a living off of creating YouTube videos. You can even start a podcast about gaming, and get sponsors for that as well. There are many options for avid gamers to pursue if they want to marry their hobby with their work.

However, much as is the case with many things, too much of a good thing can sometimes be a very bad thing. While the game worlds are so complex and advanced that they have actually economies, communities, guilds (groups of players, like an organization or an army), and even wars between the former two, which can actually could have drastic effects on these economies. When new content is released, or there are changes to in-game currency, or to the game’s structure, that can also have an effect on the games economy.

As amazing, and entertaining, as these worlds or games can be, sometimes they can be too good of an escape.  Players have found themselves actually getting lost, sometimes for days without food or sleep, inside of these MMORPG’s (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) such as World of Warcraft (aka WoW), Guild Wars 2 (GW2), and Elder Scrolls Online (ESO).  While it remains a very low amount of players. 8.5% of all Americans between the ages of 8 and 18 are addicted to video games, according to a research psychologist at Iowa State University, Douglas Gentile. MMORPG’s would only be a part of that stat.  While the study, a poll of some 1,178 youths, might have been a little too quick to label certain symptoms as concrete signs of an addiction (such as preferring gaming to doing homework, or being cranky if you don’t get to play as much as you want to), I still think much more than 8.5% would have checked off those two alone, let alone of the many other signs that were listed.  

Now don’t get me wrong, that’s not to say that addiction doesn’t exist. I myself had a 6 month period where all I did was play an MMORPG, but I never did sacrifice sleep, food, or other physical needs just to reach the next level. I would spend hours-long stretches playing, and I use my then-youth and lack of responsibilities at the time as justification. The truth is, maybe I was addicted for those 6 months. Since then I have played on and off, but always responsibly.  If a game session is cut short, or gets completely canceled, I don’t lose my temper. Sure, for a split second I feel a pang of annoyance, but I don’t feel any more strongly annoyed than any other time I’m interrupted or forced to change course from what I had planned or started already, even a chore.  That might be more of an obsession I have with finishing things I start, at any cost. It’s not always healthy, especially when it’s something that I should abandon or take a break from.

If those 6 months had taken a turn for the worse, I could have ended up like Mike Fahey. Fahey writes for Kotaku, a game website. While he claims to be healthy and have control of his gaming habits, using his passion to fuel his video game writing career, he didn’t always have that level of self control. In a piece he wrote for Kotaku on his own MMORPG addiction that he experienced, he described himself as having gone “from being a strong independent person to a gaunt, unshaven, unshowered recluse, completely withdrawn from the outside world.”

If that had happened, I would have no shortage of treatment options. Although the addiction is not an officially recognized disorder, the people whose lives it has literally destroyed would disagree. There are many options for help with gaming addiction, such as online forums, self-help books, On-Line Gamers Anonymous (aka OLGA, or OLG-Anon), treatment centers, specialists, and more.

With video games becoming so advanced, and the possibilities of virtual reality advancing quickly, these games are bound to get more and more complex, and realistic. If you want to know how virtual reality, augmented reality, and a ‘mixed-reality’ combo of the two are quickly becoming the future of gaming and technological interaction, then check out my article from last week “AR vs. VR: The Future Is Now.” As a result of these advancements, they are becoming more addictive than ever. It’s up to us to use them responsibly, not just as a form of  entertainment, but maybe as a better way to understand ourselves, each other, and the world we live in. Whether it is more than merely an advanced form of entertainment or a new version of reality, one things for sure, gaming has come quite a long way from the days of Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt on the Nintendo Entertainment System.



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Jennifer Doebler